The Subtleties of Selling Services and How to Recognize Them
My company has the opportunity to work with a number of outstanding sales professionals who are excellent at selling products. They understand the sales process and excel at getting customers to buy specific products and solutions. Many companies hire these superstars thinking they will help their services business skyrocket at the same pace the product sales would. However, they quickly learn that there are subtle, very important differences, when it comes to selling a company's services versus their products. Many of these differences are so subtle that even the most knowledgeable and high powered sellers can't see what they're doing wrong. Unfortunately, it can take a very long time for a company to recover from these uninformed approaches.
One of the key differences with services selling is the type of relationship you must establish with the customer. As is often the case with product selling, it's not enough to make the sale and then move onto the next opportunity. A relationship of sustained trust and respect must be established, something that is only accomplished by maintaining contact with the customer, making suggestions and recommendations that demonstrate the value of the relationship. By serving as a consultant, and proving the value of the relationship on a consistent basis, a customer will invest in your service offerings.
Unfortunately, some customers use their own subtle signs to tell a seller when they are not being successful in the services arena. Experience tells customers that if they sign a purchase order agreement for services, the high-powered, pushy product seller, who is looking for a quick sale, will likely leave them alone. This seller is not focused on making recommendations and finding services that will benefit the customer's unique business needs. Once the PO is signed, the customer knows they don't have to spend against the PO. So they sign; then make excuses for not using the services they did not need in the first place. The downfall here is that when the customer eventually does need services you provide, they will likely find a way to service themselves internally, or look to another provider. They will not engage the high-powered, pushy product seller, not only leaving money on the table, but reducing the company's share of the customer's business, and destroying customer satisfaction.
Whether a customer is disinterested in services or doesn't need them at the moment, it's up to you to serve as a consultant and provide ongoing advice based on their experience serving the business needs of the organization. This level of activity will earn respect from the customer, and drive the customer to want to work with you when the right opportunity presents itself.
In order to become successful at selling services, there are several key subtle considerations. Follows are few to remember.
Discuss problem areas before needs
Work early in the customer's buying process to identify those problem areas
Test recommendations before making a proposal
Services have a "shelf life" that expires as time passes and supply is limited
As a way to achieve success selling services, it's a good idea to start with existing customers rather than new prospects. Existing customers already have a level of trust and respect for you, and are more than likely willing to listen to your services message while you learn to perfect your sales approach. Prospects have no established relationship with you, and often find an inexperienced, high-powered seller too pushy. They won't be nearly as flexible or forgiving if you make mistakes when selling services for the first time.
Selling services is much different than selling products. While the goal of making a sale is the same, a much more consultative, coaching approach is required. Without it, a customer won't be inclined to implement or maximize the value of your services.