Sales Strategy

What are some polite ways to let potential clients know you don't work for free?

Alison Lewis CEO/Creative Director

January 7th, 2016

We write proposals to clients to do wearable technology work. During the process they ask a lot of questions, some of which are frankly not something we would want to answer as that is paid knowledge. While we are very open and friendly, we are not here to give away the farm for free. Examples are: "what LED should we use?" "How do you improve the resolution?" and "What battery should we use?"  These are questions not for a beginning conversation, but for once we are hired. 

We don't want to push them away, so I'd love some polite response suggestions to this type of inquiry or some sales people's suggestions on how to turn this inquiry into a sale. 

Mitchell Portnoy Healthcare Information Executive

January 7th, 2016

"We have answers to all your questions and are eager to help just as soon as you become our client.  When can we begin?"

Tim Scott

January 8th, 2016

I've been on the other side of this -- trying to get free advice during the sales process -- and the typical tactic is, "It depends. I don't know enough to make a recommendation that I can stand behind."

I get the message. I may know they're dissembling, but as a business person myself I understand it's a soft wait to say, "Nice try, but you gotta pay for that," and I don't take offense. 



Michael Barnathan

January 7th, 2016

Teasers. "Some companies use lithium ion batteries in this situation, but you'll need to consider current, inrush, charging requirements... let's sit down and discuss a consultation, where we can design something more in depth for your specific needs."

David Still Founder of Start-ups, Entrepreneur, Financier and Advisor

January 7th, 2016

First, I would advise you to be very clear what your value and tasks are. Einstein said: "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself." Then, once they understand your value proposition tell them the truth about pricing  without spin - straight-up truth. If you decide to provide a sample of your work for free, then tell the prospect what you are doing. If they do not recognize your value and pay you, then walk away on great terms - burn no bridges. Every prospect you talk to will talk about you to others and statistically the communication chain will move to about 64 additional people. Any prospect who wants free work is not worth having. Lastly, do not be delusional that a prospect will recognize your free work by giving you profitable work in the future. Over my 40 years of business, I (and my salespeople on their "backlog" report) wasted so much time and money trying to get new business by creating free work it's unbelievably embarrassing.

Street Wisdom for Founders of Startups, davidbstill.com

Jessica Magoch Sales doesn't have to be a dirty word. Get more clients without being icky, sleazy, or just plain annoying.

January 8th, 2016

Hey Allison, 
Great question! It's all about setting proper expectations upfront.  In sales, we call it a pre-close. If your client doesn't understand the boundaries before the conversation starts, they will have their own assumptions about what information should be free and what should be paid.  Otherwise, the conversation can get awkward when they ask a question that requires another step in the relationship. No one likes surprises. To them, it may even feel manipulative because they expected one thing and were blind sighted by another. 
For instance, before you begin discussions, explain how the consultation works, the purpose of it,  what the next steps are, and what advice they can expect from the consultation vs. what advice they should expect from a paid relationship. 
Typically, a consultation should resemble an interview, where you're asking them questions to see if you can help, and they're asking you questions to see if you're qualified.  
You may want to consider a paid consultation model if people are looking to get information but not ready for a full relationship. Apply the cost of the consultation toward a future agreement if you want, and outline what kind of answers they can expect to get from a paid consultation and what they will get from the full program. 
Again, it's all about expectations. No one likes to get on a call expecting something for free and then told they have to pay for it half way through the conversation. It's your job as the salesperson to communicate that upfront. 
Hope this helps! 
Jess

Alison Lewis CEO/Creative Director

January 9th, 2016

Cute picture. Are you offering to help?  Because there isn't anyone here but me to make it happen. Until there is someone else, the founder makes it happen. 

Jessica Magoch Sales doesn't have to be a dirty word. Get more clients without being icky, sleazy, or just plain annoying.

January 10th, 2016

Yes, you're on the right track.  The key is to say it in the beginning and not when it comes up.  There are two principles at play: 1) Pre-close: Basically setting expectations for the conversation.  Should follow this format: This is what we're going to do today.  I'm going to do this.... You're going to do this... if it makes sense, we can do this....  and in order to do that I'll need you to do... (usually sign some kind of agreement). IS THAT OK WITH YOU?  <- no surprises. They either agree, or have an objection or question. Most salespeople miss this part and it's what makes sales icky and uncomfortable.  2) Overcoming objections: The best way to overcome and objection is to handle it before it comes up.  Since this is a pattern, you need to make it part of the beginning of the conversation, so you've already overcome one of the biggest objections you have. 
Go get 'em! As a founder and CEO, your primary job is to sell. The company, the product, new teammates, stockholders.  But you can do it! Just another skill to add to the bucket.

Michael Barnathan

January 9th, 2016

At some point you'll have to mobilize additional resources (i.e. hire people, find volunteers, or cofounders). It might be possible to do this more easily in sales than other industries, since commission based compensation is the norm (i.e. take on the close - run the numbers and figure out what can work). It is something you can do yourself in the beginning, but make sure you can diversify the team as you grow, so everyone can excel in their core competencies.

Federico Ramallo

January 11th, 2016

As I understand, you are selling a service. You should read Managing the Professional Firm from David H Maister. It's a bundle of small articles and some of them talk about how to get new clients. 

Basically it's about trust. The client would ask if they trust you to deliver.
So stear the conversation towards that. Answer straight with high level and go back to the relationship question: Are we a good fit?
Rember both should ask if the other is a good fit.

I would say: Show general domain knowledge, Build the relationship and create trust.

Last, you can create a Master service agreement which gives you a framework before you engage in the work.

http://blog.obiefernandez.com/content/2008/09/master-services-agreement-part-1.html

Neil Gordon Board Member, Corporate Finance Advisor and Strategy Consultant

January 10th, 2016

"I love working with company's like yours! Would you mind if I sent you a proposal?"

Decide for yourself how many free samples you're willing to give out. After that, if they're offended because you won't give them free advice, too bad. My best clients have either asked me what I charge or what my arrangement is or words to that effect. Either that, or they just anticipate a bill and expect I'll be fair about it. Those that continue to nibble for free never seem to quite work out economically.