"The Navigator" News Blog

The Art of Giving: Why “Free Consulting” Can Lead to Profitable Relationships

A few weeks ago, I attended a Webinar for speakers. The topic was on how to generate more customer inquiries and “back of the room” sales from presentations and Webinars.  Well, I had my Webinar coming up on “The Top Four Sales Trends That Could Double Your Bottom Line,” and I figure I can always learn something, so I signed up.  Unfortunately, that ended up being 33 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.

There’s a lesson here for every salesperson, and it’s a lesson that addresses a complaint that I hear about customers every time I speak.  Salespeople bemoan the customers who want “free consulting” and then take the salesperson’s ideas and get a cheaper price.  I’m going to give you my view on that situation and how to handle it – and hopefully the webinar story will be a bit entertaining as I give you those pointers.

I should note that I didn’t actually “sign up” on my own.  I was cold-called (through an auto-dialer, grrr…) by someone who was obviously in an overseas call center with a very limited ability to speak English. So, after a few moments of trying to understand what he was saying, I asked him to email information.  Instead, he signed me up for a Webinar.  It was tastefully called, “Get the Freaking Money!” I looked and I thought, what the hell, I’d go ahead and attend.

In the week and a half between the initial call and the Webinar, I was called three more times from various people involved with the presenter attempting me to sell something that they wouldn’t define.  I finally told them to leave me alone and I blocked two phone numbers.  Still, I was curious (morbid curiosity at this point), and I signed onto the Webinar.

The first 20 minutes – not kidding – were about how much money the presenter makes.  Yes, 20 minutes.  Nothing about how I could make money, just about how much he makes.  Some of that time was video of people rushing to his table after a presentation.  At this point, I was like the little boy who, given a pile of horse manure for Christmas, begins digging thinking that there has to be a pony inside all of that crap.

I should note that the whole time, he’s already pitching us on some undefined product or service.  I still don’t know.  Finally, at about 30 minutes, he gives us some of his “magic.”  His first point is that, in speeches, I should give “minimal content.”  You see, if I actually taught people something useful in my programs, they might decide that they could just work with that and not spend money with me.  NOW is this sounding familiar?  In other words, he’s telling me not to give “free consulting.”

Here’s the thing – that’s not me.  In fact, it’s never been me, even when I was in a sales territory years ago.  I’d give my customers lots of information.  Did some of them take my information and go buy at a cheaper price?  Sure they did.  But I always figured that those weren’t my customers.  Here’s the thing:  your good customers value you for what you bring to the table, not just numbers on a page.  Sure, it sucks to lose a deal on price when you have given someone a road map to solving their problem.

But I’m going to tell you another secret.  Customers are going to buy from who they want to buy from, regardless.  The only thing that you accomplish by being cagey with your expertise is that you reduce their desire to make you that “person they want to buy from.”

My philosophy is this.  I’ve always figured that, if I gave customers some good information for free, they would figure that there was great information to be had if they bought from me.  And they would be right in thinking so.  When I do a Webinar, or a speaking presentation, or my one-on-one Sales Strategy Review, I do give away good stuff that people can use to make money.  There’s better stuff available if they pay – but I always have made it worthwhile for customers to spend time with me, even back in the days when I was selling industrial components.  That made them want to spend more time, and eventually, spend money.

If you don’t give at least some value for time, customers are going to assume that there’s no value to be had – and move on.  That’s what I did in that Webinar.  I realized that the rest of my time on this Webinar would be wasted time – and worse, he had not fulfilled his promise of telling me how to “Get the Freaking Money.”

The truth about this guy was that he was scared.  For all of his bravado and braggadocio, e was absolutely petrified that if he told me a little bit of useful information, I wouldn’t need him.  And he might have been right.  But by not telling me anything useful, he made me think that there wouldn’t be much useful knowledge – even if I paid for it.  So, 33 minutes in, I detached from his Webinar and I will not entertain any more calls from his people.

What’s funny is that, over the years, there have been many occasions where I have given what looked like “free consulting” at the time that ended up being very lucrative to me.  Once, when I was in the industrial sales business, I gave “free consulting” to someone who then bought at a cheaper price.  Six months later, he referred someone to me because he was appreciative of what I did, and that referral became my #2 customer.  Other times, people have come back, even years later, and did business – because I helped them in a meaningful way.

So here’s my advice to you when you are wondering if you’re giving out “free consulting.”  Do it.  Remember – customers will buy from who they want to buy from, regardless.  Helping your customer increases the chances that that person will be you.  And, honestly, it’s just the right thing to do.