How to sell services online: learn by testing
Nowadays, shopping on the Internet has become a very common practice, but when people refer to the world of online commerce, they generally think only of physical products. In reality, it is also possible to buy and, therefore, sell services online.
Selling services online presents you with a particularly compelling challenge that can offer very interesting business opportunities. If you are thinking of embarking on this fascinating entrepreneurial adventure, you should know that there are several tools that can help you get noticed and introduce your startup to people who need exactly the kind of services you can offer them.
To sell services online successfully, it is essential to know, first and foremost, how to acquire leads. Get comfortable because you are about to discover the best tips on how to do this.
The acquisition of contacts
Before you start selling your services online, you should think about a fundamental question: are there enough (potential) customers who need the very service you are marketing? Even more than a product, in fact, a service, no matter how good it is, proves useless if no one has the need or desire to use it. There is another question for you: do you know how and where to intercept these niches?
The ways the Net offers to get in touch with potential customers (don’t worry: you’ll find out in a few lines how best to identify your target audience) are many: the most “beaten” road is, clearly, the company website, but be careful not to underestimate the power of social media. Let’s proceed in order and understand how your startup’s website and blog can help you acquire contacts.
How useful is the site/blog?
It may seem obvious, but in an age when apps and social networks now rule the day, it is important to reiterate: for a startup intending to sell services online, the website is still central within the marketing plan.
If you are sufficiently experienced in the field, you can create your website completely on your own. Alternatively, you can hire a professional to do it for you, or you can create it using the tools the Web provides (from CMSs to site builders).
Be aware, however, that creating a website is not enough: it must be professional, authoritative, and curated, and it must contain all the useful information about the company and the services it offers. In fact, selling services online requires that people know who you are and what you can offer them.
Before that, however, they need to know that you exist. A great way to increase visibility and, consequently, website traffic is to do search engine optimization. Have you ever heard of SEO? It stands for Search Engine Optimization and consists of a set of strategies and practices (on site and off site) aimed at improving the ranking of a website’s pages in organic search engine results. With this in mind, you should know that what will decree the success of your website will be your ability to intercept users’ search intentions. To succeed, it is essential that you choose the right keywords for which to optimize your site pages.
Also for this reason, within your website you should provide an area dedicated to your company blog: this section allows you to create and publish content that is relevant, interesting and, above all, able to intercept the most effective keywords for your startup (based on your business goals and target audience), thus giving you the opportunity to guide your potential customers on their online path to purchasing your services.
Through social media
Through social media, too, your startup can reach so many people. Not only that, by taking better care of the targeting of your social ad campaigns, you have the opportunity to show your services to the very people most interested in what you are able to offer.
There are so many social networks nowadays, each with a community of users with well-defined characteristics. If your startup’s initial budget is not particularly high, you should make a decision to exclude certain platforms from your reach: which social networks do your potential customers use the most? Find the answer to this question and act accordingly: those are precisely the social networks you need to preside over and focus all your attention and resources on.
Promoting the service
Promoting a service means promising that you can do something useful for your customer by solving a problem he or she has or fulfilling a wish. Not only that: to promote a service effectively, you must also prove yourself reliable and be able to persuade the customer that you will be able to keep your promise and even exceed all his or her wildest expectations. Clarity and transparency are indispensable factors: the customer needs to know exactly what the service he or she is buying includes. Do you know what the SLA is? The Service Level Agreement is a document that defines in detail the terms of the commitment between the seller and the buyer, with reference to availability.
Earlier we talked about the corporate blog, and it is important now to emphasize that it is not necessary (indeed, in many cases it is counterproductive) to explicitly promote your services within it. Do not focus only on selling but provide useful content to your readers; you will thus demonstrate your authority and experience in the field, and in this way, when they need the services you offer, it will be natural for users to turn to you.
I know what you are thinking: promoting a real, concrete, visible, tangible product is certainly easier. You need to know, however, that you can also “make your potential customers touch” a service. How? By explaining how it came about, its benefits, and offering demonstrations of what it can do for them through guides, tutorials, webinars, and case studies. To successfully promote your services, however, you need to know your clientele inside out.
Winning over the customer
To win over your customers, it is important that you define who your customer base is as specifically as possible.
Understanding to whom you want to sell your services online allows you, in fact, not only to create tailor-made services but also to understand how to address your potential customers, which channels are the most useful to reach them and what is the most effective communication to capture their attention and push them to turn to your company naturally and without forcing.
