Image credit: avlxyz via Flickr

One of my favorite things to do is visit my local Whole Foods on a Saturday morning. On top of getting a kick out of the mix of people-watching, there’s also a pretty good chance I’m going to be able to put an entire meal together from all the suppliers and farmers on-site passing out samples of their products.

See, Whole Foods and just about every grocer I’ve ever visited, understands that every 4th or 5th person that tries Jim Bob’s Lavender Kissed Cantucci di Prato is going to buy several packages. In most cases, they are counting on these being people who have never done so before. The hope, of course, is that this taste will lead to a sale, which will lead to getting you hooked for life.

The key here is to lower the barrier to entry; by either making the offering free, or creating a lower risk way to try a version of the offering. Any business, including service businesses, can tap into the power of sampling with just a little bit of creativity.

Below are five ways to think about adapting the sample strategy for your business.

1) Create a product

Every business that sells services should look at creating a related low-cost product that supplements the service offerings. For many a consultant this product may be as simple as a book or set of workbooks and CDs. In some cases, this can be a way to package your service so that people can buy it like a product – an architect might sell a feasibility analysis as a product or an accounting firm might sell a certain type of low-cost tax return this way.

2) Create a starter version

No matter what you offer, there’s a pretty good chance you can sell a starter type of offering. A coach might create a “get unstuck” in 3 sessions mini engagement that allows someone to try out coaching without a long term commitment. Remodeling contractor Schloegel Design Remodel adopted the One Week Bath to offer a quick starter offering that could attract large numbers of new clients.

3) Freemium

The online world is full of free offerings that also feature upgraded versions with greater capacity and features. Could you create a free service with the same goal in mind? What about a group consulting model that would offer advice and answer questions in a free weekly session that could be upgraded to one-on-one consulting? What about expanding this to your entire strategic partner team and building a platform where all of your partners provide free services in a group setting to your community? Again, with the goal of moving community member up to become paying premium members.

4) Try before you buy

Every now and then I get featured in a magazine (it never gets old) and after a particularly big feature I get solicitations from a number of firms that offer to laser engrave or otherwise memorialize the article on some sort of plaque. I’ve never gotten around to taking them up on the offer, but I’ve always noted that the offer is to create the plaque, ship it to me, and only after I decide that I love do I have to pay for it. This can be a particularly enticing way to offer services as the mind tricks you into thinking, “what’s the harm in taking a look?”

If you are certain you can produce results for a prospect, another variation on try before you buy is, “only pay for results.”

5) The maintenance model

I live in a 100 year old home with a boiler for heat so I feel the need to have the boiler looked at every fall to make sure there’s no chance of my family becoming the lead story on the 10 O’Clock News. Fortunately, my heating and cooling company offers a $179 semi-annual check-up plan that has them calling me up each September to come out and adjust and maintain the boiler. Of course, while Rusty is down there in the basement he usually finds that my water heater is leaking and that I could use a new hydrogismoduthingy too. So, I happily pay another $899 for the check-up.

So, what could you do that would get you back in the prospect’s office or home on a routine basis? Could you provide a free web analysis or competitive SEO score card update for a small fee? Could you offer to install all the latest network upgrades each year for a small fee? (Of course all the while creating a checklist of paid fixes.)

Trust building is such an essential element of long term client success and getting your foot in the trust building door with low barrier to entry offerings is one of the keys to successfully moving people into full fledged customers.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Great article, though I’m not sure all of them work… In my view the freemium model and try before you buy (particularly if it involves creating something bespoke) are very difficult for small business owners to do as we are so tight on time already… However, I love the idea of Creating a starter version as this allows you to engage with people who are willing to invest in the product/service that you sell

    • Thanks, but don’t immediately limit your thinking – the example I gave from the plaque makers must work because they have been offering bespoke items without risk for years.

  • Giving away free online tools is a great introduction to your company. I post presentations, white papers and other tools I’ve created (that are essential to running my company) away on various sites. It helps position my firm as a leading edge thought leader.

    Thanks for the post, I’m always interested in what other people’s ideas.

  • I’m not sure how well this works with popular niche software– say you release a trial version to get people hooked— but there are often numerous free and open source competitors…

  • The free tools/reports/etc. is one of my favorite ways – folks who receive your goodness wonder, gee, if she shares this level of quality for free, imagine what the premium knowledge will be!

  • White papers are a great way to position a company as a thought leader. I’m not sure it leads to immediate sales.

    I think freebies have a shorter gift-to-sale time in some industries than others. Coaching is particularly well-suited to the free sample/try before you buy.

    Thanks for the post! I’m working on a product to release by the end of the year. This is a great reminder about scalability.

  • Thanks for the Interesting ideas on how helping to gain to customers. Any thoughts on how to avoid the free trap and how to balance the free trial (and other free content provided on a website) so they do not cannibalize the greater product line?

  • Another great post! Over the years, we’ve had great success offering our prospect list low-cost or free sample shirts with their custom embroidered logo. It is a lot easier to get orders from business customers in our niche once they actually have the chance to see and feel the quality of the product.

    Overcoming doubt is a challenge many on-line businesses face. Samples do provide a proven path to converting prospects into customers.

    • Overcoming doubt is simply one more way to talk about building trust – if you don’t have a well known reputation to lean on, this is how you build it one prospect at a time.

  • In today’s business environment, trust is huge. Implementing the 5 tips above is a good way to raise the level of trust of your prospects. Once the trust is built, the sale happens naturally and effortlessly (most of the time).

    • That’s right there is a logical path from know, like and trust that can more easily lead to try, buy, repeat and refer

  • Excellent read on simple and practical solutions to “open the door”. The next key question becomes “What do you do when the door opens?”

    • Absolutely you must have a planned way to move the try to buy, repeat and refer and this is best done with set services and processes that focus on the experience – if the trial is a stripped down version with no value, don’t count on it going anywhere.

  • Thank you for these tips. You’re absolutely right about creating a starter version. In my field, it’s difficult to get a client to hire me immediately to design a complete website. So I usually offer a critique (for website redesigns) or a consultation. In the latter case, if they do decide to hire me, the amount they already paid is deducted from the total fee.

    It’s amusing how those firms offered to engrave your articles on plaque!

  • As always, good “food” for thought.

  • Thanks for the Interesting ideas on how helping to gain to customers.

  • Thank you – you always give good and interesting advice. The free website check is on the list of things to do!