Why are Professional Services so Difficult to Sell? Making a Case for Value

I watched with disgust and dismay as the recent publicity unfolded about Wells Fargo Bank and the appalling breach of ethics apparently perpetrated by 5000+ bank employees against its customers – all apparently in the desperate attempt to meet sales quotas for financial services ?

Why were these services so difficult to sell that bank employees had to resort to fraud to meet their individual sales objectives? Was it a simple matter of excessive quotas or is there something inherently difficult about selling financial services?

Many will be talking about the Wells Fargo fraud for months. They will focus on management, sales culture, and all manner of possible influences. But I think something more fundamental is at work and something with which all of us who sell professional services need to contend. In a recent article about general issues of service marketing, Kevin Johnson, a financial writer for the Houston Chronicle, identified this problem: “[The difficulty in selling a service is that] the people you pitch to may not be able to visualize what you do. …, but even [after you explain the benefits] … you may have to repeatedly articulate why your service has value.“ 

I sometimes find it difficult to help my customers see the value of the services I offer. It is a real challenge to paint a word picture of future benefits that is vivid enough to overcome the reluctance caused by the need to part with significant cash to sample or “try” these services.

One place I look for answers: the masters of word picture creation: Advertisers. Since the early days of newspapers, advertisers have been painting great word pictures in an effort to inspire people to buy all sorts of goods and services. Their newest territory was opened with the advent of the Internet, and online advertising is growing rapidly.  

When I recently looked  for nuggets of wisdom that I could use in my services marketing challenges I found one fairly quickly in a Wordstream blog post by JonathanDane . In his post, Jonathan describes ideas that make AdWords campaigns effective, but I think one of his ideas also recommends itself to those who sell professional services because they help us make “our word pictures” vivid:

“Advertisers sometimes lose sight of what their customers are truly looking for. I call this “The End Goal:” or what people ultimately want to accomplish with the help of your product or service.”

Instead of justifying the value  to Mr. Bank Customer of online BillPay with overdraft protection and deposit processing via mobile device, by telling him,  “he’ll save on postage” or “he’ll enjoy the convenience of using his computer to pay his bills,” it’s more compelling to focus on the End Goal, e.g.,  “You’ll never pay another overdraft fee, and never again have to visit the bank.”

Now that’s a word picture I could get behind.