Using labeling to productize; Then merchandise your services.

A few months ago,I wrote about a client who I helped to create a sales methodology to speed up their sales cycle by developing and selling front end services that substitute consulting revenue for free pilots. Their product was too complex for a simple download and free trial so they were being forced to offer free pilots which were extending the sales cycle and draining their cash. Instead, my client created a few packaged services each at a low fixed price. They limited the scope to reduce the cost and risk while allowing prospects to experience their solution and have a positive experience. Each progressive service built on the previous, to the point where their customer had the ROI evidence that the solution would pay back on both the subscription, implementation and change management costs of the investment.

This methodology of productizing a service applies broadly to any company selling either SaaS or professional services. It also applies to senior individuals looking for their next job and ties into my last two blogs regarding "Labels" and "Labeling a service business".

When small start-up solution providers fail to get sales traction, it is often that they haven't labeled themselves specifically enough. They describe themselves as having broad experience in multiple industries with both small and large companies instead of describing themselves narrowly around a specialized offering within a narrow market. Larger solution providers can get away from the broader description but if you are small, by labelling yourself specifically, you communicate that you are experts given your narrow focus

The next challenge is how you merchandise yourself or these services. For example, I have developed a straightforward four step process that I use to sell me services:

I tightly define my specialization ("my label"): "I work with five to fifty million dollar software and professional services companies that need to improve their go-to-marketing strategy and execution."
In my blogs and my real-time discussions with prospective clients, I discuss the types of business pains that I solve for my clients. I want my buyer to react to these examples by thinking that I have just described their life. Now they are interested.
In my sales collateral and on my website, I present my coaching and advisory work by giving a brief explanation of the process or methodology that I use so the buyer now understands what they are buying. These explanations are written to be straightforward, rational, logical and credible to the buyer. I avoid "consultant-speak" and any other distractions that add complexity to the buyers initial decision.
Then I propose an initial contract that is bite-sized and affordable to take away the "risk" question. The size of this initial commitment is always relative to the size of the company and the size and depth of the pain they are experiencing. The objective is to start working. If the fit is good, the initial work will show value and the engagement will continue and grow. If the fit or chemistry to work together is not present, neither side will have lost much in terms of time or investment. Fortunately, this rarely occurs.

This also works for senior executive who are job hunting. Small consulting gigs which are low risk for the potential employer gives both sides a chance to "get under the covers" and really understand if there is a job fit between the executive and the company.

 When I am coaching clients or job-searching executive, I often see that they are hesitant to be specific  or prescriptive and instead give the clients too many options.  Instead of increasing their wins, this strategy just confuses the buyer and extends or kills the sales cycle.

Consider this. You have positioned yourself as "the expert". The client asks for your proposal. Your response is to offer an engagement to interview the client's management and recommend a course of action. Then you add to the proposal that for an additional amount, you will also interview their customers before making your recommendation. You also offer an additional option to also interview the competitor's clients for an additional fee. Are you really acting like an expert? Basically, you are asking the client to be the expert and choose whether they can live with a good recommendation based solely on the management team interviews, a better recommendation based of the management team and customer interviews or the most comprehensive or best recommendation based on the management, customer and competitor's customer interviews.

Why would a consultant ever propose a multi-option or a la carte engagement that forces the client to make a decision beyond just saying Yes or No? Typically, it is the same desire to having optionality in order not to miss an opportunity. Unfortunately, I believe the impact is the opposite.

This can also apply equally well to product sales. Identify one small problem. Propose one low cost solution that solves that problem. Don't provide a smorgasbord of problems and solutions and ask your client to decide what they would like to do. Pick one. The majority of time if you pick the wrong one and the client would rather focus in on another, they will tell me and the project will morph over to fixing the other problem.

Instead, my target first engagement is small (relative to the size of the company) and focused; as small as possible but one in which I can add significant value. Inevitably, it will require some leap of faith on my client's part  to risk this money not knowing exactly what they will get in return. By making the engagement small, my client perceives the risk to be low because if I don't do the work to their expectation, the amount they have wagered and lost in insignificant.  It also presents me with the greatest opportunity to exceed their expectations

If the company has zero tolerance for risk, the deal will never happen. I consider this a good thing because in the long run, these companies will probably never get value from my work so are not clients I want my name associated with. They are probably in the class of clients that are the real skeptics and laggards that drain a  lot of energy to keep happy.

I would rather target the other 80-90% that will invest a bit and take a bit of risk to try something new.

© 2012 Meaford Group

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