As we all know, the most powerful four-letter word in sales and marketing is “free.” Everybody loves getting something for nothing. And giving things away can be an extremely powerful selling tactic. Two stories that were recently shared by participants at a couple of my sales seminars illustrate how to capitalize on this principle.

The first example was related by an attendee who drove to the seminar with two of his colleagues. On their way to the seminar that morning, they found themselves, at one point, stuck in traffic next to a Snapple delivery truck. They jokingly called out to the driver, who was unloading the truck to make a delivery, “Hey, how about some free cases of Snapple?”

“Sorry,” the driver responded, “I can’t do that.” “But,” he continued, “I can give you three bottles.” He quickly handed three bottles of Snapple to the stunned occupants of the car, smiled, and walked inside the building to finish his delivery.

The result? As the attendee told the rest of the audience, “I’m going to buy a lot more Snapple from now on!” Three bottles of Snapple cost the distributor about a dollar. For a miniscule investment, that driver created three customers for life, not to mention the positive word-of-mouth they’ve been generating. That’s selling.

The second story was reported by the friend of a pet shop owner. She said that he put up a huge sign reading “Free Puppies.” Naturally, when people pick out their “free” puppy, they have to purchase puppy food, a puppy bed, food and water dishes, treats, toys, leashes, and more.

Customers typically spend more than a hundred dollars to outfit their new pet, not to mention how much they spend on return visits. He may be giving away puppies, but he’s selling the accessories like crazy. It’s akin to companies giving away razors and making their money selling the blades.

However, the story goes further: The pet store owner also has relationships with a veterinarian, a fencing contractor, an obedience school, and a cleaning service. In an example of cooperative selling, each refers the other and helps up-sell the customer: the vet recommends premium dog food, the obedience school recommends more frequent house cleanings during shedding season. And it all starts by giving away a puppy.

What can you give away to prospects and customers to help you increase your sales? Almost anything and everything, really. Here are 35 ideas to start you thinking:

Last year’s edition
Gift certificates
Children’s toys
T-shirts, sweatshirts, polo shirts
Music: live or recorded
Advertising specialties/promotional items: pens, notepads, coffee mugs, letter openers, golf balls, sewing kits, bag clips, Swiss army knives, flashlights, safety goggles, tape measures, business card holders, rulers, pill boxes, umbrellas, sports towels, coasters, etc.
Food and beverages
Referrals (If you help your prospects find new customers, they’ll buy everything they can from you.)
Community service
Bumper stickers
Window decals
Information: white papers, special reports, articles, surveys, studies, newsletters, e-zines
Textbook covers
Event tickets
Pre-paid calling cards
Lottery tickets
Key tags
Stuffed animals (especially if your company uses a mascot)
Temporary tattoos
Buttons and pins
Watches or clocks

How, when and where can you use free items? Lots of ways, lots of times and lots of places. Here are 21 examples:

Trade shows
Open houses
Cold calls
Post sales call follow-up
Direct mail campaigns
Coupon redemptions
Web site registration incentives
Customer appreciation programs
Networking events
Networking event follow-up
Grand openings
Anniversary celebrations
Donations for charity auctions
Donations for contest prizes
Farmers markets
Fairs, festivals and other events
Sampling stations in supermarkets
School programs
Holiday Gifts

So figure out what you can give away and to whom. Next determine how, when and where you’re going to do it. Then put your plan into action. Make it a regular part of your selling strategy. And you’ll find the more you’re giving away, the more you’ll be selling!

Learn more about Don Cooper.