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I needed a new rug for my office because my office chair is grinding down the gorgeous, original Douglas Fir hardwood floor. The floor also happens to be 84 years old.
No big deal – a rug will solve the problem for less than $200.
So I pulled up the IKEA website and found some options, then saved the links for later.
What I saw online wasn’t necessarily the same as what I would see in person. So I headed over to the IKEA store to check out the rugs for myself.
The rugs are attached to giant hangers in the store. I touched them, saw how the colors looked in person, and decided if it was really worth it to spend $189 instead of $79 for the same size rug. Heck – I could go crazy and get two rugs if I wanted.
When I found the right rug for my office, I retrieved it from the warehouse. There was a bin full of the exact rug style I wanted, but it didn’t matter which one I chose – they were all the same. So I grabbed the rug and checked out. I was done.
Imagine a totally different experience. Imagine for a second that, instead of having rugs hanging from a display in the store, I had to take a ticket and schedule a 1-hour rug consultation.
In the meeting I’d be excited to find rug options, but first had to answer a series of questions about why I wanted a rug and my preferred color palette. I’d be shown mood boards and asked which ones resonate most with me. They’d ask about how much traffic goes through my office, how often I planned to run my chair over the rug, and if I had pets or small children.
At the end of the consultation, they’d say that I’d receive a proposal with a few rug options and prices in a week. Still no rug.
I think we can stop there. You get the idea.
Having a consultation for an IKEA rug is ridiculous. But the thought experiment demonstrates the differences between selling products and services. I’ll continue to explore this, but the key difference between products and services comes down to just how tangible they are.
Products can be experienced with the senses. They can be seen, touched, smelled, tasted, or heard.
Services can’t. Or at least not easily.
Which is to say that it’s harder to sell services because it’s harder to buy services.
The more differentiated, complicated, unknown, or expensive your service, the harder it is to sell it. And the more premium the price you charge, the harder your service is to sell.
The main differences between selling products and services come down to these factors:
- Demonstration: products are easy to demonstrate, services are less so; I can show you a Ninja blender in action, but it’s hard to show you my sales coaching (and it would have poor entertainment value!)
- Trial: you can try out an iPad in the store before you buy it, but services are quite a bit harder to try out
- Consistency: there is little to no variability across the same product – all the rugs of a certain style and color have undetectable differences – but services are provided by people, and people are messy
- Incremental changes: I can always buy 5 more seats to my project management software, but it’s hard to buy a 5% better outcome in a software development engagement
- Definition: a product typically has well-defined boundaries and functionality, services aren’t as clear
- Ease of purchase: products are usually very easy to buy, while services require greater commitment and effort on the part of the buyer
And all of these various factors that result from the intangibility of services require one monumental thing on the part of the buyer: trust.
My question for you today:
What are you doing to make it easier for clients to buy from you?
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