Before we figure out how to define your target customer, however, here’s a general rule of thumb for you that you should never ignore, no matter how you think about your clientele: always work with enthusiasm and you won’t go wrong. After all, Brian Tracy taught that, too:
“Nothing kills a sale faster than lack of enthusiasm”.
Define the target customer
A valuable tool at your disposal to precisely define your intended target audience is buyer personas: these are virtual representations of your ideal customers, with their own name, age, profession, personal history, and precise wants and needs. The most common advice usually given in these cases is to think of these prototype customers as if they were characters in a book. However, this is not a work of pure fantasy: on the contrary, a buyer persona is (or rather, should be) the result of meticulous market analysis.
It can also be helpful to you in this regard to look at clients with whom you have already had the opportunity to work successfully and try to understand the characteristics they have in common with each other. Some specific questions can help you in this research work: did they all have the same problem? Are they pursuing the same goal?
Another effective ploy is to observe competing companies and their customers. Who are they and how can you get them on your side?
Understanding the needs
Understanding what your customers’ specific needs are, as mentioned, allows you to create customized services tailored to best meet them, but also to define a more effective sales process.
The most common mistake that salespeople make is to assume that they know what the people they are going to target need. Instead, it is important to ask for opinions and feedback, to be as specific as possible in responding to their needs. Doing it once is not enough: you need to repeat this practice periodically because customers’ needs may change over time, based on changes in their personal sphere or in the market.
Show yourself to be authoritative and helpful
A prerequisite for being able to sell a service online is, of course, the quality of the service itself. Honesty is an equally fundamental factor because trust is what underlies the relationship between you and the client and, unfortunately, you risk losing it very easily because missteps, in this business, are always around the corner. Don’t be afraid to show your expertise and your results: people tend to trust other clients’ experiences, and so case studies and testimonials from your clients are a great way to certify the goodness of your work. Make it clear from the outset, however, what you can and cannot do.
Also remember to always show yourself friendly and helpful. Respond to customer concerns and inquiries quickly and attend to all the steps that make up the consumer experience, including acknowledging your mistakes and acting promptly to resolve issues where they are needed. Customer service is at least as important as the quality of the service you provide: if customers do not feel important to you, they may decide to go to a competing company.
Adapting the service
Customer feedback is always very useful. Never forget that the one with the customer is a bond that should be cultivated over time, because this allows you to improve your service by adapting it always and at all times to the new desires and needs of your clientele.
Service should not only be improved and refined according to the stresses and new needs of customers, but also in relation to developments in the field. This is also why it is essential to keep a watchful eye on what the competition is doing: testing competing companies’ services at intervals will help you understand how to improve your own.
Build customer loyalty through personalized offers
Presenting personalized offers, it must be clear to you by now, is the right way to win customers and keep the bond with them alive. Keeping track of the personal history each customer has with your company allows you to offer additional associated services, based on what they have already purchased, thus keeping the connection with your startup alive and well.
One of the most popular gimmicks used by companies to pamper customers is to provide special gifts or discounts for their most loyal customers, perhaps to coincide with their birthday. Keeping note of a date may seem inconsequential, but it can really make a difference in your race to success. Another winning move is to provide preview promotions for your “best” customers at the time your startup decides to market new services.
The importance of differentiation
The mantra that should guide you when promoting your services online is “differentiate, differentiate, differentiate“. To achieve this, it is important not to treat your services as if they were in every way comparable to products or, worse, as if they were commodities (these are the goods that, in the marketplace, are traded without qualitative differences). Don’t focus on the price, but focus on the problem you can solve and place a clear emphasis on the added value of your offer. You must, in addition, be able to explain to your customers the unique experience they can have by purchasing your service online.
Prepare yourself now because you are about to receive an indication that, at first reading, might make you squint (know, however, that it can really make the difference between you and your competitors): for a startup that wants to sell services online, it is not always right to prioritize sales activities that can bring in new customers right away. In fact, in many cases, in this area, it may prove even more useful and important to build relationships that can lay the groundwork for future sales.
Trust, as repeatedly stated, is the decisive differentiator in this field, and it is very important to establish and cultivate a bond even with those who may not be ready to make a purchase today. Don’t force your hand and cultivate the relationship with these potential customers because, when you contact them again later to sell online services to them as well, they will not be cold contacts and it will be easier that way for you to snatch the fateful yes.