Selling a service is a totally different ballgame when compared to selling a product. Unlike in a product sale, there is nothing that a client can see, touch, feel, or experience before a purchase. Your potential client has to trust you before she will buy your service and then find out whether the promise you made is delivered.
How do you get someone to trust you? The great thing is that the client is a human being and if you are sincere the client can sense it. So, be sincere. In everything you say and how you say it. This means that what you say, the content on your website or in your collateral is true. This also means you do not resort to a ‘hard-sell’. You never promise more than what you can deliver. In fact, delivering more than what you promise is what will get your clients back again and again.
Around twenty years ago I was trying to get a Global bank to include my company in the list of approved vendors and the procurement person asked me why he should as he already had 151 vendors for my type of services. Fair point, I thought, and then told him he should include me because once he experiences the kind of service I deliver, he will see that I would be one of his top ten vendors in two years. Pretty preposterous, coming from a newly incorporated start-up, but I guess he could see that I was being sincere and he believed me. I got included in the vendor list and although it took me a little over two years, I did reach the top ten of their list.
As a service provider, you know, after an initial assessment, what it will take to address the client’s needs. A clear enunciation of the process you will employ, including the time and resources that will be needed, ought to be laid out clearly and simply. Only if the client agrees to the complete process, do you take on the work. Of course, at times the client may need to break up the whole process into a few blocks where after each block, the client will examine the outcomes and if satisfied, will continue. So, please build this in. There is no point taking on a job knowing that in the end, what the client has contracted for will not result in a positive outcome. It’s better to not take on the client rather than take her on and not make a difference.
Many a time, when a client’s needs were complex, we presented a solution that would break up the complex requirements into several, smaller blocks and ask the client to award us the first of the series of blocks of orders. This achieved a few objectives- the orders were small, with measurable outputs so that the client could see progress and then have more confidence in awarding the next order/s. Another advantage was that since we were only paid on successful completion of projects, we would get paid for each delivery, helping our cash-flow. A third advantage was that the client felt it was less risky to award smaller projects rather than a single big one.
Almost every service business deal outcome will be successful if there is mutual respect between the service provider and the client. Another important thing to note is that both sides have to understand that this is a partnership. The service provider has the expertise to fulfil certain needs of the client and this can happen much better when the client fulfils her part of the contract in a conducive and positive manner.
There was once a client who gave us a contract and then handed us over to her team to start the project. At the very beginning, we saw that the team was not going to co-operate as they felt this was something we should be able to do without them investing their time and effort. We went back to the client and explained how this project would fail if her team did not see that this is a partnership between them and us and only if we work together as one team, would the project succeed. The client called a meeting with all the people involved and both sides put their views forward and why each had to do certain tasks and commit on deliverables so that the project would be completed. Although this meeting was long and arduous, the result was a partnership that led to a perfect delivery.
This is valid even if the work involves only two individuals. Both have to treat it as a joint effort, even though one is paying and the other receiving money.
A great feature of the service business is that it is usually needed more than once. I have found that if you take the long-term view and approach your business in that manner, you will gain the loyalty of your clients over the long term. This would mean recurring business for you and that is a key aspect of this business. You do not necessarily have to dig a new well every time you want a drink of water. In most service businesses, there are ways to continually add value to your client. In many cases, you could do so directly and in other cases, you could recommend other service providers. Your main purpose ought to be to help the client in all ways you can. You may not necessarily make money if you recommend the client to other service providers but the client will remember this and that is what you want.
I have found that doing a little bit more than what the contract stated was a sure-fire way of standing out from competitors.
As we know, there is very little to offer to the client before she becomes a client, one very useful tool is testimonials from satisfied clients. And, clients will give testimonials if they are more than just satisfied…when they are happy with your services. Here, your long-term approach will help you as clients are happier giving you testimonials.
Many a time a client will ask for something that is not within your scope. This is the time to be upfront and tell the client that you only do what you are good at. You may help the client by recommending others who can provide the service she might need. What saying no does is to increase the client’s respect for you and your professionalism. This helps position you better.
Another helpful tool in the services business is building your case studies. Of course, these would usually not have your real clients’ details but will have the full details of the case, such as the problem area of the client, the approach taken, the process and the outcome.
In fact, in certain cases, the client may also be happy to be quoted and that is a powerful tool to convince potential clients to try your service out.
How many doctors, nurses, air stewardesses, waiters, therapists, car mechanics, airline pilots, and others in the services businesses have you come across going about their work in flip flops and shorts? Probably not many. You tend to trust people who are well turned out, even if not in uniform. It helps if all client-facing providers are dressed appropriately and professionally carry themselves while delivering their service.
Professionalism also means that you honour your clients’ time by being on time yourself and delivering on time, limiting variations in these to a minimum. I have observed that if the service provider is conscious of this, most of the clients will be too. If not, they will get there. In the services business, mutual respect is essential.
In my clients’ experience, I have always been on time, and once, when the client was late nine times in a row, over three years of engagement, I brought this up and the client was really apologetic and was never late for the next several years.
The nature of the services business is such that there will be a relationship formed between the service provider and the client. Professionalism demands that you respect the spoken and unspoken boundaries, such that the essence of that relationship remains pure.
I would like to end this by sharing that I always treated my clients as human beings first. I knew about their family, asked them how each member was doing when we met one on one, sent birthday greetings and new year greetings even after they were no longer my clients, having retired. Each one of us wants to be recognized for who we are as people and not the position we hold in a company or the position as a client.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Harish is a proponent of holistic healing, combining traditional healing modalities with the latest quantum healing technologies.
He founded Emerio GlobeSoft Pte. Ltd. in Singapore in 1997 and grew it to 2000 employees comprised of 23 nationalities, spread over 11 countries. He retired in March 2019 to pursue his Doctorate in Integrative Medicine.
He has received awards for his entrepreneurship that include the Spirit of Enterprise Award (2004), the ASME’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award (2005), and the SICCI Indian Entrepreneur Award for Large Enterprises (2009).
He is also a passionate supporter of causes that benefit children’s education and women’s health and wellbeing. His other passions are angel investments and golf.