One of the most frustrated people on the planet is the business owner with a great service to offer whose message falls on deaf ears. Being a provider of a complex service, I speak from experience.
What about you? Have you been racking your brain to figure out the best way to sell your service?
Having gone before you, I’m happy to report that selling a service can be a much simpler task than you might think—when you know how.
By the time you have finished reading this article, you will be able to simplify the process of selling a service and to communicate what you do in a clear, more effective way than ever.
Before we discuss the best strategies for selling services, we should examine why it is so difficult. The problems themselves often help us understand how to create a solution.
Why Selling a Service Is Difficult
Unlike physical products, services are not tangible items people can see. The fact that a service is intangible makes it naturally more difficult to sell. A physical product is easier to evaluate—the way it is made, its function, and quality. It is also easier for consumers to compare it to others within the same category.
On the other hand, the quality of a service is usually determined by the performance of the person providing it. Reliability, professionalism, and expertise are major factors in the buying decision, yet customers cannot be sure these will be delivered at a high level until after the deal is done.
This uncertainly serves as a huge obstacle that service businesses must overcome. Essentially, people are buying what you promise them and fear losing money if you do not follow through on those promises or meet their expectations.
A Confused Mind Says “No”
Another reason it is difficult to sell a service is because it isn’t always easy for prospects to discern the value of your service or to do so quickly. Prospects who fail to understand what you do or how you can help them will not show interest. However, if we are not careful, our attempts to simplify our service can dilute its value.
As an example, when you meet someone who is a website designer, you likely have an idea of what they do. But what if someone tells you they are a web experience consultant? You may need more information to understand their purpose and the value they offer.
Being aware of this and in an attempt to simplify their service, a web experience consultant may choose to tell people they “create a better digital experience for your customers.”
But while that may be easier to understand, it comes up short in conveying the real value of a web experience consultant.
Because if someone is not qualified to define what a “better digital experience” is, they can’t possibly grasp how this consultant can actually help them. And if they cannot truly see the value a web experience consultant offers, they will not hire one.
The same applies to all service-based businesses. Your prospects may not be qualified to determine the value of what you do simply because they don’t know how. And if you oversimplify your service, they will then compare it to another business that appears similar from their point-of-view.
This also means they will unknowingly make an apples to oranges comparison, which can work against you.
To overcome these hurdles, many service providers forgo making their service clearer and resort to less desirable tactics to win the sale, such as selling for less or feeling forced to make bigger promises than their competitors.
Niching down—choosing a specific target vertical or market—is a popular method used in small business marketing. The goal is to target a narrowly defined segment, which makes finding and communicating with the right prospects much simpler.
As an example, an accounting firm that offers lease accounting services may exclusively target property management companies, operating under the assumption that those companies already understand the value of lease accounting.
While this is sometimes a workable solution, especially for specialty or complex services, it presents a couple of problems.
First, newer businesses that target a specific niche often do so without being certain that they will be successful in that market. These businesses may be forced to change niches multiple times before finding one with enough prospects to support it. Every time the business changes targets, the effects will be similar to a complete rebranding.
Niching down can also lead to missed opportunities. Often, businesses niche down before they have explored every avenue for marketing their services. As a result, they end up targeting a specific vertical when they could be targeting several.
Tactical Services vs. Strategic Services
Now let’s explore another facet of selling a service that often goes unnoticed but can be critical to positioning your business in the minds of prospective customers.
Service businesses can often be categorized as tactical or strategic.
A tactical service is one that is easy to recognize or explain, usually because it achieves a specific result. Again, I will use web design as an example. Most people know what websites are and understand that a web designer creates websites. This service is easy to recognize and define. However, tactical services are met with other hurdles, primarily commoditization.
When a service is easily definable, as most tactical services are, people are able to make more accurate competitive comparisons. Therefore, businesses providing tactical services must create differentiation to survive the commodity trap. The ones that fail to do so will be forced to compete on price and run the risk of eventually fading into oblivion.
A strategic service is more general in nature and even more difficult to sell. This is because the scope of services is much broader, making its value more difficult for the customer to perceive.
