Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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Giving without giving it all away.

When you're in the consulting business -- hell, when you're in ANY business -- you'll undoubtedly run across this situation: A guy calls up because he's shopping around for someone who offers what you offer. He sniffs here and there. Asks a couple of topical questions. And five minutes into the conversation, you sense this guy is real. Play this conversation right, and you can finally ignore those collection notices that have been piling up in the mailbox.

As you get into the seventh minute of the call, however, you start to get a completely different sense. A notion that maybe this guy is just fishing. After all he called you on YOUR toll-free 800 line. The call isn't costing HIM a thing.

By the time the ninth minute rolls around, you're bordering on panic, suspecting that this guy isn't really interested in doing business at all, but actually intent on wringing out your brain for as much free information as he can get.

What do you do?

You know that if you cut him off with a polite but firm, "Hey, weenie, I charge big bucks for answering these kinds of questions!" your chances of closing the deal are fairly slim. And if you're selling product, asking him for a minimum order before you hang up won't win you any friends, either. This, as the sages used to say, is a puzzlement. Or at least it used to be.

You see, I used to cut these guys off at the knees, mainly because I knew too many sadistic V.P. of Sales who invited sales reps into theirs offices, milked their brains during their sales presentations and then NEVER called the poor schmuck back. I decided a long time ago I was NOT going to give away anything for free.

And now, I'm convinced that's precisely why I couldn't get any good business.

The truth is that you can always give away stuff for free. And you can probably give away a lot more than you think, for a couple of good reasons:

1. The people who call you -- by and large -- are not in your business. They don't want to be in your business. If they did, they'd already be competing with you. Most of the time, even if they want free information, they want it to further their own affairs, not to undermine yours.

2. Even assuming that these are the most evil people in the world, the fact is that they are indeed calling you. So what if you don't get their business? What you do get is a chance to show how incredibly knowledgeable and terrific you are. Assuming this guy really is milking you for information, what's the worst he can walk away with -- the fact that you're the best in your field? Hey, that's the best kind of advertising you could ask for.

3. Now assume the guy is like you and me -- a real, dyed-in-the-wool FrankelBee. Straight. Ethical. And exactly the kind of guy you'd like to do business with. This kind of guy is going to think everything the evil one did, only more so. But this guy appreciates your helpfulness, openness and friendliness. So not only do you get good press, you have a good shot at getting some business out of it, too.

4. Finally, if you're any good at what you do, NOBODY can learn everything you have to offer in one phone call. Whether you manufacture or consult, you've probably forgotten more than this guy will ever learn. Many of us forget exactly how professional we are, and the more you talk to someone about your expert field, the more they realize how much they need you.

"Okay, Rob," you're saying, "that's okay from where you sit, but how much giveaway is enough?"

Good question. Because while you should be giving, you shouldn't be giving away the store. After all, business is business. The trick, I think, is in taking a minute to show your prospect that you understand his issues. Then maybe discuss the general areas of possible solutions. And finally, offer a few samples of past clients that have faced similar situations.

You don't have to get specific about this guy's particular problem, but it sure doesn't hurt to throw a freebie in at this point. The only thing you have to watch out for is that it's a little freebie and not the Ultimate Solution.

It took me a long time to learn how to give away more than I was initially comfortable giving. But it was a lesson that's paid out many times over. I only wish I had learned it sooner.

So the next time someone asks you for some free advice, give it to them. Then give them a little more than they expected. You'll be surprised at just how much more they give back.

Rob Frankel

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