Service providers face a unique problem in that the deliverable is intangible or ‘invisible.’ Unlike tangible products, invisible products are impossible to ‘test drive.’ Harry Beckwith, in his 1997 book, Selling the Invisible, defined such offerings as those whose value can’t be demonstrated or fully appreciated until after they’ve been delivered. Service providers and professionals therefore have to rely on past examples of their work, referrals or other ‘representations’ of their offering to convey value. This attribute creates a number of challenges, principally in differentiating and branding their offerings. If you can’t see a lawyer’s work product until after it’s delivered, how does a client know what they’re getting? The challenge is to translate what you ‘do’ into a ‘deliverable,’ with specific features and benefits. We call this ‘productization.’ Here are some of the characteristics of a ‘productized’ service:
1. Nomenclature. Give your service a name. Edelman Public Relations calls their product “Business Advantage Marketing” (BAM). We’ve used the acronym “APEC” to describe a variety of processes, including Assessment, Planning, Execution and Control or Advanced Personnel Evaluation and Counseling, to name two. We’ve used the acronym “MAP” for Marketing Action Plan. Names give services and process greater definition and the potential for unique branding.
2. Visualization. Although a document such as a brochure may not seem as product-like as a toaster oven or screwdriver, it can visually represent a process. Charts, graphs and diagrams, help give tangible meaning to a process or service. Even if the process may be similar to a competitor’s offering, the visualization of the process can be unique.
3. Attributes. Whether it’s a particular set of stages, formats, content components or other organizational or design elements, products have features or attributes that allow you to define them and distinguish them from other products or processes. By using diagrams, for example, you can demonstrate and differentiate an attribute like ‘turnaround time’ or ‘integration’ as a specific deliverable tangible benefit.
4. Fungibility is the characteristic that the service product can be delivered largely without regard to the person delivering it, without changing the essential nature of the product or service. Although every sales person who works for IBM is a different individual with a distinctive style, there is something about their process of selling and the experience they provide that is distinctly “IBM.” Their selling method is fungible.
5. A problem. Great service products are solutions to problems. Whatever form of service product you provide, the bottom line is that its value is related to the degree to which you can reduce or eliminating some problem or pain.