Selling Services On the Phone – The Mechanics

Customers evaluate services differently than products. For example, a few years ago, a relative of mine went in for heart surgery to have a pacemaker installed. When I asked her about the experience when she returned home, she told me the nurses were great but the food wasn’t very good. As we talked, I smiled to myself thinking “you just experienced a service which probably saved your life, and you evaluated the food and the nurses”. When she purchased this pacemaker installation, she did little research about the skills of the surgeon, and none about the brand of pacemaker used – I don’t think she was aware there is more than one – she just trusted the surgeon. The experience was evaluated in the rearview mirror by what she could get her mental arms around, the nurses and the food. All of us would probably walk on coals to get a pacemaker if that was required to solve a heart issue. The hospital, the device manufacture, the surgeon and the surgical team encompass a huge investment in executing the surgery flawlessly and safely, and the post-procedure evaluation all comes down to soggy French fries prepared by a short order cook and delivered by an entry level orderly.

A sales manager for a selling organization selling services or a product organization that is adding or expanding a service offering must consider carefully how these services are positioned in the marketplace and evaluated. Many services are experiential, they need to be experienced to be evaluated and enjoyed, and therefore a carefully constructed positioning is extremely valuable to provide a mental signpost for the customer, and to put definition and structure around something which might otherwise seem vague and fuzzy. For example, many product producers sell as a service “extended warranties” and “customer support agreements.” In the former, the selling organization will extend the warranty coverage of the product into the future for a fee, and in the later, the selling organization will perform a prescribed set of maintenance offerings in the future. Many organizations offer these services as cross-sell items once a customer has purchased the product. “Oh by the way, would you like either an extended warranty or a customer support agreement?” The difficulty of positioning this becomes apparent when you consider how business-to-business companies evaluate risk. The customer has just gone through the period when they are most worried about risk and what can go wrong – the time just before the sale closes. The customer has overcome their fears and agreed to buy the product, and the salesperson infers they just made a risky purchase by indicating extending the warranty is a good idea. Wouldn’t they like to buy an insurance policy called an extended warranty, and wouldn’t they like to purchase something to take care of all that pesky maintenance? This makes for a difficult sale.

In many instances, the sales manager may need to study their market, and test positioning services into the sale early, so services can be closed along with the product. Do you want French fries with that?