While used by professionals across the board, the “free consult lead strategy” may work better for some businesses than others.
At first glance, it appears the model has no place in medicine whatsoever. However, a closer look reveals a different story.
But first, what are we talking about?
What Is The Free Consult Strategy?
The idea is simple…
To show prospective clients how much value they can bring to the table, professionals give up a block of their time, so prospects may get to know them and their work, free of charge.
Professionals offer complimentary consults, either via phone or in person lasting anywhere from 15-, 30-, or even 60-minutes.
And when you think about it, it makes sense…
After all, committing to work with a professional like an attorney, financial advisor, or plastic surgeon is not something to take lightly. Ideally, you want to work with someone you like and have a good rapport.
Try Before You Buy
Typically, the free consult strategy is advertised as:
- A strategy session
- An exploratory session
- Or a complimentary consult
But regardless of what you may call it, essentially, it’s a “try it before you buy it” strategy. And it’s what we expect when considering a big purchase or a significant commitment of our time.
- Let assume you’re in the market for a new car. Most of us wouldn’t buy before taking the new wheels for a ride.
- Or, you may be in the market for a new home. Would you consider signing on the dotted line without at least taking one walk-through?
- And while some may disagree, dating before marriage qualifies as a “try before you buy” strategy too. Marriage is a big commitment most of us want to get it right from the start.
What Are The Benefits?
Extending an offer for a free consult provides benefits to both the professional and client.
For the client:
- It allows for the first-hand experience with the business/professional.
- Allows for evaluating if the relationship would be a good fit.
- Provides information to reach a buying decision.
For the professional:
- Allows for evaluating if the relationship would be a good fit.
- Determines if the service/product would be appropriate for the prospect.
- Provides the opportunity to convey the benefits of working with the business or professional.
Consults In Medicine?
While consults are standard in medicine, typically they are not free. In most cases, insurance companies cover consults when medically necessary.
So what about free consults?
While you’d be hard pressed to find free consults in primary care, you will find them elsewhere.
Often, complimentary consults are used by practices that provide high ticket services, specialty services, or services requiring a longer commitment. Some examples include:
- Plastic surgery
- Cosmetic dentistry
- Weight loss clinics
- Weight management programs
- Concierge practices
- Wellness coaching practices
- Health coaching practices
But there are other examples of free consults in medicine. While they may not fit the consult model to the T, they still provide a free service.
You’ll find examples of free consults at community events like health fairs, health screenings, and at practice open houses.
Participating providers and organizations offer blood pressure checks, cholesterol screenings, basic labs, or any number of screenings.
The intent is to provide a service to the community while allowing people to experience first-hand a provider or a practice. It’s a win-win situation where everyone benefits.
What Are The Drawbacks?
There are some drawbacks to providing free consults, particularly when it comes to the primary care office, which we’ll talk about in a moment.
But first, I want to cover some of the general drawbacks to the free consult model. While many professionals use the “free consult strategy” successfully, some feel it’s not working for them and hurts them.
Dangers Of Commoditization
Some argue that offering free consults aids in the commoditization and productization of their skill and expertise, reducing it all to price alone.
That is not what you want!
Price, as the primary or only consideration, is not a place you want to be. Too much in our culture comes down to price already, while ignoring the human element.
Don’t allow yourself to become a commodity, sold to the lowest bidder at the lowest price
Regardless of the type of business or practice you’re in, do whatever you can so your services and products are not considered by price alone. Always position yourself so that patients recognize your value above and beyond price.
Lack Of ROI
I am hesitant even to use the term ROI; however, there must be a return for your efforts…
For many professionals, the free consult strategy is well worth the effort. These professionals work with clients for long periods and can expect to generate thousands of dollars in revenue over the years. For them, it makes sense to spend 15 or 30 minutes up front to win that client.
However, you may be in a different situation.
Let’s assume you operate a typical primary care practice. On average, patients stay with you through the next open enrollment period, when many may have to change carrier.
Also, the average transaction value for most primary care practices is far less than that of higher ticket practices.
For example, when offering cosmetics or dermatology in your practice, most patients pay out of pocket, and the average transaction value might be significant. Here it certainly would make sense to introduce yourself and your practice through a free consultation.
Offering free consults may best be reserved for high ticket services and products, where you can expect a return on the investment.
Drain On Resources
Not everybody offers free consultations. Some professionals feel they give up too much their most valuable resources: time and expertise.
While you may have slotted a set amount of time for the consult, at times, it’s hard to stick to it.
Some prospects can be challenging and end up taking up far more time than was allotted. Also, not all prospects become clients.
When offering free consults, it’s crucial to have a process in place so you can control the amount of time you’ll spend.
But now let’s talk about the unique challenges free consults may pose for primary care practices.
First of all, I don’t think most people seeking treatment in a primary care office expect a free consult. But I know, there are those rare exceptions!
However, at times, prospective patients seek information prior to making an appointment; sometimes, the line between what constitutes information and consult become blurred.
So here are some of the problems to consider when thinking about providing free consults in this setting:
- Where does the patient-provider relationship begin?
- At what point do you have a formal duty to provide care?
- What are the parameters of the free consult?
- When does the free consult morph into a billable office visit?
- If you accept insurance reimbursements must you now offer free consults to all your patients?
These are just some of the many unanswered questions when it comes to offering free consults in the primary care setting.
But you don’t have to offer free consults to introduce yourself to prospective patients, so they may get to know you and your clinic. There are many ways to do this without having to step on thin ice.
Maximize your website to the fullest. Turn it into a place where visitors can find all the information, everything they may ever want to know about you.
Create a video, and talk to prospective patients, give them a feel of what it would be like when they work with you. Answer their questions and address their concerns.
While every clinic has a website, not all prospective patients will find you through the web; some will walk through your doors.
For those, have a packet ready to give to them. In it, explain who you are, what you are about, and what you can do for them. Be prepared and ready!
While free consults work for many, they may not be right for the small office. And, for the typical primary care office, they have the potential to open up a can of worms…
The decision to utilize free consults when marketing, depends on the industry, the product or service offered, the price point, and the level of commitment required.
There are no one-size-fits-all answers; in the end, it’s an individual decision.
We’d want to hear from you! Leave a comment and tell us what you think about using free consults to grow your practice?
By Johanna Hofmann, MBA, LAc; regular contributor to the NPBusiness blog and author of “Smart Business Planning for Clinicians.”