Turning Samples Into Sales

Article by C.J. HaydenOffering free samples to prospective clients is a powerful method of increasing the know, like, and trust factor that makes people buy. When you are selling a professional service, potential clients have no way to see, feel, or taste what you will actually deliver. Providing a sample makes your service offering tangible, and builds your credibility with prospects.

But if you’re not careful, you can give away too much. Why should clients pay for what they can get from you for free? And if you give those freebies to unqualified buyers, you may find yourself spending far too much time and money on prospects who will never become paying customers.

The answer lies in crafting a get-acquainted offer that gives prospective clients a taste of what you can do without giving away the store. Here are some guidelines for maintaining that balance:

1. Pre-qualify your prospects. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands, it’s not a good idea to make a standing offer of a free consultation, sample session, or complimentary analysis to all comers. You may attract far too many “looky-loos.” That’s what real estate agents call people who attend open houses every weekend with no intent to buy.

Until you know more about who you are talking to, always include a qualifier with your offer, such as: “Find out if you qualify for a free consultation” or “Take this quiz — you may win a sample session.”

Once you are in contact with a prospective client, ask two or three questions about the client’s situation before making your free offer. Queries like, “How soon are you planning to make this change?” or “Do you have a budget in mind?” will let you know how much of your time this prospect is worth.

2. Make an offer that leverages your time. One reason that real estate agents offer open houses is because it doesn’t take that much longer to show the house to 30 buyers than it does to show it to one. As a consultant or professional, you can maximize a free offer by making it available to as many prospects as possible at the same time.

One excellent example of this model is a free newsletter or ezine that showcases your expertise. You write it once, send it to hundreds or thousands of potential buyers, then reprint your newsletter articles on your website and in other publications. Sharing your wisdom in written form can convince prospects that you know your stuff.

Another way to give a sample to many people at once is offering a free seminar or workshop that demonstrates your capabilities. You can keep your costs down by finding a co-sponsor to provide space, or by giving your program as a teleconference or webinar.

3. Give away a sample, not the real thing. Follow the example of workshop leaders who use what they call two-step promotion: they invite people to a free teaser program, then enroll them in the full workshop. In the teaser, they give prospects a taste of what they will get when they buy. The taste itself is valuable — it’s not just a sales presentation — but they hold back the best part for the paid program.

Any consultant or professional can craft an offer along these lines. Instead of simply offering a free hour of your professional time, offer instead a free initial analysis, evaluation, or diagnosis. If you position your sample as a stand-alone “assessment,” “tune-up,” or “strategy session,” you draw a clear boundary between what is free and what costs money.

4. Place limits on your offer. No free offer should be open-ended. If you are explicit at the outset about the limitations on your free sample, you will find it much easier to ask for the sale when the offer expires. Clearly defining your offer as a “one-hour introductory consultation,” “free one-time analysis” or “five-page assessment” will establish a firm boundary between free and paid service.

5. Be helpful, but remember to ask for the business. One of the dangers of being in a helpful profession like consulting, training, coaching, or advising is that your natural tendency to offer advice and support can sometimes interfere with closing the sale.

Once you have delivered your free sample, it’s time to close the deal. Here are three suggested approaches to help you make the transition from serving to selling:
“Now that you know what I can do for you, let’s talk about how we can keep working together.”
“I have an excellent solution for that; let’s discuss what it would cost.”
“I think it’s time to turn on the meter, don’t you?”

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