The challenge of selling an intangible offering like business consulting is that people cannot see or try your product in advance. To sell business consulting, personal coaching, insurance, public relations, tax advice and other services, you need to build trust.
How do we get the prospective buyer to trust the seller on something more than just blind faith? How do you get that trust going with someone who has never met you? Consider these techniques for packaging intangible services:
- Align with a well-known brand and/or professional organisation.
- Offer a package deal.
- Use frameworks and tools.
Use branding to package intangible services
Branding is as important when selling services like business consulting as it is when you’re selling toothpaste, computers or high-end vehicles. A strong brand offers predictability, quality, and familiarity to the client. This lets them know and trust what they are getting. But building your own brand is a journey that could take years.
One way to sell your services more effectively is to associate your business or yourself with an already known brand. The brand then becomes the promise to a buyer that the service will be of predictable quality. For example, if you sell IT services, you could seek to become an authorised consulting partner for one of the major brands that people already know and trust.
Or as a financial planner, you could benefit from official relationships with the insurance and asset management companies your clients trust. Associating yourself with a professional body like the Institute of Estate Agents (IEASA) if you’re a realtor or the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa (PRISA) for public relations practitioners, can give your buyers the assurance they are dealing with a pro when they buy services from you.
Offer a package deal for business consulting
Packaging is the best way to sell intangible services, so nervous buyers feel like they’re getting a bargain, or at least getting something predictable. We’re not talking about boxes and labels here; we’re talking about selling services in a group or within a framework.
This is important because buyers do not like financial or quality surprises, especially when it comes to something like business consulting services. So, think about how you will offer a package deal that will make sense to your client – something that offers predictable delivery at a predictable cost.
For instance, if you are selling tax consulting services, think about packaging them as business outcomes for a fixed fee and with a fixed scope rather than charging a flat hourly rate. If you are a dog trainer, you could sell a package of ten lessons for R1,500. Why does this work? It shows the customer that you are committing to a result.
Customers also feel like they are getting value for money, which contrasts with the fear that they may be billed for hours of work with no end in sight. This approach also weeds out time wasters who are not serious about a business relationship with you.
If someone signs up for a year of accounting services or for the implementation of a new customer relationship management system, they are serious, committed and have set aside the time and budget to make it work. This will also free you from the stress of needing to justify your hourly billing and increases your chances of successful engagement with the customer.
Generate steady income
There is a global trend in business consulting that is moving away from hourly rates because buyers hate them. Lawyers in many parts of the world are moving away from hourly rates to packaged services. Many firms now have a fixed price for common items like divorce without children or bankruptcy.
For the consultant, a package creates predictable income. You have transparency into both your income and your workload. Consultants who don’t package their services seem to get all their work at once and can live a lifetime of feast or famine. Those who sell packages know when to say no to potential work.
Use tools and frameworks to package intangible services
Let’s talk for a moment about life coaching, one of the most intangible services on the market. To get people to buy life coaching services, many coaches align themselves with tests and tools.
Packaging the coaching with a proven method allows the customer to feel the service is tied to something externally validated, rather than simply relying on the coach’s ability to give good advice.
Another popular form of packaging is the “framework”. Business consulting firms rely on frameworks to package their intangible services. Harvard’s Extension School has a list of six frameworks used by large firms that smaller consulting businesses can borrow. These include benchmarking, the growth share matrix and Michael Porter’s Five Forces. Each of these well-known frameworks is just a way of making it easier to sell intangible services.
Whatever packaging tool you use, make sure it’s one you feel comfortable with and that can be easily explained to your clients. The better the packaging, the easier the sale.
This article has been adapted from an original piece by Francine Hardaway.