Stop Giving Away So Much Free Information!

John Tabita

I don’t know about you, but once I start discussing a project and discover the prospect’s dreams, goals, and objectives, I begin to develop a certain emotional investment … I get excited about how I can help him bring it about. I think that’s one of my strongest assets.

But it’s also my greatest weakness. Bring all that excitement and passion to bear at the wrong time, or with the wrong person, and I end up giving away the farm. I offer too much information, too freely, without expecting anything in return. That’s fine for Twitter or my blog; but that’s marketing. Once I’m face-to-face with someone who’s represented himself as a prospect, marketing’s over. It’s time to close a deal.

In this installment of ending abusive client behavior, I’m going to address the one place we stub our toe most often: giving away too much free information in order to close that deal.

Action Step #2: Sell the WHY, Agree upon the WHAT, Ignore the HOW

I believe that the majority of us who sell our web design/development or SEO services are primarily technical in nature. Sure, you might be an awesome visual designer, but you also know your HTML and CSS in order to pull that design off inside multiple browsers, don’t you? Because of that bent, most of us love talking about technical things. So a typical conversation might go like this:

Prospect: I have a website that I’d like to sell my products from on a national level.

You: I can do that. First, I’d optimize your existing site with the proper keywords by doing some keyword research. Then I’ll increase traffic by building quality backlinks through various methods, such as article submissions and press releases.

Prospect: Could you put all of that into a proposal for me?

You: Ummm, sure …

Showcasing our expertise is necessary to land an engagement. But what this approach fails to do is discover WHY he wants to sell his products nationally. You haven’t addressed his pain, need, or desire. Instead, you’ve offered him a free white paper and called it a proposal. Remember how I’ve been hammering home the issue of mutual commitments? Why should a prospect benefit from all that knowledge and expertise without making you a commitment in return?

If you followed the advice in my last article, then at some point, you determined whether the person on the other end of the phone or across the desk was a viable prospect or not. The entire sales process boils down to a series of “yes-es.” He or she must say “yes” to your solution, “yes” to your process, “yes” to your price, and more importantly, “yes” to you—your ability, likability, and perceived trustworthiness. “No” is a potential show-stopper, unless it can be negotiated and resolved. (And you ought to know beforehand what you consider negotiable and what’s non-negotiable.) A successful conclusion is when the other person “yes-es” his way from suspect to prospect to client.

But our technically-minded natures tend to make this process more complicated than it need be. Getting a prospect’s commitment to do business with you requires that you establish and agree upon just two things:

  1. What he’s trying to accomplish, his “big picture” objective
  2. That you’re the one to help him accomplish it

Until those two things happen, don’t discuss the technical details (HOWs) or offer to write a detailed proposal. Doing so without a commitment to hire you is how we wind up giving away too much free information. So stop, already!

When you refrain from discussing technical details, and instead start asking about goals, objectives, and buying motives, a strange thing happens—you’ll quickly realize when your prospect doesn’t have any. You see, serious prospects may not always know WHAT they want, but they have no trouble articulating WHY they want it. For that reason, they also have the intention to buy. Prospects who aren’t serious, have ulterior motives, or are playing you will have none of these. You’ll be able to tell when they don’t want to answer your questions, or give non-committal or vague responses.

Remember, the time to discuss technical details is after you’ve won the engagement, not before. Talk about WHAT he wants and WHY he wants it, but save the in-depth technical discussion until after he agrees that you’re the man or woman for the job.

Next week: Action Step #3: How to Win Business without Writing a Proposal 

In case you missed last week’s article, you can still get my free guide, 27.5 Must-Ask Questions for Consultative Selling. Just follow me on Twitter and I’ll send you a link.

This is Part 4 of the series Putting a Stop to Abusive Client Behavior:

  1. Stop Client Abuse of Web Designers Now!
  2. Stop the Abuse! 7 Steps to a Well-Trained Client
  3. Stop Wasting Time with Prospects Who Aren’t Serious
  4. Stop Giving Away So Much Free Information!
  5. Stop Writing Proposals to Win Business
  6. Stop Doing the Same Things and Expecting Different Results
  7. Stop Waiting to Get Paid! How to Collect Even when Your Client Delays
  8. Stop Getting Walked on and Set Some Boundaries Already
  9. Stop the Slippery Slope of Scope Creep
  10. Stop Making Endless Design Changes
  11. Stopping Abusive Clients: The Complete Process

Image credit

Free book: Jump Start HTML5 Basics

Grab a free copy of one our latest ebooks! Packed with hints and tips on HTML5's most powerful new features.

  • http://seo-mysite.tk dr. Robert BrownFarley

    So often I find myself and my passion crossing over into my professionalism because I want my clients to be found by the next best thing or new thing. What I do or use on my site I may implament on my clients sites. This sounds great in theory but… I just gave a freebie, and not neccessarily what the customer ordered. Example I may like a freefind search box or web crawler box versus a google search box on my site for tracking certain things. Buttons on a website can make a difference as to the speed of a website. Menu styles can also change the speed of a website. When my customer / client comes to me there are several things to consider. Even though I might like this or that and I opinion its upto my client and we get it IN WRITING. Now I am bound. Once I have all the specs and have “the {preview} template work done before {pre} launch” – Now we can go back and revise it, and add to or delete this or that. Any changes along the way should be documented. Now there are additional services fees for changes and a tracking document which are addendums to the original contract. I love to give away free stuff but the contract states… This also keeps me on time management.

