The United States economy has evolved into a service economy. Yet despite the proliferation of service firms, organizational marketing and sales tactics are still oriented toward product-based organizations. Selling a service is much more difficult than selling a product because services are far more intangible than products. Our challenge as service providers is to understand how to sell our services as products.
For service firms, words like customizable, knowledgeable and flexible solutions abound. But what does that mean? What are we customizing or making more flexible? How do we sell that concept in our market? How do we communicate and sell that concept within our organizations? How do you measure success against knowledgeable and flexible solutions?
One answer is to make our services tangible by thinking of them as products. We can start by building a standard product capabilities outline. This outline forces us to examine the services we provide in comparison to what our customers say they need. It also requires us to analyze the manner in which we provide our services.
As service providers, we need to take a close look at what we do for our clients and provide a tangible, repeatable response to their needs. The first step is to effectively define your client’s needs in terms of the nature of their work and the underlying issues they need to address. To address the nature of the work, you need to be able to articulate first at a high level what kind of work needs to be done.
The second part is more challenging. To understand client’s motivators, you need to determine what they would struggle with if they didn’t have you. Would they struggle with expertise or timing? Would they miss out on important growth opportunities or experience cost overruns? Once you understand what motivates them to seek your services, you can begin to productize their needs. As an example, my firm provides professional biomedical and clinical research support services to the government. When we examined what our clients really “needed,” we realized that it wasn’t as easy as providing people to perform research. Our government clients “needed” minimal downtime. In essence, the government wants us to provide and retain qualified research personnel in a timely manner. They also want minimal distractions to occur during the course of the research, which means we need to ensure services are not interrupted due to personnel issues, equipment failures, or lack of communication within our organization. Understanding our clients “need” (in this case, minimal downtime) has helped us to focus on the critical aspects of what and how we sell our services to them.
Once you have the overarching need defined, you’ll want to convince your customer why you are a better choice than your competition. This is where terms like flexible and customizable play a role. Your firm’s strength is in how you deliver your service. It is important to show the client that you have repeatable processes that generate positive results.
The final step involves setting yourselves apart from your competition. Once you have a tangible solution developed, it is much easier to illustrate exactly how your firm is different and better because it will be grounded in tangible statements that apply to your client’s business.
Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management, a full-service contract research organization that offers early- to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at [email protected] Clinical Research Management’s director of business development, Lori Gipp, assisted in the writing of this article.