Three things to bear in mind if you sell a service

Jul 24, 2019

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You’ll be pleased to learn that my daughter, Emily, is now a college graduate.  Her double major: anthropology and sculpture.

The anthropology is interesting, definitely. But the sculpture? That is way cool.

Not just because it’s comforting to know that in the unlikely event of a major structural collapse at home, there’s somebody in the family who knows how to weld.

No, it’s because unlike most of what you experience as the parent of a kid going to school far away – phone calls, grades, the occasional term paper and/or arrest report – when your daughter is a sculptor, you get to see tangible things that she has produced.

That’s a significant distinction: Her sculpting work allows us to experience, understand, and remember what she’s doing in a way that is much deeper and longer lasting than her purely word-based anthropology projects.

Your work as a professional service provider is no different. When you share your qualifications and experience on your web site, LinkedIn, in conversation, etc., it tells me a lot about you, absolutely. But it’s not very tangible or enduring.

Professional service providers like us sell air, and air has a way of evaporating (or something, I’m not a scientist).

That’s why it’s helpful to take deliberate steps to make your work – and you – feel more tangible:

Testimonials. Other people talking about you goes a long way towards convincing me of your value and helping me understand how you might solve my specific problems. So when you ask people to write these for you, ask them to be as specific as possible about how working with you improved their business or life.

Case studies. These don’t have to be long or complicated. Here as well, though, the idea is to let prospective clients get as close to a firsthand look as possible at how you work and how your clients benefit. It’s one thing to read about your qualifications. It’s quite another to read a story about how you put those into practice.

Lots and lots of reality. Do you tell stories from personal experience? Is your physical mailing address on your web site? Is your photo and those of your staff prominently displayed? All of these tangible bits of the material world help you feel more real to others.

General Mills can’t write a story about what it did over the weekend (although I’m guessing it would involve cavity-filled, overstimulated children). You can. When you omit this kind of thing out of fear of appearing “unprofessional,” you are ceding one of your most important competitive advantages.

Here’s the bottom line. When you sell a professional service, it can be hard for prospective clients to really understand what you do and, even more important, imagine how they might benefit from hiring you.

Take a page from Emily’s book: the more real and tangible your services feel, the easier it is for others to know what exactly it is you can contribute.

Michael Katz is Founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in helping professional service providers talk about their work in a way that is clear and compelling. Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette, here.