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Selling The Invisible – Book Review for Local Small Business Marketing

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A Loving Review of Selling The Invisible by Harry Beckwith
A Field Guide to Modern Marketing

An empty box. That’s what most of us sell. A service is like an empty box. Financial planning, insurance, marketing consulting, legal advice, medical services are examples of pure service where there’s nothing to touch, taste or smell. The buyer is relying on you delivering a service that’s mostly out of your imagination. So an empty box contains air and that’s what many of us sell.

With that in mind, I can’t possibly tell you how invaluable the book Selling The Invisible by Harry Beckwith is to me and how it’s an essential for your local small business marketing education.

Can I ashamedly say that I saw this book for years, ignored it and, then, purchased it two years ago? Going through my bookshelf the other day, I decided to revisit it and share some of the brilliance of Mr. Beckwith with you.

Published in 1997, this is an incredibly quick read with short, short chapters and approachable examples outline the unique challenges of selling a service (the invisible) as opposed to a product that you can touch or see. Many of the companies and examples he cites are no longer the way they were 15 years ago. I find it funny when I comparing what he says then to how it is now. Yet, it doesn’t diminish it’s impactful ideas uniquely associated with selling services.

3 Invaluable Insights From Selling The Invisible

1) Service Marketing Is About Great Service and Not Much Else

Great service is defined differently from profession to profession. Investors want profits returned on their investments. Massage therapy clients want to feel better than when they arrived. Insurance clients want to feel proud that they paid for something they may never use or never benefit from. And, great service carries you a long way, if you can’t get it right the first time. Nordstrom’s legendary service is vastly different than 20 years ago. But, it’s an impression that sticks and sticks, making them every profitable, even in hard times.

From the Getting Started chapter section entitled The Greatest Misconception About Service Marketing

In a free-association test, most people – including most people in business- will equate the word “marketing” with selling and advertising: pushing the goods.

In this popular view, marketing means taking what you have and shoving it down buyers’ throats. ” We need better marketing” invariably means “we need to get our name out”-with ads, publicity, and maybe some direct mail.

Unfortunately, this focus on getting the word outside distracts companies from the inside , and from the first rule of service marketing: The core of service marketing is the service itself.

2) Eliminate Your Clients Fear of Hiring You

Since you’re selling air, your client is worried you’ll have his money and he’ll have nothing but air. You have to change the perception. You have develop trust. Most of all, you don’t have to the very best choice, just the one that comforts your client.

From the Anchors, Warts and American Express chapter section entitled How Prospects Decide: Choosing “Good Enough”

Looking for Good Enough happens repeatedly in business, too. So whenever you make your pitch, ask yourself, “What risks might a prospect see in hiring us?” Then, without reminding the prospects of those risks-which will only remind your prospects of their fears-eliminate the prospect’s fears, one by one.

In my case, I needed to eliminate two fears. Because I was an expert, they feared I would be prohibitively expensive and compromising. And because I had worked for larger clients on larger projects, they feared I would not consider their project important.

But I never addressed those fears (in my proposal). I got so carried away telling them I was a superior choice that I forgot to assure them I would be a good choice.

Forget looking like the superior choice. Make yourself an excellent choice. Then eliminate anything that might make you a bad choice.

3) Make The Invisible Visible

When a prospect can’t see your product, you have to make it come alive. Use vivid stories and compelling pictures on your website and your marketing materials to woo your customers.

Mr. Beckwith relates how Richard Melman, co-founder of Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants that includes Maggiano’s Little Italy chain, Scoozi’s, Ed Debevics and about 70 other restaurants, understands he’s in the entertainment not the food business. Most of understand how critics evaluate food. But, we are more likely to eat in restaurants that are an experience and NOT the height of culinary achievement.

When we go out, it’s more than just the food that we experience. Starting with word of mouth or a review, we want to go to a restaurant. Then, it’s the outside parking lot and building exterior that start to lure us. Once inside, the atmosphere, the hostess, the server and the menu combine to give us an experience.

For me, I like BJ’s Brewery because it’s energetic, the food’s satisfactory, everyone can get what they want, they have great home-brewed root beer and it’s easy with kids. My mom kinda hates it. But, when we want a casual family dinner, I think it’s perfect.

Most of the impression we have of our experience is visual. Restaurants are a tad more visual than insurance or investments. But, what makes you want to come again is how you felt. And, that’s NOT visible. Your visible clues are your website, your appearance, your marketing materials, your actions, your words. They all add up to the “experience” clients have with you.

From the Communicating and Selling chapter section entitled Our Eyes Have It: The Lessons of Chicago’s Restaurants

Like good restaurateurs, service marketers must create the visual surroundings – from the parking lot to the last page of the proposal-that will enhance the client’s perception of quality. Offer quality without creating that perception quality and you have failed the client, and yourself.

Everything visual associated with your service sends a powerful clue about your service. The influence of these visual clues is not superficial; they go the very heart of your “product” and your relationship with the client.

Watch- and perfect -the visual clues you send.

I can’t possibly relate every delicious tidbit from this book. Go buy it. See for yourself.


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