How to turn a service into a product.
Published: August 13, 2020

A quick question for you.

Does your business rely primarily on offering a service to your customers? If so, you’ve probably been disproportionately impacted by the economic disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Consumers are cutting back on services to avoid human contact, and conserve cash, but they’re still buying products that solve a specific problem.

Italy was the first western democracy to experience the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic, and it changed everything about daily life, right down to what people bought from Amazon. For example, in the week after the Italian government quarantined most of its citizens, there was a 236% increase in Italians buying sports gear, presumably to allow home-based exercise routine instead of paying for services like personal training.

Social distancing, wearing of masks, reducing large gatherings are still the order of the day. That means products still have the upper hand over services. To take advantage of this many businesses have reacted by turning their services into what appears to consumers as a tangible product:

UK-based Encore has switched from a talent booking service to offering their “Personalised Music Message” product, which enables you to commission an artist to create a customised video greeting for a loved one.

Spiffy, a US-based mobile car wash service, has switched to offering its COVID-19 “Disinfect & Protect” product.

What can you do to take advantage of this move towards buying products? Here are eight steps that service providers may want to consider:

1: Go Niche.

The first step is to narrow your focus to a single type of customer. Many people feel uncomfortable with this, particularly during times like these when you need more customers, not less. It’s counterintuitive, but it’s a critical step in turning your service into a product. Services can be adapted and customised for a variety of customers. In contrast, products need to fit one type of buyer. By focusing you can make your product more attractive to the niche market.

2: Rank Your Services.

Not all services are the same.

Grab a piece of paper and make a list of all the services you could offer your niche audience. Then score each one on a scale of 1 to 10 on the degree to which you can teach employees to offer the service, how valuable it is to your customers, and how frequently they need to buy it.

Pick the service that scores the highest and move on to Step 3.

3: Find a Clear Problem.

Professor Theodore Levitt was famous for saying,

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole”.

Be clear about what problem your product solves for your customer. For example, the “Personalised Music Message” solves the problem of what unique present you can buy for a friend or loved one. The “Disinfect & Protect” product sanitises cars for essential service providers who need to keep driving.

Solving a clear problem, will build a sustainable business.

4: Brand It.

With a service, you’re typically hiring a person. Alternatively, with a product, you’re selling a thing. Unlike people who have names, something like the “Disinfect & Protect” and the “Personalised Music Message” have brands. These need to be simple, clear, concise. They need to stand out.

5: List Your Ingredients.

Service businesses customise their offering in a unique way for every prospect, but product companies list their ingredients. Pick up any package at a grocery store — whether it’s a bottle of dishwasher detergent or a box of cereal — and you’ll see an itemised list of what’s inside the box. Your offering needs to list what customers get when they buy from you.

6: Pre-Empt Objections.

When selling a service, you have the luxury of hearing your prospect’s objections first-hand and can address them on-the-spot. When selling a product, however, you don’t have the benefit of a person to overcome objections, so consider what potential objections customers might have and pre-empt them.

When selling the “Disinfect & Protect” car cleaning product, Spiffy anticipated the four most common concerns customers raise and pre-empted each in their marketing material. They assure prospects that they have:

  • a money-back guarantee for people who aren’t sure;
  • insurance in case they damage your car;
  • trained technicians who know what they are doing; and
  • environmentally friendly cleaning products so they don’t harm the environment.

7: Price It.

Services are quoted by the hour, day or on a project-by-project basis, and usually come at the end of a custom proposal. Products publish their price. Let your customer know upfront what they’re in for.

8: Manufacture Scarcity.

One of the benefits of a service business is that you always have sales leverage because your time is scarce. You can’t make more hours in the day, so customers know they need to act to get some of your time.

With product businesses, you need to give people a reason to act today rather than tomorrow. This means you need to manufacture a reason to press the “buy now’“ button. This can be achieved through things like limited time offers, limited access products, and personalised products.

Service providers have been hit hard by the pandemic, but if you make your service look and feel more like a product, you can take advantage of our society’s flight to tangible products. It may be a good time to switch.