GUIDE: Why You Should Always Give a Prospect Something for Free
Something that has become crystal clear since the dawn of social media and online shopping is the need for an easy entry point.
A low impact way to get in front of your customers where they don't have to commit to a contract, a payment or a ton of time.
If you aren't the biggest or weren't the first to the market in your industry, one of the best ways you can compete here and now is with offering a free product, consultation or service offering to enter the hearts and minds of your prospective customers without asking them to commit to something off the bat.
It's called free sample marketing (or free service marketing) and it's one of the most powerful marketing strategies your small business can take advantage of.
In this post, we'll explain what free sample marketing is, give you a handful of examples, answer a few common questions about it and explain how this powerful marketing tool can be implemented to grow your business for the long term.
NOTE: This post is for small business owners who cultivate lasting relationships with their customers. While this can serve e-commerce entities or "one-off" purchasers, a free sample marketing strategy best serves those trying to create lasting relationships. There will be good insights here, no matter what kind of business you run, though.
What is free sample or service marketing?
Linchpin SEO defines free sample marketing as "the act of giving products or services away to prospective customers for free. It is especially effective in the health, beauty, food, and drink industries."
While the word "sample" implies a product, we're going to adapt this term to mean serving long-term customers for services mostly.
But the philosophy is largely the same.
Free sample marketing, or should we just call it free service marketing, means you're going to give potential customers something for absolutely free right away.
In other words, it's going to be used as the entry point for those potential customers to learn your business and turn into real and loyal customers.
As a small business owner you might think: My time is too valuable to be just giving away free services.
And you'd be wrong.
The average customer these days is looking to get, at the very least, free information before they hear a sales pitch from you.
Nelson Boswell put it best when he said:
But the average customer also expects top-notch customer service to go with it. You can't give something away for free and just expect that to be good enough.
HupSpot states that 93% of customers are likely to make repeat purchases with companies who offer excellent customer service.
And Zendesk says that nearly three out of five consumers report that good customer service is vital for them to feel loyalty toward a brand.
And that's why it's worth your time.
What is the point of free samples or services for small businesses?
Here's a simple exercise for a small business owner. Ask yourself:
"Would I use the services we're selling?"
If the answer is yes, ask yourself another question.
"What's the largest pain point our customers feel?"
Chances are that pain point is pretty close to the top of the sales funnel.
Perhaps it takes your staff too long to get back to people. Perhaps they have to fill out a ton of information before they're a qualified hot lead. Perhaps your marketing tactics don't speak to them directly (think using radio ads when your primary customer is a millennial or Tik Tok ads being used for boomers).
If you're learning where we're going with this, there are two main reasons to give something away for free.
- Your customers expect it.
- It actually aids your marketing efforts.
So what's the point?
It's a low entry point for your potential customers to get into your sales pipeline and a low effort way for you to start gathering leads and cultivating them.
It takes some effort, don't get us wrong, but this is about playing the long game.
If you're thinking about using free sample marketing for easy sales, you might as well stop reading now.
If you're looking to incorporate this tactic into your marketing plan to build customer loyalty and long term relationships, read on.
Let's nail down a few more stats on why your customers expect free stuff and high quality customer service before we identify how it aids your marketing campaigns.
- Free samples are the biggest incentive for 34% of customers to shop from retailers online. (Shopify)
- Consumer product brands that included free samples had significantly higher purchase rates than those who didn’t. (Taylor & Francis)
- Businesses can grow revenues between 4% and 8% above their market when prioritizing better customer service experiences. (Bain & Company)
- 89% of consumers are more likely to make another purchase after a positive customer service experience. (Salesforce)
So whether it's sample products or a digital product or simply a free consultation, customers are looking for an entry point into your business offerings that doesn't ask too much of them.
Now let's talk about marketing.
What's an example of free sample or free service marketing?
The beauty of this approach is that any small business can often adapt what they're doing already to more affect with a shift in mindset.
Let's take a small business who provides cleaning services as an example.
Traditionally they've advertised on the radio, through direct mail. They've made sure their company website is easy to use and that their social media is always updated with high quality photos of their staff and before and after photos.
Great start, right?
The problem, they are currently charging for in-person consultations.
It makes sense. The staff have to get in a car and drive to the prospects location. That costs gas and an hourly wage and the company doesn't want to eat it.
Even though this consultation is advertised for the low price of $29.99, the company's owner is wondering why organic leads have dried up.
So how can this owner adopt the free service marketing mentality to increase those organic leads?
It's pretty simple. Stop tripping over the dollars to get to the pennies. $29.99 is effectively a loss leader anyway. The price isn't high enough to provide a profit, as the labor for the staff to go out and consult will cost around that, and it's too high for someone sitting on the fence about hiring cleaning services.
The solution? Eliminate the consultation cost and make it free.
That's step 1.
Step 2, after the consultation happens, offer a 24 hour guarantee on a quote for the services.
Step 3, include a quote (whether the client asks for it or not) of weekly and bi-weekly cleaning for the house.
And finally step 4, offer 20% off for anyone who books their cleaning date within one week of the consultation.
Forget about your marketing budget. Remember, you're looking to cultivate long term relationships.
So how does this small shift do that?
They're able to serve more people. After all, they're not asking for their credit card information any more, simply their name, address and a convenient time to conduct the consultation.
This was already part of their procedure.
And once the consultation is complete, by guaranteeing a quick turnaround time, they're guiding them to a sale on their terms.
Finally, by offering more quotes and a discount on their first cleaning if they do it in a week, they're creating a sense of urgency.
