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Selling Your Services

How do you sell something that's intangible? Try focusing on the value.

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Q: Do you have any suggestions for those of us who sell services? I find it difficult to put service benefits into words. For example, I am in the IT industry, and my business provides IT staffing services for companies. We pay our contractors a huge percentage because we know that will give them an incentive to work hard for our customers. But I can't really say that one of our benefits is increasing employee satisfaction. They don't really care about keeping our employees happy--they only care about the project. Promoting a service just seems more complicated. I could really use your assistance.

A: This question really caught my eye, because I had an equally difficult time switching from selling a tangible product (in my case, computers) to an intangible service (selling myself and my sales training). Here's how I did it:

Find the Value

No matter what you sell, you must become an expert at communicating value. Value comes in two forms: tangible and intangible. Tangible value is easy to see and measure. A 5 percent increase in revenues, a 24 percent increase in personal productivity, a reduction in time-to-market by an average of 30 days, a lowering of expenses by 25 percent--these are all examples of tangible value. As you can see, tangible value is articulated using either numbers or percentages.

Can't deliver tangible value? Don't despair. Your marketplace and the prospects that are in it will get just as excited when they see intangible value--value that's harder to measure, but just as important. Some examples include: less risk of losing key employees to the competition, less worry about downtime during the busy season, a better image in the marketplace, improved labor relations, enhancing employee attitudes toward the company, greater focus on core business initiatives and so on. Unlike tangible value, intangible value is articulated primarily by means of descriptive words and phrases. Numbers just don't play a role.

Balance the Equation

Once you've established the value, it's time to put it into an equation that your prospects will understand. It's time to create and test a balanced reward equation.

For now, don't be concerned with how a target prospect will read, hear or see this statement. It doesn't much matter. Once you create the right equation, you can package it in just about any form.

Let's start out by looking at what we don't want to do. Here's a statement based on tangible value that is not balanced: "Overachieve your time to readiness goals by 15 percent!" This demands quite a lot--in fact, too much--from the imagination. The call to action leaves too many unanswered questions for any self-respecting prospect to take seriously. What, exactly, has to be done to get this result? Must marketing budgets be increased to perform additional advertising? Do we need to revamp our sales compensation plan and offer higher bonuses for certain products? Must we bring on more administrative staff to support pre-sales activities? All of these concerns cast a cloud of suspicion over the benefit claim.

Consider this: A good qualified prospect probably already knows how to overachieve revenue goals by at least 15 percent. For instance, he could simply hire a fancy advertising agency and launch a national advertising campaign. But the question is: Would his company be able to do so profitably? That, of course, is another question entirely. You must resolve both types of questions, usually at the same time, in order to set you apart and above your nearest competitor. Here's an example of a balanced equation built around tangible value: "Overachieve time to readiness reduction goals by 15 percent--while at the same time reducing operational expenses by as much as 10 percent."


Anthony Parinello hosts a live Internet radio talk show on Entrepreneur Radio that airs each Friday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. PST.

Now let's take a look at an intangible reward equation that's balanced: "Enhance employee morale and commitment--while at the same time containing your benefit expenses." You must master both tangible and intangible reward equations. Then you must add the critical element of time, since every prospect you'll ever meet lives in a time-compressed world.

How long will it take to realize a particular goal? How long will it take to bring a particular product into existence? How long do we have before a new piece of technology turns our market upside down? This focus on time means that, at the end of every equation you balance, you must add the critical element of time. Here's our tangible value balanced reward equation with the element of time added: "Overachieve time to revenue reduction goals by 15 percent, while at the same time reducing operational expenses by as much as 10 percent--and do so in less than 120 days, like our customer HappyCo did."

Tony Parinello is the author of the bestselling book Selling to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer. For additional information on his speeches and his newest book, Secrets of VITO, call (800) 777-VITO or visit www.sellingtovito.com.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

Written By

Tony Parinello has become the nation's foremost expert on executive-level selling. He's also the author of the bestselling book bearing the name of his sales training program,Getting to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer, 10 Steps to VITO's Office,as well as the host of Club VITO, a weekly live internet broadcast.