From the November 1996 issue of Entrepreneur

Imagine how difficult it is for a prospect to make the decision to buy what you are selling. He or she has never purchased from you before, doesn't know much about you, and has been stung in the past by making purchasing errors when dealing with others.

Guerrilla marketing makes the hard step of purchasing a lot less painful by creating a series of soft steps for prospects to take first. One such soft step is the offer of a free consultation. It's easy to say yes to such an offer because it carries no pressure. And after it's over, it makes the hard step of buying a whole lot easier.

The guerrilla's arsenal abounds with such soft steps, all designed to make purchasing from you less risky, less of a momentous decision and simpler because you've replaced most barriers with information.

What are some other soft steps guerrillas take? In addition to free consultations, there are free seminars, free clinics, free samples and free demonstrations. These soft steps let the prospect know what it's like to actually own what you are selling-without taking any risk whatsoever. After taking these soft steps, the hard step of buying from you doesn't seem all that hard anymore.

Other first-rate guerrilla soft steps include free brochures-whether on paper, videotape or audiotape. There are also free catalogs, a free newsletter and free tours of whatever you want your prospects to see. And don't forget free appraisals, free estimates and special events to attract prospects.

Please don't fail to notice how many of the soft steps are free. And keep in mind that all these soft steps give the prospect a better chance to get to know you, removing much of the risk that goes along with making a purchase, especially a major purchase.

One of the hallmarks of a guerrilla is a keen sense of reality. No matter how much quality or service the guerrilla offers, that guerrilla still has to face the reality that buying from a stranger is not an easy task. So the guerrilla bends over backward to leave the ranks of strangers and become a friend. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to offer free information of value. And that's exactly what soft steps are all about.

One of the most potent of all soft steps is the offering of a free gift. Members of all demographic groups, all income groups, all psychographic groups and all geographic groups love free gifts. The offer of a freebie is virtually irresistible to most prospects-and extremely cost-effective for most guerrillas.

Realize that there is resistance to buying from you for the first time and that your job is to defuse that resistance as best you can. When a prospect says yes to your offer of a soft step, that person is saying yes to an offer of information that he or she feels has worth and value. Of course, this isn't the same as saying yes to a sales presentation. Your information must motivate the prospect into wanting a sales presentation, not merely accepting one that is force-fed.

Your job as a guerrilla is to provide enough data so that buying from you seems like the next logical step, as natural as breathing-instead of the perilous, risky step purchasing really is. Guerrillas know deep in their bones that many prospects need a little nudge and that soft steps provide that nudge. So they do everything in their power to make that hard step of buying from them as easy as pie.