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Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008 at 6:46 am

Selling Services to Reluctant Buyers

By Jeff Sexton
December 16th, 2008

When asking, “Do I really need this” about a product, no one thinks, “Nah, I’ll just make my own sunglasses [or whatever] instead”  – yet prospects do think exactly that about (many) services.

And the less knowledge your potential client has in your field, the harder it is for them to gauge the value of hiring an expert.  Combine that mental glitch with tight finances and the lure of economizing through DIY measures can prove nearly unassailable.

So how can you persuade reluctant buyers of services?

This has as much to do with your service offerings as it does your copywriting, but understanding the dynamics involved can have a HUGE impact on your copy’s effectiveness.  So here’s the very best strategies that have worked for me, my colleagues, and my clients:

  1. Let them take baby steps
  2. Make it easy to see and verify the value of your service
  3. Help them justify using you (instead of “saving” money by doing it themselves)
  4. Make it about them and how you’ll help them kick butt

Baby steps are the best – and only! – steps for babies

A toddlers progression from crawling to walking is called “cruising” – basically walking with the support of furniture.  And just like toddlers, many client’s also need some sort of “half step” between consuming your free content (crawling) and using your full-fledged paid services (walking).  Without that baby/half step, you may lose the sale.

Do you have small, bite-sized services that would be perceived as easy to engage in, relatively painless, and (relatively) risk free?  If not, you may want to create an offer like that ASAP.

Make it easy to see and verify the value of your service

Remember, potential clients aren’t part of your industry and they don’t know how good you are (or how crummy you sleaze-bag competitor may be).  Client’s really only know what they hope your services will do for them.

So make it easy for them to see progress towards that goal as quickly as possible.  Structure your baby-step offering in such a way that clients can easily determine the success of that first engagement.  Then emphasize that ability to see results in the copy you use to market your baby-step offering.  Better yet, offer some kind of risk reversal or guarantee that’s tied to those early wins.

Help them Justify Using You (instead of doing it in-house)

It’s painfully, tangibly easy to see the money for your services leave my wallet/bank account, but it takes an act of imagination to visualize the opportunity costs from not using you, and/or the hidden expenses of doing it in house.

If you are a copywriter responsible for selling services, that “act of imagination” is your job; if you leave it up to the potential client, you’ll lose the sale.

Show people the costs of not hiring you: calculate out what it costs to do it in-house and what substandard execution will cost them.   In all likelihood, you’ll have an inside champion pulling for you.  Make sure your website provides your inside champion with ammunition to use against those who would shoot them (and you) down in favor of cost cutting.

Make it about them and how you’ll help them kick butt

As an expert in your industry, you see your service far more intellectually than does your potential client.  Your client only sees what your service might allow her to accomplish.  You want your words to illuminate exactly those hopes.

Yet most service companies only describe what their services do.  Be smarter than that and vividly describe what your services have allowed your clients to go on and do.

Example: say your SEO services moved your client up from #15 to #4 in Google’s search rankings.  Congratulations, but proclaiming that in your web copy won’t necessarily cause a potential client to pull the trigger on an engagement.  It’s meaningful to you, but it may or may not be emotionally stirring to the client.  While an account of the previous client’s subsequent gain in market share and new-found ability to re-direct PPC Ad budge to website optimization might well be enough to convince new clients to hire you – if those things speak to hiring decision-maker’s real goals.

Most service offerings are B2B offers, and the dirty secret to most B2B offerings is that they are far more personal than anyone cares to admit.  Here’s an illustration:

That’s a true enough equation, right?  But when it’s an innovative B2B service, the perception of pitched benefits and implied costs takes on a skewed quality so that the equation starts to look like:

which further translates to:

Is it any wonder that it’s so hard to sell innovative services?  Anyone who has the slightest familiarity with human psychology knows that last equation is a recipe for NO SALE!

Bottom line: unless you use your copy to paint a vivid picture of the personal rewards on the other side of that risk, you’ll likely lose the sale.  You have to make the rewards of using your service as personal and vivid as the imagined risks of hiring your company.

And people have a much easier time imagining personal rewards from a lustrous and intense depiction of kicking butt than they do from a clinical description of how you normally measure success.  So, use your copy to paint that picture and tip the value equation in your favor.

[This post was in response to a reader request/comment to my previous article on "7 Ways to Win Over Reluctant Buyers."  Thanks for the question, Bonnie, and I hope this helps.]

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Comments (12)

  1. Nice post Jeff.

    Its so interesting how much businesses spend on SEO and when you get to their site, its hard to understand what they actually do.

    “Kick Butt” copy is one way to convert the user but sometimes he or she may feel lost in a jungle of words or it may not capture their attention. Combining copy with rich-media and other vehicles of communication has proven to be very effective in many cases.

  2. Thanks, Mike,

    There’s no question that traffic without conversion is an expensive waste and that visual impact plays an important role in conversion. I’ve also seen rich media used as a very powerful conversion-increasing tool.

    That said, the videos still have to be scripted by a competent writer who is aiming to address the issues raised in this post ; )

    - Jeff

  3. Great great great!

    I’m busy trying to do this. I’ve just written something along the following lines “If your product doesn’t sell itself.. Well why would I buy it?”

    This is very important, as you say, when potential customers don’t realize the actual value of your service.

  4. Thank You Jeff!

    This comes at a perfect time – revamping the entire business, for this very reason. My prospects all want to DIY their own AdWords accounts…
    This is precisely the sage advice I needed to hear today.
    Have a wonderful Christmas


  5. A timely reminder as I’m writing copy for a Landing Page. Testimonials, value for the client, and rich-media lead to conversions.



  6. [...] Selling Services to Reluctant Buyers [...]

  7. wow great explanation you have great business skills .

  8. Thx for sharing that infi ! very interesting ! I did’nt know the existence of that kind of book !

  9. [...] I’ve said before, B2B sales are far more emotional and personal than most marketers want to admit.  Failing to take into account how a precipitating event would effect your prospects emotions and [...]

  10. [...] related articles: 10 Reasons Why Clients Don’t Pick the Right SEM Agencies Selling Services to Reluctant Buyers Preparing the Ultimate SEO Proposal Close Bookmark and Share This Page Save to Browser [...]

  11. I read the book in this article!! Interesting choice of pics for this article. =)

  12. The equation of value you include here was some what funny, we should serve to others without expecting benefit.

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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