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Matt Drought

The Natural Training Co Ltd


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Sales training: Does your team understand when ‘free’ works?


Some people use the 'F' word way too much. Matt Drought assesses the good and the bad of 'free'.

'Free' is one of those words that seems to be banded around everywhere we go. The deals range from 'buy one get one free' at high street restaurants to 'pay for 11 months and get 1 month free' at the local gym, and there aren't many industries missing out on the action. Even training has its fair share of offers.

The reason it's used so frequently by sales teams? Well that's partly because the internet has driven down costs of production and pushed up levels of competition, and partly because 'free' can form part of a particularly potent selling strategy.

And, if it's part of your company strategy to boost sales and develop business relationships it's worth bearing in mind both the good and the bad. Here are three great potential results of including free products or services in a sales strategy:

  1. Eye-catching - The word 'free' is a head turner and we all love to feel as though we're getting more 'bang for our buck'. We'll naturally be motivated by an unbeatable deal and it doesn't get much better than being free.
  2. It can develop the relationship from 'contact' to 'buyer' - Successful selling comes down to being natural and making your customer feel good about themselves. The quickest way to lose a sale is to heap pressure on the buyer or make them feel angst towards you and the product or service. Free additions to the deal will fastrack your relationship with the customer.
  3. Sometimes, they return the favour - Including free offers can also have an impact on the customer's feelings towards the sales person. They may feel as though they owe the sales person something back in return and often that response turns out to be brand loyalty.
However, you should never forget that the word 'free' can lead down a cul-de-sac or two as well. Before your sales team dive in and start to give stuff away, beware of the potential dangers!

Yes, you can draw in customers and encourage them to see the value in what you're selling but never lose focus on the key objective that your sales training is driving: increase revenue through increased sales.

Here are three examples: 
  • When it doesn't work for you - 'Free' won't work unless there is a clear long term opportunity to earn a return. Low cost airlines are good at making free deals work for them. A great example is when they advertise free flights. They use the word 'free' to draw in and engage with new customers but then only make that free offer redeemable on their own terms, such as on unpopular flight times that are tough to sell.
  • When you overuse it to the point it devalues the product - Remember that a free offer is a great opener for a sale. Entice and engage with an initial free offer but beware that doing it over a long period of time is highly likely to change the mindset of the buyer to one of 'constant freebies'. 

When it targets the wrong market

here are two ways free offers can target the wrong market and lead to dissatisfied existing customers and worthless new customers:

A – If we see free we take. Even when we have no plans to be future customers, if it's free and there are no strings attached there’s a good chance people will keep taking. So be aware of who you target with the offer. Ask yourself this: Could this demographic be valuable to me in the long-term or are they just taking for taking's sake?

B – Look after your current customers first. I'll never forget the moment a free voucher came through my letterbox for a television subscription service that I was already paying for. Worse still, the free offer was far more competitive over a three-month period than my arrangement as a loyal customer. Don't alienate already committed clients with free offers - be careful who you target.

The popularity of the term 'free' clearly suggests that there's no harm in incorporating it into the sales strategy. Though this is a sales weapon that should be handled with care.

Use it too much and you run the risk of significantly devaluing the product or service you’re selling.

Matt Drought is director at sales training company, Natural Training


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Matt Drought


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