Attracting Customers With a Free Consultation Show prospects what you can do for their business by offering a complimentary assessment.

By Gail Goodman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

One of the best ways to show prospects your business's value is with a compelling customer case study coupled with an offer to repeat your success with their business.

To find the perfect case study to offer up to prospects, think about how your business has already solved problems for your satisfied customers. Maybe your products or services have saved them time and money or helped their efficiency. Identify and quantify how you've successfully met your customers' needs, then use e-mail marketing communications to share that case study and package an enticing service introduction as a "free consultation."

Done correctly, potential customers will feel they're getting a tremendous value for free while you'll have created an opportunity to bid for their actual business. Here are a few suggestions for how to use e-mail marketing to show prospects what your business can do for them--and get your phone lines ringing:

Show by Example: Support the Offer With a Compelling Case Study
You already have success stories from customers happy with your product or service. Ask if you can interview a preferred customer for a short case study that presents their problems or challenges and shows how your business provided solutions. (You can also present the case in more generic terms if you wish the client to remain anonymous.) Quantify how you helped that customer, either in terms of gained business, lowered costs, higher efficiency, increases in revenue--whatever made your relationship successful. Then outline your methodology in broad steps, and include testimonial quotes if you have the client's permission.

Publish your short case study in your e-mail newsletter or via a separate e-mail marketing campaign. Alongside it, run a sidebar offering a "free consultation" (or "complimentary assessment," "project evaluation," "service overview," "introductory consultation"--whatever language works best for your business). The case study should be the main feature while the sidebar extends your offer.

For instance, let's say your business specializes in the collections process. Your case study would describe how you revolutionized collections for a business, saving it time, streamlining the process and increasing cash flow. Your sidebar would be a call to action to contact you for an assessment. It should say something like, "Want to do this for your own business? Contact us for a free evaluation." Your "Contact us" link could go to a landing page that further explains the offer and asks the prospect for more information about their particular business needs.

Don't Wing It: Use a Structured Methodology to Evaluate Customers' Needs
Potential customers may be wary of businesses offering something for free and reluctant to share their phone numbers and other personal data with you. Be very clear when wording what the free consultation involves so customers know exactly what they're getting into. Here are some tips for writing a compelling offer:

  • Put a time limit on the assessment."Give us 10 minutes, and we'll evaluate your savings potential."
  • Keep it short."Call us for 3 ways to improve your marketing ROI."
  • Frame it as a self-assessment tool."Take our 10-minute self-assessment test to learn if we can help lower your IT costs."
  • Market an event."Join us for a two-hour seminar to learn more about how search engine optimization can help your business."

You don't want prospects to feel like you're saying, "Call us, and we'll sell you." It's not a hard sell. A "quick assessment" is more digestible to customers still in research mode.

You'll want to put your best foot forward with these hot prospects, so make sure whoever takes these sales calls is up to the task and does their homework based on the information prospects submitted and what you know based on their past activity (learn what their past activity means for you in this previous article I wrote).

Another important tip: Draw in your customers without giving away so much that they could do what you offer themselves. And if you say your consultation will take 10 minutes, don't let it yawn on to 45--or even 15.

To make your assessment short and effective, develop a rigorous methodology based on your past experience with evaluating customers' needs so in 10 minutes, you'll know whether you can help a prospect or not. The more structured your assessment and ROI tools, the more successful your free evaluations will be. It's your one chance to win your prospects' confidence and take the relationships to the next level-getting the go-ahead to create a proposal for their business.

To reach even more prospects, you should reach into your e-mail tracking and reporting data--it'll show you who clicked through to your offer page but didn't submit a form. Those warm prospects are worth a phone call as well.

E-mail marketing is a wonderful way to generate leads and build customer relationships.

It's the first step in a process that moves prospects to phone contact and culminates with you pitching the client in person. If you've conducted your complimentary assessment correctly, you should already know what the customer needs and how your product or service can help. Your proposal should be informed, insightful and right on target, offering solutions to the customers' specific problems. Close the deal with the confidence that comes from knowing you've done your homework on a newfound customer.

Gail Goodman is the author of Engagement Marketing: How Small Business Wins In a Socially Connected World (Wiley, 2012) and CEO of Waltham, Mass.-based Constant Contact Inc., a provider of email marketing, event marketing, social media marketing, local deal and online survey tools and services for small businesses, associations and nonprofits.

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