It's common practice in professional service businesses to give away a certain amount of free advice as part of an initial consultation. This may partly be to clarify needs but is often part of the sales process I'm engaging with the client. The difficult part for the adviser is knowing when to a stop with the free part (!!!) so as to not offend the client and to ensure you retain the relationship.
The difficultly with advisory services versus product sales is there is a presumption that there will be some free advice as an element of any transaction for a service sale, whereas very few consumers would expect a trial run of a particular product.
As an adviser I have had my brains picked countless times with an end result of a happy and engaged client, but there are just as many times when the advice given has been taken, used and no fee has been involved.
This is, in part, a problem related to selling time as opposed to a box of “whatever” in that initially it's not so clearly and tangibly valuable, at least for the client.
Also it's not even the amount of time giving the advice, which could certainly be as little as a few hours or even a few minutes, it’s rather the 25 years of experience that allows the adviser to know the answer to an issue.
So even charging for that can be a difficult assessment.
In the current economy, where everyone is cost conscious, seeking the best value or even free advice is prevalent. But when it is all given a little too freely the adviser ends up with nothing on his fictional shelves to sell and without products you can't even attempt to make the sale.
The first thing then is to have clear boundaries ensuring both the client and adviser understand the value of what is being imparted and that only a certain amount will be on the “free shelf”.
The second is not to forget that what you sell is time, and hopefully experience, and that is how your business operates.
This way neither party should feel they are being abused.
Over the many years of selling this intangible product I have developed a sense for what is acceptable to give away. What has real value to the client but is just enough that they are left wanting more. This has come from experience, and also confidence in my skills, but you can learn these principles.
My advice is to do so without the arrogance that can sometimes be attached to this and would certainly dilute your position in terms of an ability to turn an opportunity into a client.
Finally, once you have engaged your client, don't risk losing them by charging by the minute continue to give added value and the client will remain loyal.
Clients are hard won, and winning them in the first place expensive, so look after them especially hard when you are engaged and they will become your best sales team.
Written by Vistage speaker Jo Haigh
Head of Corporate Finance for Corporate Finance Services LLP