Is the Free Initial Consultation Dead?
Yes, in my view.
At least in the way it's normally done.
For many years, consultants, coaches, trainers – and even accountants and lawyers – have been offering “free initial consultations” as a way of encouraging clients to engage with them.
The logic, of course, is that once they work with them for an hour or so, their fears about whether the professional knew their stuff and whether they'd be able to get on with them would be laid to rest.
Some of the more marketing savvy professionals learnt how to focus the initial consultation on identifying the client's most urgent problems and plotting an outline action plan rather than simply giving away an hour's free work. In that way the client was taken on a journey where they realised just how big their issues were and were more inclined to buy as a result.
But in my experience, potential clients are becoming less and less likely to take up the offer of free initial consultations.
The change is coming from two angles:
- Firstly, they've experienced some professionals using the initial consultation as a blatant opportunity to sell to them. They now view initial consultations as risky – with a high chance they'll be subjected to a sales pitch and receive little value from the session.
- Secondly, they've discovered that they can achieve many of the things they got from an initial consultation in other ways (for free too) without having to engage with a professional. Meeting a consultant, lawyer or other professional can be a daunting prospect. So if they believe they can get similar value from a free e-book or video or seminar recording – then they'll often prefer to take that option. And they can take this option at their own convenience – without having to travel or wait until the professional is available.
Most professionals benefit greatly from having some form of free give-away which gets a client to begin to engage with them. It can demonstrate their expertise, give clues as to what they're like to work with, and generally reduce the client's perceived risk.
But the day when free initial consultations worked well for this are gone. If all you have as a freebie is a free consultation you need to think again, and create something else you can offer as an easier to bite option.
It could be that after sampling your free report or teleseminar, the potential client is ready for a free consultation (or they may be ready to buy straight away). But it's unlikely that today's time-pressed cynical executives will jump at the chance of a free consultation if nothing has come before it to demonstrate your capabilities and personality.