By: Meg Reimer, Marketing Manager
Welcome to the ACACIA Commercial Services blog! Here, we will be sharing insight into our industry, as well as what we’ve learned in our five years as a startup business. We are experts on a wide variety of contract services, such as snow removal and landscaping, as well as the industries we work with through our years of building relationships with our clients in retail, multi-family housing, and commercial property management. We hope to provide some great tips to our followers and engage with other leaders on best practices, business insights, and the newest trends! Thanks for reading!
Approaching a Service Sale: Partnerships vs. Transactions
Here at ACACIA, we sell B2B contract services management. Selling a service is very different than selling a product for a few reasons, but most importantly in the way you approach the sale. When selling a product in the B2B space, it is important to develop the relationship with your prospective client early on. In a previous role selling a well-established product, I would commonly pitch a new connection upon meeting them at a networking event. I’d follow up with some information, a link to our e-commerce site, maybe a free sample for them to try if they were a top target. Very rarely did I interact with someone who could use my company’s product where I did not give our value proposition. While it was important to build relationships in the industry, many of my interactions were very transaction-oriented. Should a problem arise with the product, our Technical Service team handled that, and very often the Sales and Marketing department stepped back after the sale, besides to invite the client to events or offer promotions for future purchases.
Approaching a service sale involves much more groundwork. Upon attending my first networking events, I was surprised to find so few conversations involving business pitches. My colleagues were much more likely to engage prospects in conversations about industry trends, their property’s individual challenges, and future business opportunities their companies were pursuing – all without mentioning what our company provides at all! I soon learned that establishing an understanding of their day-to-day role as well as their long-term goals was essential to building a foundation for a partnership. Which is really what selling a service is – persuading a prospect to trust you as a partner. If you purchase a product that performs one function and don’t like it, you return it and don’t buy it again. If you commit to a partnership that is integral to the success of your daily responsibilities and aren’t satisfied, that is a much more critical situation. The purchase, therefore, is intrinsically tied to trust. And trust happens over time, through a genuine understanding of your business and your needs, not in a five minute pitch over appetizers.
The pitch of a service is more challenging, because unlike a product that may have three features and benefits, the value that you can bring to a client may vary greatly depending on the client and their individual processes and capabilities. This explains the lack of pitches happening as service providers approach new clients – they are approaching potential partners, not transactions.
Redefining Customer Service: All Hands on Deck
Once you do sign a new client, the role of Customer Service to your company must transcend one department. Whether you are providing snow removal or tech support, the nature of business today is 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The traditional image of a Customer Service department as a row of smiling representatives wearing headsets and fielding incoming calls is impractical in providing B2B service. Most likely, your Account Managers are on the road – visiting clients, checking out sites, providing quality control of vendors, and actually, you know, managing their accounts. They aren’t sitting behind a desk waiting for a client to inform them of an issue. They are in the field ensuring the issue doesn’t occur. A more practical image is your Account Manager on their cell phone, which their clients all have the number to, providing service while on the road, or at their home after hours and on weekends.
And of course, your Account Managers might need support. If there is a large snowstorm, or a server goes down, or any number of large scale issues happen, your whole team must rally behind providing the partnership your clients were promised. Selling a service means hands-on support every day, not just when a product breaks.
The Value of Being Nimble: Expanding with your Clients
So far, selling a service sounds much more difficult than selling a product, doesn’t it? While it may take far more time to sign new clients, and much more work to provide support to them, it is incredibly rewarding seeing your partners grow with your service behind them. Perhaps the most valuable ability that service providers have over product-based companies is the capacity to scale quickly and efficiently.
As a service provider, you don’t have inventory to manage. At ACACIA, for example, if a client grows into a new area and would like to continue their services, we simply use our established sourcing process to develop new provider partnerships in that area. The same can be done for new services, which we are always on the lookout for. This ability to be nimble and responsive to a client’s needs quickly is invaluable, not just to your own company’s growth, but to the trust and satisfaction of your clients.
Selling service has its challenges, but so many more rewards. You build relationships that are built on mutual trust and understanding, and the success and growth of your clients directly affects your own. By approaching new clients eager to learn, and establishing internal practices to provide the highest level of Customer Service, your clients will become true partners.
What other challenges have you faced in selling a service vs. a product? Please share in the comments!