Buy before you buy: Getting paid for lead generation

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By Mike Schultz and John Doerr

Free is fine, but can I pay instead?

Marketing is expensive. Especially when you sell complex products and services, your investments in brochures, Web sites, ads, direct mail, and PR can be steep. After all, you need to educate your prospects and seduce them with your solution and its benefits. This is a bit more involved than grabbing people's attention with a free sample for an impulse product like a cube of bubble gum with a gooey surprise in the middle.

Consider ABC Consulting which offers strategic business consulting. They send out a mailer describing how their intense focus and expertise in their subject area have allowed them to help their clients realize hundreds of thousands of dollars in measurable results. They also roll out their impressive past project list with great testimonials from their clients exclaiming how ABC Consulting is the greatest firm on the planet Earth.

ABC Consulting then makes their offer: "Call us for a complimentary consultation on how we can help you save millions in your business operations."

The big problem: when a buyer hears "complimentary consultation" they hear "sales pitch", even if that's not what happens when you run the meeting. So, while they may like to inquire further about your services, and maybe read a bit on your Web site, they are just not ready to engage you on such a personal, one-on-one basis because they fear being sold to. The result: The lead does not materialize from the free offer promotion.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, prospects might respond if they could pay for the consultation. Yet so many of us in services marketing neither offer samples that would be valuable to buyers, nor a way to pay-and-test the service.

Service Samples: Fee versus Free

Since you don't want to let an interested prospect fade away, you offer free white papers, webinars and seminars, or e-newsletters along with complimentary consultations and evaluations. This is a good strategy and will help you convert some interested suspects into live prospects.

But there is an oft-ignored business development strategy that lies between so-called free offerings and full-blown service engagements: the paid service sample.

Product and software companies offer great free trials of their actual offering. But service firms often try to go from a direct marketing piece to trusted partner all in one step without giving the clients a taste of the actual service itself. This leap is one that many prospects simply won't take, especially from a marketing piece. The risk is too high.

What you want to do is have prospects engage you with small pieces of your service so they can get a sense of the value you provide. But, if all of your service samples are free (and many service firms only offer free white papers, newsletters, and consultations), you are missing a great opportunity to generate leads and showcase the value of your offerings.

Why Offer Paid Samples

Five reasons to offer paid service samples:

  1. Market Value Assignment: People tend to assign more value to products and services they purchase versus those that they get for free. So when they receive the product or service, they engage it more deeply than if they hadn't paid. Greater client attention to the sample gives you a deeper brand impression and greater recall. Even if they don't continue to buy, you still leave an impression in their minds that what you offer is valuable.
  2. Value of Expectations Met: When someone pays you for something, they have their hopes up that what they paid for is worth their money and time. If your sample is not a thinly veiled sales pitch and is, instead, valuable in its own right, you've done two important things.
    • You've set an expectation that what your firm offers is valuable.
    • You've met that expectation by delivering value.

    When someone buys something from a service firm all they are really buying is the expectation that what you say during the sales process, and what you actually deliver, turn out to be the same thing. If you can display this with a sample you establish a pattern with the buyer. When they move up to the full level of service, they feel secure that you will actually deliver on what you sell to them.

  3. In-House Marketing List: If a prospect buys a service sample from you, even if the fee is nominal, they are now your client. Having a house list of satisfied clients is the golden goose of direct marketing. By offering service samples, your house list can grow in leaps and bounds, and drive serious improvements in response rates and revenue from further marketing.
  4. Brand Benefits: Take your white paper to the next level with a bit of extra research and sell it instead of giving it away. Once you offer paid research instead of free white papers your cachet in the industry rises substantially. Offer a free seminar and prospects see you as marketers; add a registration fee and you are industry experts.
  5. Subsidize Marketing Costs: If customers buy a sample before they buy your core service, you are essentially getting your customers to subsidize your marketing programs.

For example, you offer a seminar for $79 for your prospects instead of offering it for free. Thirty people attend. That's $2,370 in revenue. Let's assume your total costs for running the event, including all marketing and event operations, are $7,500. You recover almost a third of the costs in revenue. Doesn't sound like much, but when you run the seminar 10 times per year the savings start to add up.

Offer the Sample — Deliver the Goods

It takes dedication and commitment to offer smaller chunks of services that actually provide true value. Delivering sub-par paid service samples will kill your brand and your sales faster than almost anything else you can do. If you offer a $500 sample that's cheap-feeling, the customer will expect the same of your $50,000 solution. Not a good expectation to set.

If you can build and offer a service sample that is of high quality and high value, you will build the value perception of your brand, establish yourself as an expert, and develop prospects interested in your full solution set who are now already satisfied clients. At the same time, you can be getting paid for it. You don't even need a gooey surprise in the middle to make it interesting.

About the authors

John Doerr is president of the Wellesley Hills Group, a management consulting, marketing, and lead generation firm focused on helping professional services firms grow. He is also the founder of, an online source for insight, advice, and tools for service business rainmakers, marketers, and leaders. Doerr can be reached at [email protected].

Mike Schultz is president of the Wellesley Hills Group, a management consulting, marketing, and lead generation firm focused on helping professional services firms grow. He is also the publisher of, an online source for insight, advice, and tools for service business rainmakers, marketers, and leaders. He can be reached at [email protected]. Check out Schultz's Services Insider Blog for more tips and insights.

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