How Ample Is Your Sample?

Well this is certainly embarrassing.

It all began with my office chair – I’ve had the same one since the day I started my company in 2000.

And it’s been great. It’s one of those fake leather, cushy office chairs on wheels with a couple of arm rests.

But lately, it’s been sending me warning signals…

It squeaks so much that when I’m recording something I have to stay perfectly still.

The arm rests are all torn up, so sometimes my sleeves get caught.

Last month, I was sitting there minding my own business, when I heard something hit the ground beneath me. It turned out to be a big bolt that finally gave up and let go.

So I decided it was time to buy a new one. And, knowing that the average life expectancy of my office chairs is 17 years, I did some research first.

I Googled. I sampled. I read reviews. Finally, I settled on the Staples Hyken Technical Mesh Task Chair.

And it’s a beauty. Adjustable height, tilt tension arms, lumbar support, jet black.

If Batman has an office chair, this is the one he’s sitting in.

But here comes the embarrassing part: I hate the damn thing.

Don’t get me wrong; it feels great when you first sit down. But after about half an hour, my back is sore and my legs feel numb (maybe I need a cape?).

The problem with choosing an office chair, I now realize, is that it’s really hard to tell what it will be like after you buy it. After all, even though I tried it out at my local Staples, that’s not the same as sitting in it all day.

It occurs to me that choosing a professional service provider suffers from the same limitation: It’s hard to know before the fact what it will be like after the engagement begins.

Which, I’m sorry to say, is not good news for those of us who sell a professional service.

First, because it means that prospective clients are slow to decide. But it also means that the tools we rely on to build trust and gain attention have their limits.

Things like client testimonials, staff bios, service descriptions, case studies, and overall web site beauty and wonderfulness matter, certainly.

But the truth is, they don’t really allow prospects to sample you. They’re symptoms of what it’s like to work with you, not the real thing.

So how do you get past this limitation and let those who might hire you check you out in a meaningful way?

Two suggestions:

Suggestion #1: Let them actually sample you.

Just as the supermarket lets you try out the canned crocodile in curry sauce before asking you to commit to an entire case, you can do the same thing.

Offer an assessment. Or a one-day strategy meeting. Or a 60-minute laser session.

It doesn’t so much matter what it is, the idea is to let people “sit on you” (not literally) for a long enough engagement that they can see first hand what it would be like to work with you.

This makes their buying decision easier and, frankly, gives you an out in case you’d also rather not continue.

Suggestion #2: Create and share lots of original content.

Granted, this isn’t the same as somebody actually working with you. But in terms of getting a sense of who you are and how you think, mid- to long-format content is the next best thing.

I say mid- to long-format because while things like tweets and links to useful resources serve a purpose in your overall marketing mix, the things you share need to have enough of you in them that I can get a sense of the real thing.

(“Just ate a BBQ chicken pocket. @pillsbury #todaysbigmistake” doesn’t quite cut it.)

Here’s the bottom line. I try never to lose sight of the fact that hiring me is risky (and not just because my in-person beauty has blinded more clients than I care to mention).

It’s risky because I’m asking people to put money down on an experience before they actually experience it. Under the best of circumstances, that requires a leap of faith.

Your job, in selling whatever it is you do, is to make that leap as small as possible.

About the author

Michael Katz is a Boston-based marketing consultant and founder of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in helping professional service firms stand out from the pack by positioning them as Likeable Experts. Get a free copy of his report, "The 5 Biggest Blocks to Writing a Monthly Newsletter (and how to overcome them)," here:


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