What Is A Crucial Question To Ask If You Are A Service Provider?

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Wednesday, 9.54pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The ‘U’ goes before ‘ME’ in Customer. – Janna Cachola

How many businesses can you think of that are pure product plays now?

Natural resources and commodities perhaps.

And of course all the factories pumping out things from shampoo to chocolate.

But many businesses depend on a combination of products and services and when you’re selling to someone else they might be buying your product but they’re taking your service into account as well.

Which makes it useful to study exactly what’s going on when you try and pitch your product or service to someone else.

If you make a box, for example, you could find a prospect and show off your box.

Your prospect is probably stood there with folded arms – she probably already as a box supplier and doesn’t really see what you do differently.

If your box is a service, like management consulting it’s harder to see the point of what you do.

Either she believes she doesn’t need you or already has a provider.

The mistake most people make is to focus on the features and benefits of what they’re offering.

Asked why they’re different – what’s their Unique Selling Point – they talk about their people, how nice they are and how good their product is.

Faced with objections they go on the offensive – ready to “handle” them, brush them aside, tear them down or climb over them.

And that’s irritating – like when someone uses the strategy of agreeing with everything you say so that they can then repeat what they just told you.

So that’s where a model like the one above, based on the one in Soft systems methodology in action, written by Peter Checkland and Jim Scholes, comes in.

Checkland and Scholes quote Richard Norman who says that the question is not “Who is my customer” but “Who is my customer’s customer”.

If you are the service provider, A, and you are trying to sell to the service recipient, B, and you focus on the transaction between A and B – there you are product in hand facing a reluctant and irritated counterpart.

Yes you could argue that they shouldn’t be like that – that they should be open to salespeople because that’s how they are introduced to opportunities – but people are people and if they don’t like being cold-called you’re not going to change their minds.

However people who don’t like being sold to open up and become much more interested when they talk about how to serve their customers better. Let’s call those folk C.

The transaction between B and C is of vital interest to B. That’s something that matters and anything that makes it better is worth considering.

So, if you want to sell B your service you need to figure out how best you can help B add value to C.

That’s your focus zone.

Now this seems, like the authors say in the book, a simple and obvious model.

But just think back of the number of times you’ve been in conversations where the focus was about A and B and C wasn’t mentioned at all.

The fact is that if you want your service to be considered your attention and the time you have with B needs to be spent on the focus zone – where you think about how the two of you (A and B) can add value to the transaction between B and C.

If you can really add value then you will find B open to the prospect of sharing value with you.

And be warned, value is not always easy to find.

Technological solutions that cut costs for B, for example, rarely raise margins. Instead the savings are passed through to C in the form of lower prices.

Good value, sustainable value comes from adding something more magical – by creating competitive advantage for B and C in some way.

But what is sustainable competitive advantage?

Well… ideas for that are going to come out of your discussions as you explore the focus zone.

But here’s a suggestion – prioritise ideas that are inimitable – hard to copy.

Because that can often be the secret to advantage – doing something no one else can.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

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