What does your inquiry phase look like? I ask every new client this question and surprisingly often I’m met with a blank stare. Most interior designers don’t have one but they also don’t realize the importance of it.
This is your one chance to impress a potential client but the difficulty is that you don’t have the opportunity to speak to them. Your website (and to a degree your social media) needs to do the work for you. The bad news is that for anyone that isn’t embracing technology, you may be ending the inquiry process earlier than you realize. If a client finds it difficult to navigate your site or can’t easily find answers they’re looking for, they’ll move on to another designer.
THE INQUIRY PHASE IS INVISIBLE
A lot of you are confusing your inquiry phase with the onboarding phase so let’s take a second to clarify the difference:
An inquiry phase is the time when someone is considering you for their project. You may be one of many designers being considered. And most likely you’ll never know you’re being evaluated.
Clients are engaged in the inquiry phase silently. Often they’re lurking on your social media sites, they’re googling you but most importantly, they’re poring over your website.
ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS TO A GREAT INQUIRY PROCESS
Now that we’re clear on the fact that we’re silently being evaluated it’s time to think about how you can stand out? Here are 4 ways to impress everyone who considers you:
USE YOUR WEBSITE TO ANSWER QUESTIONS
Make sure everything on your website is designed to answer questions that a client is potentially confused about. The number one mistake designers make on their websites is to talk about themselves more than they talk about the client. You likely hear these questions from every new client so make sure you address them on your website.
Every page of your site should be packed with information about renovations, builds or whatever your industry niche is. Have a blog library that is full of updated information that is useful to a client. You can include something on your homepage that directs a visitor to your Top 10 Blog Posts or Most Popular Posts.
Your Portfolio and About pages are the only places you should be focused on yourself. The rest of your website is for your clients. It’s critical that it resonates with them or they’ll move on to another site.
HAVE A DOWNLOADABLE SERVICES GUIDE ON YOUR WEBSITE
Automation will help you rise to the top of the selections because it allows your potential client to move through the inquiry process on their timeline. There’s no need to wait until working hours to call you and get basic questions answered.
Don’t overlook the importance of this download. It works for both the client and you. While they get what they’re looking for you have a chance to keep the discussion going by adding them to your email list. A world of relationship building is available with a welcome sequence as well as your regular newsletters.
Here’s what to include in the Welcome Guide:
- Introduction to you and your team, including a photo
- Your design philosophy will help to showcase what’s important to you as a designer
- How you’re different
- A brief overview of your services
- Pricing or starting from…
- Your framework for how you work
- Contact information
USE YOUR CONTACT FORM TO PRE-QUALIFY CLIENTS
You can learn more about the 3 questions you need to ask before the discovery call but essentially you want to gather info on budget, timeline and current stage of work before you schedule a discovery call. If those important project parameters don’t line up with the established guidelines in your business, you don’t need to waste time on a discovery call.
I used to think it was a good idea to allow clients to book their own discovery calls. After spending too much time on calls that would never end in a good fit I changed my mind. Save time for you and the client by gathering the information you need first.
HAVE AUTORESPONDERS SET UP
When someone interacts with your website make sure you let them know what to expect. They’re showing that they’re serious about you so don’t drop the ball now. Let them know what’s next. When will they hear back from you and what are the next steps?
If they download your Services Guide, make sure you have an automated message thanking them for the interest in you. Immediately follow that with an email sent from your email service provider. This will be the first step in your nurture sequence.
If they fill out your Contact Form be sure there’s an autoresponder set to deliver an email with a cordial reply. This acknowledges that your automated process is working and you will in fact see their inquiry. Be sure this note includes a timeline for when you’ll be in touch with them.
The biggest benefit to you as a business owner is that you have a chance to review the answers and decide (without pressure) if this is a good fit. If you go straight to the discovery call you’ll be finding out the answers to these questions in real time. If the budget doesn’t fit your requirements you need to be confident in relaying that information and putting an end to the call. That can feel a lot more awkward on the phone.
BE SURE YOUR SOCIAL CHANNELS ARE ANSWERING QUESTIONS
There’s a tendency in the design community to post just beautiful images. While it’s eye candy and shows your credibility you’re missing out on an opportunity to sell yourself. If you use those channels to answer common questions you are also enhancing your inquiry phase.
Potential clients will be watching you for a while before they ever reach out. Statistically we know that a luxury client can watch a designer for THREE MONTHS before reaching out. That’s 90 days to sell yourself and your company. Speak to the client and show that you understand their pain points. This will set you above the pack.
Remember that most designers can compete with you on creativity. You need to be better at running your business if you want to rise to the top.