When I started my first business on the Internet, some rockstar coaches were advising everyone to write a note on the back of their business cards: “Free 30-minute consultation.”
Today we’re seeing a backlash.
“I offer a free report on my business card,” says one business coach. “If I offer a free session, people think I’m selling.”
He’s probably right. We hear the word “free call” and our sales radar starts to ping. We are also seeing a backlash on low-end programs — the first step in some funnels — and offers that include free consultations.
To many people, a “free call” means a sales pitch. And they’re scared.
Prospects consider your consultation — free or paid — in the context of their backstory.
Their backstory creates the context for viewing your offer. Three increasingly common backstories are:
Backstory #1: Consultation morphs into an upsell, with no warning.
Melissa signed up for a 4-week workshop for $297. A one-to-one 30-minute call was included.
Melissa looked forward to that consultation. She told the consultant she planned to scale down her business to make more time for her family. She wanted his help.
To her surprise, the consultant became extremely aggressive. He told her she’d go broke if she didn’t do certain things, which of course he could teach her.
“It was like one of those horror stories, where the person you trusted turned out to be a monster,” she recalls, shuddering.
Backstory #2: Stubborn consultant refuses to reveal the price without a phone call.
This story comes with two versions.
Version 1: “I’m hiding everything behind my back until you call.”
I got referred to an expert in some web development software, which was driving me nuts. I was desperate and willing to pay for help.
So I sent an email asking what his programs and rates were. I was ready to buy if the price was right. I didn’t need to be sold.
The expert responded, “Let’s set up a time to talk. Can we use Skype?”
I explained that there was no purpose in setting up a call until we established his rates and programs. This service was unambiguous. I knew what I was willing to pay before I ditched the software and found a new solution.
Version 2: “I’ll use this call to sabotage my services and lose the sale.”
I asked Toni, a web designer, for her rates so I could add her to my referral list; I’d seen some of her work and met a very happy client.
Toni refused to share any information by email. She insisted on a phone call.
Toni actually un-sold herself during the call.
She wasn’t used to talking to a client who knew HTML/CSS. She didn’t seem to understand how developer licensing works and how to identify a site’s WordPress theme.
If Toni had just given me her rates, I’d have sent a few clients her way.
Backstory #3: Consultant re-creates Groundhog Day — the movie.
You’ve been trained to ask questions like, “What would it be worth to you if you could…”
So you follow a script and you ask this question with every single prospect.
It’s a great closing question if your prospect has never heard it before. But she probably has. If she’s a consultant or coach herself, her marketing mentor probably advised her to ask that question.
So your prospective client might have trouble keeping a straight face. And she won’t be impressed with your originality.
How To Remove Their Fear Factor
(1) Be very clear about what’s going to happen on the call.
When you’re offering a service people aren’t familiar with (such as lifestyle coaching), you need a way to show people what they get and what you’re like to work with.
On a free call:
Your prospects might want to interact with you briefly before committing. That’s reasonable. Explain that you won’t be coaching or consulting during the call; you’re just assessing a fit and setting up logistics.
On a paid call:
Explain exactly how the call will go.
“First, I will ask you three questions, based on what you sent me ahead of time. Then we’ll review some possible actions you can take. Finally, we’ll look at ways to implement these changes. I’ll ask if you have any questions. One week later, I’ll send you a follow-up to see how you are doing.”
(2) Qualify prospects before investing your time with a free call.
You’ll not only save yourself time; you’ll also establish your own credibility. As the client, I’m suspicious of anyone who’s got lots of time to talk.
(3) Never sell on a paid call. Period.
As a client, I do not like paying to be sold. If you offer a course with a free follow-up call, I want a free no-strings call that will bring me a benefit. If you want to make an upsell offer at the end — after we’ve covered the time and topics you promised — that’s fine. But I reserve the right to say, “Thanks but no thanks.”
As a client, I can always initiate a discussion of your services. As a consultant, I leave room on the schedule so we can discuss how we might work together … after the call is ended.
(4) Offer low-end services only to a target market where your services will be valued and rewarded.
In some (but not all) markets, prospects test the waters with a low-end service. If they feel they’ve gained value, they will ask about higher-end services without any prompting.
For instance, I offer a 90-minute Story Consultation. It’s not unusual for clients to up-sell themselves to a full website makeover, with no selling whatsoever.
Over time, as you establish a reputation for delivering and over-delivering, you will melt resistance and defuse suspicious prospects.
Dear Cathy, this is so well written, But you know that. Thanks for letting me read it. I’m not selling anything yet, but took a major step today towards developing a support system that can fill in my gaps. My high school graduation class had its 60 reunion online last Monday, and a classmate I’d never had a conversation with called afterwards offering to coordinate contacts and outreach to academics and programs because she loves my goal of restructuring education for teens. (She has the degrees I never got because I was too busy designing and writing grants for maverick programs.)