I got an email from, Ralph, the 50-ish owner of a small consulting firm. He had three competing offers to buy his practice, and a few complicating life factors. He wanted advice, and asked if we could talk.
I don’t do much coaching or consulting, and he almost surely couldn’t afford my rates. Nor am I an expert in life planning, or in valuations.
But I said sure, call me in the morning, we’ll talk – no charge.
We had a very good chat for about 45 minutes.
I think I helped him. I know it was useful for him to talk to a third party able to comprehend his situation. I believe he’ll make a better decision, and I’m sure he’ll feel better about it. Value was created for him in our talk.
But How Does Free Advice Help the Advice Giver?
But what about me? I knew going in there was no chance of a sale from him – not now, not in the future, not anytime. And my rate was zero. Was this a foolish, impetuous, soft-hearted, flakey thing to do?
No. I like doing nice things, but I’m not a saint. Nor did I consider Ralph a pro bono case.
Sure, it was a nice thing to do. But, I would argue – it was also good business.
Sometimes a sales lead that we would otherwise screen out can be a good marketing investment. Sometimes you can do well by doing good. Sometimes we need to blur the line between sales and marketing.
“Ralph” will never buy from me (though other Ralph’s have done so). But he will remember what I did for him; even more, that I was willing to help.
Remember: Ralph invested time in searching for alternatives, chose me, and felt strongly enough to seek me out. He spent time to find out who I was, what I did, whether and how I might be useful to him. He was probably willing to pay for consulting. He was an educated, willing buyer, a near-client with influence on other potential clients.
For me, he was not a qualified sales lead. Instead, he was one helluva marketing resource.
Ralph now knows me – the sound of my voice, how well I think on the spot, the way I interact, my sense of humor. He knows me better than one of 200 people in an audience for a speech; much better than 500 people reading this blog, or an article of mine.
Total investment: 45 minutes. Most sales people will tell you that’s an extravagant waste of sales time, an inefficiency that is off-scale. Just think of the waste in extrapolating such activities to scale!
But most salespeople would be wrong. This is not about efficiency in selling: this is about effectiveness in marketing. (And let’s not forget, I also learned some things about valuations).
Let’s say Ralph will tell a dozen people about our discussion. Those are people who understand what each of us do, and who are first-degree connections to Ralph. That’s a powerful testimonial. Sounds like a reference to me; better yet, one freely given.
The choice is not between being “good” or making money; they often go together.
Try, for just a few hours per month, shifting your sales practices to subsidize your marketing by investing in a lead.
Don’t get lost in charge-back accounting and tit-for-tat favor-record-keeping. The benefits will eventually accrue to your firm, and to you personally. Both.