Samples Aren’t Always the Answer


Eenie meenie miney mo

I’m currently living in a work in progress.

The walls of our house are painted in splotches. Our dining room used to be red, and eventually it will be a mysterious color called “Stunning Shade” … but right now it’s red and orange and brown and at least two shades of green.

Same goes for the living room and kitchen.

Paint samples have been a godsend. It’s hard to sit back with a tiny paint card and even pretend to imagine what an entire room will look like. Put a few square feet of color on a wall, and you can actually envision it before you commit to the entire room. Buying a few samples has been money well spent.

Going through the color picking process was a good reminder of how handy sampling can be, for buyers and sellers. Unfortunately, we don’t all sell paint.

Or candy.

Or promotional pens.

Or any of the other things that can be sampled.

And that’s the danger of sampling… when it doesn’t accurately represent the product or service, it’s bound to disappoint.

I have a heavy paperweight on my desk that can testify to that.  A few years ago, when the iPad was becoming popular, I bought a cheap knockoff tablet. My thinking was, I could try it to get a sense of whether I’d actually use a tablet before I spent a lot of money on one.

Basically, my knockoff tablet was a sample.

Unfortunately, the tablet I got was horrible. Too little memory, incredibly slow, bad screen resolution, unresponsive touchscreen, you name it.  I got what I paid for… but it was so far removed from the experience of a good tablet that it didn’t help me make up my mind at all.

I’ve been guilty of offering samples, too, and it’s never helped my business. One case in particular stands out in my mind. I was working with a new prospect who was a referral from long-time friend. The prospect knew he wanted some research, but wasn’t comfortable throwing most of his budget at a single study without getting a taste for it first.

So what happened?  He kept pushing me on price, and (mostly out of respect for my friend who introduced us) I made concession after concession, long after I should have walked away from the table. Eventually we arrived at a price he could live with, but by that point I had stripped down the research project so much that it no longer represented the caliber of work we normally do.  He got what he thought he wanted – a sample of research – but was underwhelmed by the final product.

In the end, this did more harm than good, because he wasn’t about to commit more money to research when the first experience didn’t live up to his expectations.

That experience taught me to be very cautious with when and how I provide low-cost samples of my services.  If a sample won’t accurately represent what the full experience would be – and it almost always falls short – then there’s probably a better way to prove my value.

That’s just something to keep in mind if you’re ever tempted to play the discounting game.  Unless your discounted product is as impressive as your full-price product, you’re not building interest or gaining trust. Instead, you’re probably eroding your credibility and replacing goodwill with disappointment.


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