Serviced based businesses were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and have continued to struggle due to inflation and a drastic change in consumer behavior.
The people who cook for us, keep us fit, and clean our homes have been significantly affected, as a good portion of the population has decreased their spending on personal services from a desire to conserve cash.
Business-to-business service providers have also been impacted, including everyone from contractors to IT and business consultants.
Companies have canceled business services to conserve cash, and focus on short-term survival rather than long-term projects. They've also cut service providers out of loyalty to full-time employees over contractors and consultants.
The typical business evolves from a handful of employees to perhaps adding some contractors, and as they grow, outside consultants. Their primary loyalty is to their existing employees. They need to conserve cash and move from long-term thinking to short-term survival. It’s not a surprise they start by cutting consultants, followed by outside contractors to do whatever they can to keep their employees.
Generic services — whether you sell to consumers or businesses — are getting cut. Interestingly, we’re still buying products that solve a specific problem. The companies that are winning in this challenging climate are laser-focused on solving an immediate problem. Former Harvard professor Theodore Levitt’s famous quote is now more valid than ever:
"Customers want to “hire” a product to do a job, or, as legendary Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt put it, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”
Though lock downs may be a thing of the past (for now) the pandemic changed everything about daily life, right down to what people bought from Amazon. At the height of the pandemic, there was a 236% year-over-year increase of sports gear sales, presumably to set up a home-based exercise routine.
Service Businesses are Difficult to Scale
Not only did the pandemic forever change consumer behavior, but service-based businesses are inherently difficult to scale.
The more customers you acquire, the more staff you need to provide the service. This makes it difficult to increase profit margins and scale the company, without an actual 'product' to sell.
The good news is that there is a formula that works for service-based companies that allows them to reach an ever-increasing number of customers, without ever-increasing operating and staffing costs.
This formula has been proven to work regardless of company size or industry, and once implemented will have a profound impact on your company's overall value.
How To Switch from A service To A Product
There are eight different steps for transforming a service business into a product company.
STEP 1 - Niche Down
The first step in the process of productizing your service is to niche way down. Many people feel uncomfortable with this step — in particular in times like these when you need more customers, not fewer.
It’s counterintuitive, but the first critical step in productizing is niching down. Services can be adapted and customized for a variety of customers. In contrast, products need to fit one type of customer.
When you offer your service, you likely make small changes in how you deliver it for each customer based on their preferences. The wider the variety of people you serve, the more you have to customize.
When you’re selling a product, you don’t have that luxury, so you need to niche it down to a cohort of people who all share the same need. Picking one niche also helps you design a product that will delight a micro-niche, which makes you more referable — and who couldn’t benefit from a little free advertising these days?
Picking one niche allows you to efficiently reach potential customers through paid ads set up to serve a specific target. Niche down further than you’re comfortable, then niche down some more. Segment by considering the following attributes of an ideal customer:
Demographics (Age, gender, income)
Firmographics (Company size, industry)
Life Stage (Just married, retired)
Company life stage (Start-up, mature, etc.)
Psychographics (Motivations, personality traits)
For example, Jason Swenk is a consultant who works with advertising agencies. Swenk developed a Digital Agency Owner Mastermind. Not only did he pick the industry sector of advertising agencies, but he also went even further and focused on digital advertising agencies. Jane Portman is a user experience consultant and niched down to focus on the owners of small Software as a Service (SaaS) companies. She developed “The UI Audit” product, which packages her user experience consulting into a product.
STEP 2 - Find Your TVR
Once you’ve niched down more than feels comfortable, the next step in productizing your service is to identify the services you offer that are teachable to employees and valuable to your customers who have a recurring need for it. We call this finding your ”TVR (Teachable Valuable Repeatable).” Grab a whiteboard or blank piece of paper, and make a list of all the services you offer and the niche you picked in STEP 1. Next, score each service on a scale of 1 to 10 on the degree to which you can teach employees to offer the service, how valuable your niche finds the offering and the degree to which they have a recurring need for it (i.e., Teachable Valuable Repeatable). Pick the service that scores the highest, and move to STEP 3. (You can always come back to this step if you want to consider multiple products.)
Real-Life Example – Photography Business
STEP 3 - Define Your Quarter-Inch Hole
Next, get clear about what problem your product solves for your niche. Go beyond the features you are offering and articulate the benefits of buying. The “Emergency Taco Kit” makes cooking at home fun for Angelinos.
The “Disinfect & Protect” product sanitizes cars for front-line workers that have to keep driving during outbreaks.
STEP 4- Brand It
With a service, you’re typically hiring a person, but with a product, your goal is to make the customer feel like they are buying a thing.
Whereas service providers have names, products have brands. Brands like the “Emergency Taco Kit,” “Disinfect & Protect,” and the “Personalized Music Message” make service offerings feel more tangible.
STEP 5 - List Your "Ingredients"
Service businesses usually customize their deliverables in a unique proposal for every prospect. However, product companies list their ingredients on label. Therefore, make a list of what customers get when they buy your product.
For another example of listing your ingredients, take a look at the service company turned product business Data Stories.
Businesses are drowning in data. It’s easier than ever to track everything a customer does but harder to figure out how to take actionable steps to improve your business based on the data you collect.
Data Stories helps you do something with your data. You provide them with the spreadsheet, and within a few days, they send you an interactive report that’s easy to understand.
Even though they are mainly just selling a service, they have made it appear to be a product and list their ingredients in each of their offerings.
STEP 6 - Preempt Objections
When selling a service, you typically hear your prospect’s objections firsthand so you can dynamically address them on the spot.
When selling a product, you don’t always have the benefit of personal interaction to overcome objections. In STEP 6, you need to consider what potential objections customers might have and preempt them. Spiffy does this by anticipating and addressing potential objections like “what if I’m not happy?” “What if you damage my car?” “Who is going to do the work?” “What impact will it have on the planet"
STEP 7 - Price It
Services are quoted by the hour, day, or project and usually come at the end of a custom proposal. Products publish their price, which is one reason they feel more tangible. A published price communicates that you have a standard offering that doesn’t change for each consumer. Instead of just starting a consultancy, author Tucker Max productized his insight into Book In A Box (BIAB), a repeatable process for developing a book. The company was renamed Scribe, and you can see how they price their service, making it look more like a product.
Instead of general bookkeeping services, Bench is a combination of software and human services. You upload your bank data into their software, and they provide income statements and balance sheets every month. Like any excellent productized service, they’ve branded it and priced it.
STEP 8 - Manufacture Scarcity
One of the benefits of a service business is that you always have sales leverage because your time is scarce. Because you can’t make more hours in the day, customers know they need to act to get some of your time.
With a product business, where your offering is always available, you need to give people a reason to act today rather than tomorrow. This means you need to manufacture a reason to act from scarcity.
"One of the reasons Jason Swenk uses an “invite- only” approach to his mastermind is to maintain the illusion of scarcity. You can’t buy a spot, and you must “request an invite.”
Productizing your service makes it more tangible for consumers. It also allows you to hire people to deliver your offering because it’s the same every time. That’s why some of the most successful service companies go out of their way to package their service like a product. Today, in the aftermath of the pandemic, productizing is more critical than ever.
Curious to Learn More About How to Productize Your Service?
The Scale-to-Sale System™ is a simple method for scaling and building the value of a company, proven to work across thousands of companies worldwide that incorporates several diagnostic tools, including the Value Builder Score. Those businesses that achieve a Value Builder Score of 80 or greater are worth double over the average-performing business.