How to sell a service online: Tips and best practices

From massage therapy and hairdressing to social media marketing and oil changes, there are many services you can sell online through an e-commerce store. However, the way you frame these services on your website will be different from the way you would sell products like clothes or headphones. “Offering a service and selling a product are vastly different,” says Peter Strahan, founder and CEO of Lantech, a managed IT services company.

Wondering how to sell a service online? Check out the tips and best practices in this article that you can put to good use right away.

How to sell a service online

Learn the difference between selling products and services

It’s important to know the fundamental difference between products and services so you can effectively sell the two. The main difference is that products are tangible, while services aren’t. With a service, you’re selling the results of your expertise, time, and skills — which can seem more nebulous than a physical object.

Once you have a clear understanding of this difference, you can begin to craft your business and marketing plans for service-based online stores.

Find your target audience

Similar to selling a product online, when you’re selling a service, you have to know who your ideal customers are. It’s important to identify their demographic, geographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics so you can tailor your marketing approach to resonate with them.

You’ll also need to know what challenges they’re experiencing and how your service can effectively solve those challenges in a way no other business can. What makes your approach appealing to your ideal customer? Is it your process, your customer service, the results, or something else?

Understand the time commitment

“When purchasing a service, customers will spend more time considering [the decision], as this could be more of a long-term commitment,” says Strahan. “If you offer a service, understand there will be more human interaction with the customer, so this should be factored into your marketing and your website layout.

“Customers want to ensure they will get the results they are looking for over the long term, he says. “In contrast, selling a product is a lot less personal, and consumers often want a quick but secure experience.”

Be clear about the results

With products, marketing campaigns typically discuss the features and benefits of the physical object. With services, you have to showcase how good life will be for your ideal customers after they use your service.

For example, will they feel more relaxed after the massage you provide? Will their car run better after you do an oil change? Homing in on what happens after the service is key, as it shows how you can improve their lives.

Figure out whether you can scale

Scaling can be an issue for many service-based businesses because most of the time, a person is required to complete the service. Whether it’s the owner of the store or an employee, a person can only complete a finite number of services in one day. Before setting up your online store, consider how your business will scale when the time is right.

Will you hire staff to help you provide your service? Will you standardize some of your services so they’re easier to scale? Will you change your processes to complete a service faster?

Prioritize the relationship

When selling a service, the relationship between the business (or service provider) and the customer is important. As opposed to selling products, “selling services often requires a more personal connection with the customer, which can be challenging to build online,” says David Scott, CEO and home improvement expert at Neutypechic, an online supplier of mirrors. “Focus on building a strong relationship with your customers through excellent customer service.”

Develop good onboarding and offboarding processes

Communication is essential in any business, but it’s especially important for service-based ones, where you have to send vital information to the customer about the service process. You’ll need an onboarding process to tell customers how to get their service and an offboarding process for when the service is complete.

For example, when a customer books a hair appointment online through your website, you might send them an automated email that confirms the date, time, and location of the appointment and tells them to come 10 minutes early. Once their appointment is complete, you might send them an automated email to thank them for their visit, give them a link to book their next appointment, and tell them about hair products they can order from your website.

Strahan offers one last piece of advice about how to sell a service online, and it relates to building trust and credibility: “Buying products can be a much more shallow experience, as customers are less bothered about the details. If a product appeals to them, the buying process can be quite quick.”

This is not true when buying a service, as customers will spend more time considering their choices, mulling over the details, and rethinking their decision. Be sure to answer all of a prospect’s questions up front so they can feel confident in their purchase and hopefully become a long-term customer.

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