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C.J. Hayden, MCC, is a business coach who teaches people to make a better living doing what they love. Her company, Wings Business Coaching, specializes in working with business owners, self-employed professionals, and people in marketing and sales. C.J. is a former corporate productivity consultant with over 25 years experience in business management. She has been a professional trainer since 1978, and a coach since 1992..

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Handling Tough Questions
by C.J. Hayden

Preparation is the key to becoming confident when speaking with prospective customers. Handling an inquiry, placing a follow-up call, or making a presentation, are all situations where you can expect your prospects to ask questions. Unfortunately we sometimes prepare for only the questions we want to hear, and not the tougher ones clients will ask.

Here are some questions often heard in marketing conversations, and suggestions for how to respond:

Q. How much does it cost?
A. If you have a standard package, go ahead and tell them the cost. Be sure they know first what they're getting for the money. But if your prices vary, don't quote a price until you know enough about the client's need to be accurate. Take this question as a signal your prospect is interested, and ask more questions about their situation. Stay away from hourly rates unless there is no other way to price what you do. Good answers are "$500 per month," "I did a similar project for $1500," or "I'd like to prepare a proposal for you. Do you have a budget in mind?"

Q. How long will it take?
A. Your questioner already suspects the answer will be, "That depends," so be prepared to state exactly what it depends on. Try to be as concrete as possible, citing the number of participants, locations, or other tangible project elements, rather than pointing to intangibles, such as "motivation," or "readiness."

Q. How much experience do you have?
A. If you're short on years in the business, describe any related experience you have, whether or not it was doing what you do now, and whether or not you got paid for it: "I have 10 years in the financial services industry" or "I've been teaching and training since 1985."

Q. How many people have you done this for? A. Be truthful, but look for an answer that instills confidence. If you are new, try: "In my last job, I participated in many projects like this one" or "I've had substantial experience during my training," or even "You would be my first. Give me a try!"

Q. Who are your clients?
A. The questioner is typically trying to get a sense of who you work for, not asking for their names. Answer with your target market. Whether or not you actually have clients, you can say, "I consult with Fortune 500 companies" or "I serve high net worth individuals."

Q. What are your qualifications?
A. Be explicit and succinct: "Seven years experience in the industry and two years of specialized training."

Q. What's your success rate?
A. This is often not a relevant question. State instead how you know your customers are satisfied: "Many of my clients stay with me for years" or "I get most of my business as referrals from my clients." If you have statistics, use them, but don't let someone discount you because you can't prove your worth with numbers.

Practice your answers to these and other questions you get from people in your marketplace. Your responses should flow smoothly, so you can present yourself in the best light even under pressure. In the words of Janis Joplin, "Don't compromise yourself. You are all you've got."

May you always have an answer,
C.J. Hayden, MC

2000, C.J. Hayden. All rights reserved.
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