25 August 2009

Free First Appointments vs Paid Initial Sessions

I attended a workshop the other day where I learned these useful facts in the context of coaching:
  • paid intro sessions produce a higher conversion rate -- more prospects become clients
  • paid intro sessions produce higher retention rate -- more clients stay with you longer
  • paid intro sessions produce higher sales rate -- more clients buy higher priced packages
In contrast, I also had confirmed what I already believed, that:
  • free intro sessions can solve too much -- immediate solutions create no incentive to pay for coaching
  • free intro sessions tend to attract non ideal prospects -- fewer people ready and willing to hire you
  • free intro sessions set clients up to undervalue you and your services -- retention rates are lower
Despite these facts, verified by the experience of most coaches with six and seven figure incomes, many new coaches succomb to offering the trial session as a way to "educate the prospective client about coaching." (hint: they don't really care, they just want a solution to their problem).

New counselors also are tempted to try the free first appointment strategy, although few have sustainable success with it.

There are, however, a couple hybrid models for first sessions that intrigue me. One is a type of donation basis strategy, while the other is a type of time control or end-now-or-pay-for-more strategy.

Intro sessions for both coaching and fee-for-service counseling can be offered with the understanding that the client will be asked to pay what they can, or what they feel the session was worth. Personally, I think the cleanest way to do that so that the client doesn't feel pressured to negotiate with you is to direct them to a Make a Donation button on your website, or send a button link to them in an after-session email. Another option is to direct the client to add an extra amount of their choice to their initial required payment for further work.

With a time control strategy, the idea is to provide 15-30 minutes for free, then let the client know what the fee is if they'd like to continue. This should be discussed in advance when making the appointment so that the client doesn't feel tricked by a bait and switch ploy.

Either way, coaches and counselors need to get comfortable talking about their fees and "closing the sale" when talking to prospective clients.

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