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So many service providers treat it as a given: that their businesses are fundamentally different from those that sell physical products. On the surface, it seems an innocuous enough assumption.

There must be an essential difference between the sales processes of firms that sell physical products and those that sell intangible services. When I’m asked if we’ve every applied our method to service providers (which we have, of course), I’ll always respond by questioning that very assumption?

Here’s a typical dialogue:

ME: Can you tell me, in what manner does your sales process differs from that of a company that sells physical products?

POTENTIAL CLIENT: Well, when you’re selling something intangible, there’s nothing for the potential customer to look at, to touch or to test drive. ME: Well, if that’s the case, how does a potential customer make a purchasing decision?

POTENTIAL CLIENT: I guess it comes down to the prospect’s trust in the salesperson: the quality of the relationship.

ME: If you compare your salespeople with those of your direct competitors, can you make a case that your salespeople are *materially* different (in some commercially-relevant way) from those of your competitors.

POTENTIAL CLIENT: I’d like to say yes but, honestly, I think I’d struggle to make that case. ME: So, if your salespeople are not your point-of-difference, what is?

POTENTIAL CLIENT: I guess it is – or should be – our processes, our infrastructure, our methods.

ME: Good. So your salespeople should really be focussing on selling your superior method. Tell me, with this in mind, how thorough a job have you done of packaging this method so that it can be effectively sold by salespeople? Is it packaged to the point where prospects can look at it, touch it and test drive it?

POTENTIAL CLIENT: Well no. Actually, it’s not packaged at all. We definitely have superior methods, but we almost treat them as a trade secret! Salespeople can only make bold claims: they have no story to back those claims up. No data. And no evidence.

ME: Interesting. So, it sounds like your core problem is that you’re attempting to sell something that’s intangible (and unquantifiable), rather than selling a *tangible* packaged methodology.

POTENTIAL CLIENT: Right.

ME: So, in answer to your question, a moment ago, yes we have experience with a range of service providers. But you can rest assured that we’re not going to build you a sales process like a typical sales provider’s. We’re going to show you how to package your methodology and sell it as a tangible product. In other words, our experience with companies that sell physical products is just as valuable – if not more so.

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