I recently published an article on how to handle prospects who want free IT consulting advice. You can waste a lot of time trying to sell your MSP services to a tire kicker, a person who will never buy anything from you. One of our readers, Stephen Reade of Outsource My IT, wrote in with an excellent suggestion on how to find out if someone just wants free consulting advice or if they are a true qualified IT prospect - and how to convert them into a paying customer. I'm sharing his recommended dialog with his permission.
Steve finds that the best way to handle someone who wants free advice is to create a consulting opportunity for yourself, or help them decide that the dialog isn't worth pursuing. Here is how a typical conversation might go:
Requestor: Tell me your thoughts on XYZ.
You: You always come up with interesting questions. Tell me about XYZ.
Requestor: Well, we might be facing XYZ in the future. I wondered if we should be looking into it further.
You: I've worked with XYZ before. So that I could be more to the point, please tell me what you currently know about XYZ and what things concerns you.
At this point, the Requestor is very committed to the free advice, so they will probably be very forthcoming.
Requestor: Well, (they describe what they know and are concerned about).
You: Were XYZ to happen, what would the impact be?
Requestor: (general answer)
You: More specifically, what would the impact be on your organization/department/etc.? Has anyone put a dollar value on that?
You: Were XYZ to happen, what would the impact be on your customers/clients/patients/etc.?
Requestor: (specific answers)
You: What effect would it have on your organization's competitive position?
Requestor: (specific answer)
You: What would the impact be on you in your current position and on you as a professional?
Now, the Requestor has a fair idea just how big and how costly the problem is or could be, and whether it threatens their current position - or for that matter - how they could use it to further their career if they pursue it.
If the impact is insignificant, the Requestor will probably drop it. If it is significant, they will realize it is worth pursuing and whether retaining you will be profitable.
If the Requestor still wants free consulting work, you now know the scope of the problem and the likelihood that they will pay for it. You also have the inside track since you have helped them articulate their issues and pain points.
The next step is to offer general information sources, such as white papers, blog posts or articles that help them understand the issues better. Presstacular has a large content library on a wide range of MSP services so you don't have to write the content yourself. Just put your logo on it and share it with your prospects.
You can also move toward closing a deal by saying this:
You: "Given the scope/sensitivity/reach/impact/etc. of XYZ, I'd really have to spend some time looking into the problem at your facility which, of course, goes beyond picking my brain." (Pause) "What are your feelings about XYZ now? Is this something you might want to pursue?"
Use your consultant closing skills to get the approval to begin the engagement.