If all of this is accompanied with exceptional customer service by the staff on site and a phenomenal job by the cleaning staff if a sale is made, it's highly likely the customer will then include the weekly or bi-weekly cleaning services.
This marketing strategy had 3 key ingredients to make the free services marketing efforts successful:
- A free entry point to attract more prospects
- Fantastic customer service—from the person on the phone or website manager booking the consultation to the staff conducting the consultation to the cleaning staff on the day of the cleaning
- Multiple touch points for them to be served again and again
Ease is key. Making it easy for them to work with you through your process and through the customer service creates a consistency across channels that will turn prospects into customers into loyal, repeat customers.
For 86% of people, good customer service turns one-time clients into long-term brand champions. (Khoros). That makes it absolutely vital for you to meet your target customers where they expect to be met; an easy experience combined with being treated like a human being.
What are some more examples?
The cleaning service example is just one illustration of how a company changed their mindset from monetizing every aspect of the business to turning target customers in to longtime satisfied customers through a free service offering and customer service initiatives—ultimately resulting in client retention and organic growth.
Here are a few more examples:
- Making your company website's blog resource-based versus sales based. By having your content marketing strategy focus on answering frequently asked questions or solving pain points versus saying "Look at us!" you'll build trust with people who find you for the first time.
- Offering to go out to your prospect's home to have a sit down with them at no cost. Many lawyers do this in their area to apply a personal touch for their clients.
- Scheduling a free virtual consultation that is strictly educational. Advertise that no sales pitch is allowed and that if the prospect would like pricing, that a follow up meeting should be scheduled.
- Offering a "try it at home" for free. Many furniture stores, mattress companies and more take advantage of these promotions.
- Allow the prospect to use the product for a week for free. Many SAAS companies will allow prospects unfettered access to their product with a name and an email address of a couple of weeks before locking them into a subscription.
Obviously there are a wealth of others and the above list of examples is by no means exhaustive.
We're confident you can understand the value of free sample or service marketing initiatives but if you truly hope to build these leads organically, you're going to need to make sure you're found.
And with 93% of online interactions starting with a search engine, that means you're going to need your company website to get found in Google, Bing and others.
Free service marketing goals don't work without search engine optimization
In a perfect world, free marketing for product sampling or service-based businesses should be focused around a more passive approach.
If you're going to be giving something away for free it either needs to not take a ton of effort to get the leads or leave a ton of potential for repeat business.
One of the best ways to start generating leads with low effort is through search engine optimization.
Search engine optimization or SEO is one of the most cost-effective marketing initiatives because, when executed properly for a handful of months, the results you get in search engines like Google tend to be long lasting.
In short, SEO is the act of getting your company website found for key phrases (think your products and services) using Google approved methods.
Once more, SEO services actually cost less than a single marketing employee—often coming in at less than $50K/year.
So as a small business, with minimal investment in SEO and a free service offering, you'll be well on your way to creating a sales funnel that starts supporting itself over time.
If you're truly curious to learn more about SEO, you can read up on it here.
If you're a small business owner, you might not realize how SEO can play a massive role when it comes to closing the gap on big business. Read this blog to learn more.
The reason SEO is so cost-effective is because it's based on a content marketing strategy and not on an ads budget. In other words, you're using the power of your unique offerings to tell search engines, and ultimately humans, why you're the place to be for what you do best.
And while SEO is extremely effective at getting your brand in front of people who haven't heard of you before, there are a few other digital marketing techniques that can help you get seen.
- Google Ads
- Facebook Ads
- LinkedIn Advertising
- Email marketing
- Email advertising
- And more
Now that you know it's important to offer something free to your prospects, provide excellent customer service throughout and that you need to market your company website using SEO or other digital marketing techniques to get found, let's get a few frequently asked questions answered on the subject.
Frequently asked questions about "free" as a promotion strategy
How do samples affect sales?
For product based businesses, in-store sampling increase sales both in the immediate and extended time frames. And according to Jeffrey Dotson, a professor of marketing in the Marriott School of Business, “Sampling has both an immediate effect and a sustained impact on sales." Another powerful effect of using the free strategy, according to For Entrepreneurs, is that it usually results in a far larger customer base.
Does customer service affect sales?
A good customer service experience heavily impacts recommendations. Consumers who rate a company’s service as “good” are 38% more likely to recommend that company. (Qualtrics XM Institute) and 58% of American consumers will switch companies because of poor customer service. (Microsoft). So yeah, it has a massive impact on sales if you get it wrong.
Are free samples effective?
According to Shopify, free samples have been proven to boost sales by as much as 2,000%. And while offering free services or consultation results in a longer sales cycle or funnel, it also creates a positive first impression, which is vital for the customer retention and repeat sales.
The user is in control. Small business owners need to be willing NOT to monetize every aspect of the business. A successful loss leader, accompanied with world class customer service, WILL lead to more sales—plain and simple.
Customers expect to be given something for free. Whether it's sampling the product for a few weeks or offering something as simple as a phone consultation that doesn't imply sales, customers are asking for effortless experiences that don't require a lot from them.
So yes, you the business owner need to offer more in the beginning. But if you do it right, those customers who took advantage of a free offering will turn into paying customers. And if you keep doing it right, those paying customers will turn into loyal customers for years to come.
Agency Jet is all about giving stuff away for free. If you haven't taken advantage of a free website audit or if you've been offered one that turned into a sales pitch, it's time you took advantage of what's been called by some as "the best 90 minutes in marketing" that doesn't include any sales—just cold, hard facts about your company website and what it needs.