    • http://smallbusinessmarketingsucks.com/ John Tabita

      I love giving away the occasional freebie, and I think it’s a valuable thing to do. I created a QR code for a client because I was experimenting with them. It only took a few minutes to create it and email it to him. I created a FB fan page for someone because I wanted to see if I could make my client the admin and “un-admin” myself afterwards.

      If it doesn’t consume too much time and/or there’s an added benefit for me doing so, I don’t see anything wrong with it. The difference it, it’s at my convenience and choice, not at the client demand.

      The trick is, don’t do it too often; otherwise clients will come to expect it rather than appreciate it.

  • http://internetbusinessaustralia.com Tracey Munn

    John, I love this article. I woke up this morning looking for something just like this! I seem to have set myself up giving away so much free advice that my clients, followers etc are doing really well in their businesses but I am not making any money! My problem is just as you described – so much passion and excitement I give the game away! Great tips, thank you :)

    • http://smallbusinessmarketingsucks.com/ John Tabita

      Tracey, it’s only a problem when we mix up sales and marketing. Try putting that passion and excitement into something you can create once and share multiple times, like blogging or a newsletter. That way, when you meet a prospect that’s not far enough along in the buying process, you can switch back to marketing mode and give him some ready-made information to help make that purchase decision … one that’s more likely to include you.

      Glad I could help.

  • http://www.pricklypearmedia.com Angelo

    I recently got tricked into giving away too much information. From experience I have found whenever I went to a client without them filling in a questionnaire they weren’t serious on what was on offer and in the end they were just fishing. So from now if I will refrain from visiting a potential client without initially having filled in a questionnaire.

  • TehYoyo

    Hey John.

    I always enjoy your articles. Thanks so much for this!

    ~TehYoyo

    • http://smallbusinessmarketingsucks.com/ John Tabita

      You’re quite welcome!

  • http://www.columbuscreative.com Daniel

    Right on. I’ve seen this happen so many times and I too am guilty of being emotionally attached and excited. and in doing so, I’ve given away the farm.

  • http://icedesign.co.za Tony

    I love freebies! what I have noticed about freebies is that the better the client is to work with, the more inclined I am to toss in a freebie. The more difficult the client, “POOF” goes freebie, and I start totting up extra time. Sad, I know, but it happens.

    John, thanks for yet another great, and stimulating, article.

    • http://smallbusinessmarketingsucks.com/ John Tabita

      I love helping out good clients. And when you do, the best ones will reciprocate. One instance comes to mind when a client wanted to meet with me to get my advice on something (I forget what). I didn’t bill him for my time; but the next day, he sent me a referral.

      One of best clients used to send me a gift basket each Christmas.

  • http://crowdogs.com Peter Schreiner

    Wish I would have read this before sitting with a prospect for 3+ hours explaining how I could accomplish the objective. A week later I contacted him to see where we stood. His reply came in the form of an attached proposal for a canned website, complete for $300.

  • http://www.leachcreative.com Andrew

    Couldn’t agree more, one of the designers that routinely hires me, had a problem where they did a ton of research to help some school figure out what they needed, and where their site needed to go. They took all of that information that took hours to compile and ended up taking it to someone else.

  • http://www.affordablewebsitesdenver.com David

    I just started a local web design business. I’m not Bill Gates, but I love to create beautiful website themes and am pretty good at HTML. I’ve created a pretty extensive portfolio of sample site and used to be a journalist (back when there actually were journalists).

    Anyway, I get 3-4 calls or e-mails per week from “customers” asking for business websites.

    So far, each one of the “customers” have been total disasters. I had one woman who “wanted to sell her products online,” but did not have a PayPal account, had no interest in learning anything web-related. We scheduled an appointment to meet. For 2 hours, I tried to explain her how e-commerce works, how WordPress works, showed her several themes I’d created, and so forth. At the end of 2 hours, she got up, took my contract and survey form (or questionnnaire) and I never heard from her again. She had left behind (unbeknownst to her) 3-4 e-mails from other local web designers complete with her notes scribbled all over them.

    Then a few days later, I had a man who “wanted a local radio station website” that would one day compete with YouTube. Before we met, I asked him to fill out a questionnaire I put together to screen potential customers. He refused to complete it, saying it just wasn’t relevant to his situation and that he knew exactly what he wanted. When he came over, we spent about 2 hours talking. He was polite but did not understand how to set up an online radio station, and wanted to learn more about WordPress, how to embed audio, how to record video, on and on. He said he liked the themes I’d created for him, but wanted something with bees flying toward hives and that would allow him to put ads on every page of the site all over. And he wanted to find out how to do that, too. After 2 hours of talking and getting nowhere but exhausted, I finally said to him “You know, we might have gotten somewhere if you’d filled out that questionnaire. Now we spent 2 hours talking and got nowhere.”

    Now I have a Google Docs questionnaire/survey and I refuse to see anyone in person who does not complete and submit that survey first.