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Selling consulting services : how to cope with intangibility

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All our clients in the last 10 years have something in common : a difficult relationship with intangibility.

Customers buying a market research, unless they understand what the difficulties of a doing qualitative and quantitative research are, usually hardly understand what they are paying for.

Value = tangible ?

The problem with marketing consulting and with consulting in general, is that the deliverables are usually slides. In other words clients pay a lot of money to get powerpoint slides at worse, or a nice Prezi presentation at best.

You and your researchers have spent hours interviewing customers, transcribing and coding interviews, mapping the results for each segment to eventually draw your conclusions. And usually, what you get is a “is this what I paid so much money for ?”.

But before arriving to the results you and your team have gone through another difficulty called “impatience”.

Time problem : when will I get my results ?

The selling act of consulting services is usually long. And since we also apply for subsidies on behalf of our clients, it takes even longer.

Usually, between the first discussions ans the official kick-off, 4 to 6 months have passed. Expectations have grown and at this point the customer already expects that you will deliver in 1 month. So obviously, when you explain him the timing he’s usually not very satisfied.

Customers have the particularity to forget quickly. You thought he had memorized the planning ? You were wrong. After 1 week he’s there again asking for the first results.

The only thing you can do is to slice the assignment into bits and to present them gradually. In qualitative market research this has a cost, namelyvdisecobomies of scale. Forget about explaining this to the customer.

Conclusion

Consulting or in general selling intangibles, remains in my opinion one of the most difficult selling acts that exists. Of course selling planes, complex softwares is also hard and takes a long time. But at least you get something tangible for your money, something that you’ll be using every single day. Consulting is all about selling an analysis and fortunately some hope for change.

One of the big difficulties is also to deliver results that the customer thinks he knows already. But that’s going to be for a next time …

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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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