This is a common problem in sales. We have someone who is potentially interested in buying, but ... first they want to get something for free. However, our company policy doesn’t allow free samples of products. Then what? How should we deal with this situation and what exactly can we do in order not to discourage a potential client?
It’s understandable: everyone is looking for good deals, and clients want the product to be as cheap as possible - or even for free. Sooner or later, we come across someone who seems interested, but first wants to get something for free. This situation is unenviable, but still manageable - in several ways.
Service providers have it worst
It’s companies that provide services that most often have to deal with clients who want something for free. The reason is simple: service prices are usually estimated individually, and there aren’t usually clearly defined costs and prices - unlike, say, a clothing store, where a given sweater costs $50 and a t-shirt $15. Also, businesses that sell software or digital content often deal with customers who want something for free - be it a sample or an entire product (e.g. a movie or game).
To deal with this kind of client, the first thing we have to understand is that it isn’t personal. It isn’t about us and it certainly doesn’t mean we made some kind of communication mistake. The client in question wants something for free from our company, not from us as salespeople. We should approach them accordingly - instead of saying, “I can’t offer that for free”, we should say, “our company doesn’t offer products/services for free.” In this situation, it’s best to represent the company, not yourself. Some people may be quite impatient, or just not particularly friendly, and we don’t want to alienate them. Meanwhile, if we answer as “ourselves” and not as “the company”, the client may get the impression that the company itself might offer them something for free, and that we’re the ones getting in the way.
The second point is to realise that the whole transaction isn’t about the cost of production, but about the value that a given product or service generates for the client. What does that mean? It’s worth presenting the client with a clear presentation of the value our company provides. It’s about showing that what we offer is valuable, and thus why it isn’t offered for free. If we bring up the issue of production costs with the client, we often face the argument that something could be produced cheaper, or that the competition is able to keep costs down, which forces us to lower prices and unnecessarily opens the door to negotiations.
The client wants a free service - how do we refuse?
A potential client may ask us to ‘just have a quick look’ at something and then tell them what we think they should do (tasks/plans/activities). In the client’s mind, we aren’t performing any work for them, we’re just telling them what they should do. At the same time, the client either doesn’t think that analysis and advice is something to be paid for, or just doesn’t realise. The client may also say that the represent a non-profit organisation or is simply short on cash. In these situations, it isn’t worth making exceptions. If our services aren’t free, we should expect to be paid. If we make an exception once, it will happen again. Meanwhile, giving away your time, skills, and knowledge just shows that you don’t respect them. How should you react? Here’s an example answer:
Dear Mr. X,
Thank you for your interest in working with our company. At the moment, our schedule is reserved for our paying clients, and I’m afraid we cannot afford to take on any additional pro-bono work. However, I invite you to read up on our basic service package (link here). We think it could be a great option for you and an opportunity for us to work together in the future. However, if this isn’t the right time to cooperate, please feel free to contact us again in the future.