The challenge of selling services online

Obviously we live in an e-commerce world. I’m constantly buying stuff online. But services are different. When we buy a book from Amazon, we know what we are going to get. When we hire someone to write a newsletter or design a logo, or tell us how much our business is worth, we aren’t really sure what we are going to get. We may not even really be sure of how to evaluate the person’s credentials. When we buy services, we hire professionals who know how to do what we need done. There is risk on the part of the buyer, a risk that doesn’t exist when you buy a book online. You know what you are going to get, you just need to know if they seller can get it to you quickly and reliably.

So in order to sell services, we need to overcome this inherent barrier of fear of the unknown – we need to build trust.

Establish trust.

The way that most people navigate that space where they are hiring someone to do something that they don’t know how to do is that they look for signs of trust. Some of those signs can be conveyed in a website – you can show your degrees, a video with you talking and being very trustworthy. But a key component of trust is intimacy; we trust people we know. For most of us, a website and some videos still doesn’t amount to knowing someone.

When we put our affairs into someone else’s hands it requires a ton of trust. We need to observe them being credible and reliable, we have to get to know them and we have to believe they are trying to help us. There are ways that we can do some of that on-line. For example if you stick to a regular blogging schedule, it demonstrates reliability. Testimonials provide credibility. Videos help people feel like they know you better. Guarantees help insure that people feel like you are looking out for them. Is that enough to overcome the fear?

Demonstrate expertise.

People need to know that you know what you are doing. So don’t just tell (i.e. “Our firm is the best!) — make sure to show. Stories help, and customer stories help a lot — but the best thing is if they can see it in action and if they can experience it.

In my sales process it’s when I diagnose a person’s problem that they start to believe that I can solve it. So the key act is to identify an issue they have, describe it vividly, and promise that you’ve seen this many times before. Online, it’s a one-way conversation so it’s harder to make that happen. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s a challenge.

Give before you ask.

Another key component of trust is the belief (on the prospect’s part) that you are not just in this for your own gain. That you value the outcome that the prospect will get from this engagement. Because they can’t see this lack of self-interest in our demeanor, or tone of voice we have to “go first” and offer value before we ask for value. Online it makes it imperative that we provide useful, valuable content for free before asking for money. Not a little bit of valuable content, a lot of valuable content. Michael Port is a terrific example of this. He regularly sends his email list the very tools that he’s using to run his business, or work with his clients. He’s always sharing good stuff with me – I know his materials are solid because I’ve seen so much of it for free.

Find a spurting artery.

One of my mentors taught me that people don’t buy consulting when they need to take their vitamins. They buy consulting when they have an artery spurting blood. Face-to-face this means that when you find a point of pain you have to dig down, get them to talk about the implications of that issue, almost wallow in it so that they feel the pain of it. Again, the one-way nature of the web makes it harder to pinpoint that issue that is the artery spurting blood for our prospect. Landing pages are one way to speak to one issue at a time, narrowcasting at one pain point. But there is a natural resistance on the prospects part to wanting to see how bad things are. They want to cover it up, forget, blunt the pain. In person we can pull back that bandage – but online that’s more difficult.

Prospects need to know that this is a big problem that’s likely to get worse. They have to feel desperate for a solution and believe that we’ve got that solution. This is why you see so much sensational language on landing pages. There needs to be emotion that commands prospects to look at the scary artery.

In order to be successful at selling services you need people with credibility, reliability and expertise. While you can have salespeople (or websites) that serve as lead generators and your social media can extend your presence toward your prospects, someone with credibility and expertise still has to show up, build the client’s trust and make the sale.

That’s the way I see it, but you may see it differently. What examples did I miss? Do you know a company that’s successful selling services on the web? Tell me about it!

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