A business consultant is an example of a strategic service. Business consultants may engage in relationships that last many months, even years, and address a broad array of deliverables such as cash flow analysis, outsourcing, manufacturing, and improvement to organizational structure.
Being able to articulate a general scope of services in one sentence is tough, as illustrated by the business consultant example. Unless a prospect is already familiar with the scope of services a business consultant provides, it is difficult to communicate them clearly and concisely.
How Tactical Services Can Avoid Commoditization
To stand out and set themselves apart from competitors, tactical service businesses can redefine themselves and the services they provide.
Simply reframing what you do can completely change the perspective people have of it. As an example, instead of being a web design company, perhaps referring to the business as a “web engineering agency” would help the company establish a unique position in the marketplace.
Proceed with caution when being creative about the words and terms you use to describe what you do. Never mislead anyone for the sake of differentiating. There are plenty of creative way to stand apart from the crowd without straying too far outside the lines.
As with all businesses, tactical services must demonstrate more expertise and authority than their competitors. This includes providing social proof, testimonials, and even money-back guarantees (when and if it makes sense to offer one).
Conceptualizing a Strategic Service
To overcome the challenge of conveying its value, strategic service businesses must first conceptualize what they do. They must do it in a way that clearly communicates the service’s purpose to the prospective customer. This is especially helpful when many impressions of what you do exist and more clarity is needed.
I will use my service to illustrate. I am a brand strategist. In reality, most people are not sure what a brand strategist does. To fill the information gap, many of them interpret what I do simply as “branding”.
However, people have different ideas about what branding is. Some people believe it is only a logo and color scheme. Others understand that branding is the process that gives a company its own personality—the “it” factor. Still, other people believe it is something implemented to create awareness for a company and its products.
Branding is all of that and more. So, as the business owner, it is my responsibility to give people a way to conceptualize (see in their mind) what I do in a clear, concise manner.
Instead of telling people, “I’m a brand strategist,” or “I’m in branding,” I may instead tell them that “I help small business owners close more sales and get more referrals while spending less on marketing and advertising.”
This may give them a much clearer, more accurate idea of what I do and in language they can understand.
This is not an easy process. The terms you use to conceptualize what you do may change over time until you find what works best. But this is a critical step in overcoming the challenges of selling a service, especially complex ones or those of a general nature.
3 Bonus Tips for Selling a Service
Among other ways to make your service easier for your prospects to understand and therefore, easier to sell:
- Build a brand. You would expect me to recommend this, wouldn’t you? However, building a brand is the best way to create separation from competitors, stand out, and generate interest in your business. Determine what you do better than anyone else and leverage those strengths to create selling points.
- Understand the real problem you solve. Many of the typical “pain-solution” marketing tactics popular today train us to focus on the problem we help our customers solve. Unfortunately, this technique—while effective—leads a lot of small business owners to focus on relieving their customers’ symptoms instead of providing a cure for their disease. While people will buy pain relievers, they desperately want a cure. The businesses that ultimately provide the cure will generate the most customer satisfaction and loyalty.
- Product-ize your service. Think of how you can package your services in ways that can be consumed by customers in small or measured doses. For example, perhaps you can create a course to help a certain segment of your target market, or develop tools such as checklists, how-to guides, e-books, and other tangible items you can sell as an introductory offer. These can be created to help people get short-term wins and become more knowledgeable about the value you offer.
Selling a service can be problematic for many service-based small business owners but the hurdles can be overcome. Start by understanding why it is so difficult to sell services, which includes the challenges you will face should you choose to niche down.
Who says you have to play by everyone else’s rules? Change the rules of the game by exploring ways to redefine what you do. This will generate more curiosity and interest in your service.
Selling tactical services is not the same as selling strategic services. Different approaches are required. Consider how you can conceptualize what you do so customers will have an easier time recognizing the value you offer. Focus on brand building, understanding the root problem you solve, and productize your service.
If you need help or have questions, email me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time,
Learn more about brand strategy.
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