Skip to content

The 3 Tenets Of Selling Services

Business men shaking hands

PS Principles - Selling Services

To sell services effectively, I find that it helps to have an unwavering belief in three core tenets. The first is that it is not a selling process, it is a buying process. The customer has a need and you are there to convince them that you can fulfill that need. Listen to what they want and respond in terms of the needs they have expressed. Anything short of that misses the point. The next two tenets are what we will focus on for the rest of this article. The first of those two tenets is that when selling services you must accept and be able to articulate that you are selling people's time. You're not selling a result, an outcome, or a product, but rather time. If you sell a result or an outcome, you are not only misleading the customer but also missing the opportunity to create real differentiation. This leads me to the last tenet, you must sell to the danger. If your service doesn't mitigate or remove some element of danger then you have no value to sell and the customer doesn't need you. Finding that danger is something you can both listen for, but also use your expertise to identify.

First, let's look at the legalities of selling. All over the world there is a legal distinction between products and services because of one core difference. When a customer buys a product they are allowed to expect an outcome. A product is built and sold to a specification. The product is supposed to give you an outcome. A service, however, is not guaranteed to give you an outcome because the customer plays a part in the service, whether the customer wants to believe that or not.

You might think that sounds harsh to remind a customer that they are buying a service and not an outcome, but I do this straight out of the gate to set the expectation that the customer is going to have to participate in the service journey to achieve their desired outcome. As ideal as it would be that you could just pay the expert to make it happen, enterprise services simply don't work that way. The customer wants the solution tailored to their specific needs and only the customer knows what those needs are. A customer that expects to be disconnected from the receipt of the service is almost certain to negatively impact the project for both parties.

For example, take a hairdresser who cuts someone's hair. You might not think the customer plays a big part in the provision of the service, but the hairdresser asks, "How would you like your hair cut?" If the customer describes their desired haircut poorly, incorrectly or in a manner that is not understood, then there is a strong chance the hairdresser will interpret something different then what the customer wants. When the hairdresser asks, "Should I take about this much off?" the customer must respond in a way that gives the hairdresser direction on how to provide the service. Even if the hairdresser does everything the customer asks for, there is still no guarantee that at the end of the process, the customer likes or even wants their hair to look that way. This is because the act of providing any service requires an expert to fulfill the desires of the customer but through their own interpretation of the customer's requirements.

Now multiply this by a hundred and you have a haircut that might look like a technology project. There are thousands of questions for a customer to answer as we go through our process and if they are not prepared to engage and answer them, the project will suffer. Getting this out in the open from the outset is a great way to start the buying process. It tells the customer, pay attention otherwise you might buy a service that doesn't work the way you want it to.

This approach also opens up your ability to use the third tenet. Every customer is buying something that reduces their risk of failure. Every customer knows the dangers of implementing technology projects. They will not be on time, they will not be on budget, and they are very likely to be more difficult than imagined. They know this because they see the reports, but they often continue to believe that they will be the exception because the service providers they go to make them think that there is no danger.


"Every journey has danger, but within a sales cycle you can create competitive advantage by identifying which of the dangers within the journey you already have answers to."


This is where you can create differentiation. Every journey has danger, but within a sales cycle you can create competitive advantage by identifying which of the dangers within the journey you already have answers to. By doing this and sticking only to the dangers that you can answer, helps you create differentiation that others have to try and follow.

Here's what I mean. When we were implementing CPQ solutions we decided to go out and ask customers what their biggest fear was when it came to implementing such solutions. While we thought it might be something like SKU rationalization (the removal of duplicate SKUs) we actually found it to be that there was a fear that the sales team would not adopt the solution.

A deeper knowledge of sales teams helps explain this. Sales teams are notorious for rejecting solutions as users. While they beg for tools to help them sell more, if they feel that a tool restricts their ability to sell then they will reject it outright and the money spent has been a waste. As a result, this is the number one fear for most organizations implementing any solution that requires the sales team to be a customer.

To address this fear and create differentiation we decided to tackle it head on and sell to it. We identified as a part of our slides, the existence of our best practice for the adoption of CPQ solutions. A document that would outline all of the things the customer should be doing to ensure that the sales team would accept the solution after it was built. We did this because we knew it was a fear and rather than ignoring it, we sold to it but only once we had developed the answer to the fear.

And this is where you create differentiation. By addressing this fear either you are addressing something the customer already knows but other organizations have failed to mention or you are identifying something new for them that other competitors have failed to discuss. Either way, you look like a trusted advisor much faster than anyone you are dealing with. We've used this process across multiple organizations now and we are still amazed at how well it works.

To summarize, selling is an art but there is a science to it. If we solidify the idea that we must listen to the customer as "the buyer" and forget that our role is to sell, we can hear what it is the customer is asking for. If we can remain grounded in the fact that we are selling a service, we can identify for the customer how they can engage in the process and ensure their project journey is successful. At the same time, to excite them about our services we must help them identify the key areas of danger that only we are able to help them conquer. The result of this is the acceleration of trust in our organization, which ultimately is what the customer wants to buy.


We run a class on services selling. If your sales team is looking to enhance its skills in services selling, get in touch

Leave a Comment