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Why selling online makes smart sense for Australian service businesses



Advertising | Marketing | Advice | Editor's Choice | Expert | Marketing | Marketing | Retail

By Laura Doonin

In the services game and looking to increase your sales? Selling to consumers online can complement the activities of your marketing team and open your company up to new customers and market segments.

Australian buyers have no issue parting with their cash over the net; in fact, the reverse. Their love affair with ecommerce shows no sign of abating. 2018 saw the nation spend a whopping $28.6 billion on online retail; a nine per cent increase on the previous year’s figure, according to the NAB Online Retail Sales Index.

Much of the activity has been in the product space to date but services companies which are smart about the way they present themselves may also be able to snare their share of the online sales action. Doing so may necessitate rethinking the way they package, price and market their offerings.

Turning services into products

Selling services, particularly those which are of significant value, can involve an element of negotiation. Things which may need to be agreed upon include the size and scope of the ‘engagement’, the hourly rate, the rate at which ‘variations’ will be charged and whether discounts will be offered to attract new business or reward longstanding customers for their loyalty.

It’s a modus operandi which doesn’t translate particularly well to the online arena. Customers there aren’t interested in ambiguity or a back-and-to discussion. What they are looking for is clarity – the same clarity they enjoy when they load a pair of shoes or the monthly pet food order into their online shopping cart and head for the virtual check-out.

Put simply, they want to know exactly how much they’re going to spend and what they’ll receive for their money – and they want to be able to order or book it, and pay for it, in just a few clicks.

‘Productising’ your offering to reflect these preferences will provide customers with certainty and up the likelihood they’ll commit to a purchase.

Not sure how it’s done? Mobile phone companies have the process down to a fine art. Their pre-paid mobile plans are a prime example of a service packaged so perfectly it looks and feels like a product.

Name your price

Putting a set figure on their services is anathema to many businesses and can be a significant deterrent to selling online. It can make them feel exposed, to customers and the competition, and uncomfortable about their loss of their ‘wiggle room’ when they’re quoting prices to potential buyers.

If you’re a services company in this category, you may be swimming against the tide. Customers in 2019 are increasingly seeking out businesses which offer transparency across the enterprise and that includes being upfront about the cost of services.

Start small

It’s fair to say that services which are complex, high value, or heavily customised are more difficult to productise. But it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing game. Rather, you might look to test the online waters with some discrete, lower-priced services which can be easily restructured as products.

If yours is an architectural design firm, for example, that might be a property inspection service for would-be renovators, charged at a flat rate per house. Or if you’re in the public relations game, you might look to offer a package deal on press releases and social media posts.

Selling smaller ticket services online can be a great ‘in’ for a business. Make a good fist of the modestly-sized jobs, build up your relationship with buyers and it’s likely you’ll be top of their list when they have larger sums to spend.

Opening up the online channels

If you’re planning to sell services online, you’ll need to offer buyers more than a bare bones transaction. Typically, they’ll want to be able to establish a digital relationship with your brand. That may mean setting up a social media presence which allows you to communicate with prospects and customers in real or near real time and introducing chatbots to deliver information about your services and answer commonly asked questions.

Online references and reviews also offer buyers a measure of assurance your service is a quality one.

The aim should be to deliver all the information individuals require to be able to make a purchasing decision online, without the need for follow-up phone calls or a series of emails.

Time to act

Customers drive innovation and companies which hope to stay relevant have little choice but to follow their lead. Australian shoppers today are comfortable buying products online and are open to purchasing services in a similar, friction free fashion.

Australian businesses which reposition themselves and their service offerings to take advantage of the online sales channel can potentially generate rich returns, in the form of new customers and business which might not otherwise come their way.

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