A business owner recently shared with me a sales technique he discovered. He realised that if he offered a free service that prospective customers can “trial”, it allowed him a foot in the door to talk about his company’s paid-for “premium” services. He was excited about the opportunities that this sales technique opened up!

Of course, the technique is well used in the software business. Entry level options are always free, with upgrades available at a price. It ties in with a universal human principle that says, “first give before you take”. It’s probably the most powerful marketing tool available.

In consumer markets it is called sampling: a free tester, or a test drive. As a person, it makes me think back to my days playing the dating game – the first dinner (and many thereafter) was always on me. I paid the bill. The same fundamentals apply to business.

It’s a difficult concept to accept for owners convinced of the value of their offering. The trick, as the owner in question realised, is not to discount everything you have, but just a small part as a taster of what you can do. To prove your mettle.

The process of breaking down your offerings into various “value categories” is called the sales funnel. You start by selling something for nothing – a no brainer. Your reward is not in money, but in face time with the prospect. A first date. Then you move on to something bigger, at a fee.

As a customer, the logic is simple: “If you are really good, then prove it to me.” That is a standard reaction I often get. The challenge is to reimagine an initial free offering not as “free” but as an opportunity to be rewarded with information about the prospect.

It’s a dating game. You can come and learn more about me, but don’t expect me to pay the first bill.

Have you built a sales funnel for your business?