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Practice Management > Building Your Business

Do you sell products or services?

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During my 25-years in corporate sales life I sold both products and services. Salespeople who inform me that they sell a service and that it is more difficult than selling a product and is a different sale, constantly approach me. I ask them how their business is going and they usually say – not very well.

What is the difference?

Service sales reps will usually say it is difficult to explain their service. Ask many product salespeople what their products do and you would think it must be a service. Service salespeople say they must sell differently. They must get in front of a prospect. They then want to find out the needs and what is most important to the prospect. They then position their service in a way that is of value and what is most important to the prospect. How is that different to a product?

There has been this myth in sales that services are different than products in a selling scenario. When I do certificate testing for salespeople, the sales rep must do a role-play in which they sell to me. Many times if the rep sells a service, then I give them a product scenario and if they sell a product I give them a service scenario. Guess what happens? The reps get into the role-play and apply their sales skills and run a successful role-play.

The only difference I have seen is in the way reps view their business. If you know what your business does well and what the value is to your customer, then the rest lies in your ability to sell. It doesn’t matter what you sell – a product or service. If you are unable to explain your business and know the value of what you sell then it doesn’t matter what you sell. The reason you feel a service is more difficult is that you can’t explain what you do. Yet if that rep sold pencils he would still have poor sales because even though he knows he sells pencils, he doesn’t know the value of and how to position that pencil with his clients and prospects.

Successful service sales

My observation of service sales reps is that they do not know what their “product” does for clients. If you are one of these service reps (or a product rep for that matter), take time with your manager or your most successful rep and ask them to help you understand the value and uniqueness of your service. Visit your top customer and ask them why they use your service and what the value is to them.

If you take responsibility for your business, then you will get yourself educated and know what makes your service something clients and prospects need in their business. You get comfortable with your service and, after carefully listening to your customers’ and prospects’ needs, can position your service in a way that provides value, a peace of mind or whatever it is that is most important to that person.

Product versus service

I will sometimes play with salespeople and ask them if their service offering is not a product? The insurance and financial services companies call their services products. If it is a product does it make it easier to sell? Yet it is a service. Are you embarrassed to be a service provider?

In 2001 IBM’s service business surpassed their hardware (product) business for the first time in company history. We have become a very service-oriented economy. If you believe selling services is difficult then you will want to look in the mirror and ask what you need to do differently. Services are a very profitable and growing sector in North America and the great reps have figured this out.

Sayers says …

What is the value of your product or service? Do you know enough about that value to position it in to what your prospect wants? Are you using my “Service Offering” as a way to justify your poor performance? Is your service a product or a service? Why does your customer buy from you and what is the value of your service to them?

Bill Sayers speaks, coaches, leads education sessions and provides management consulting services to a variety of companies. For the past five years Bill has run his own sales consulting practice. He recently completed his new book, “Funnels and Forecasts – The Great Game of Sales“. He has been a professor at George Brown College teaching Personal Selling Skills to the Sports and Event Marketing Graduate Program, and is on the faculty of Canadian Professional Sales Association and Canadian Management Centre.

To receive his free “How are you Playing the Game” Scorecard and a 45 minute one-on-one session with Bill Sayers, e-mail [email protected] This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or


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