Question: Our small St. Paul-based company, Leading Edge Coaching & Development, has been successful in the business of training and development for the past 10 years. We have made our money by teaching in-person classes. We have been building an online learning system and now we will have a product to sell, not just a service. What are the most important factors in successfully selling a product vs. a ­service?

Jay Vose

Marketing project manager



Answer: You have a couple of topics in your question. First — measuring success. In selling a service, the value of building a positive relationship becomes imperative, especially in something like coaching, where you plan to have a recurring interaction with clients (a key measure of success). It might seem like the sale of a product could be more transactional, but it shouldn’t be since very few products are truly “once-in-a-lifetime” purchases. So a measure of success stems from the repeat sale, or sales of allied products and services you offer.

This goes to the other part of your question — selling one vs. the other. People don’t buy a product or a service. People look for the solution to a problem, or satisfaction of some need.

Whether you’re selling a product, service or both, you must translate the features of your offering into a clear benefit for the consumer. The easiest way to do this? Imagine speaking to a client and explaining — “We offer “X” (product or service) that has “Y” (feature). What this means to you is … (detailed benefit to the user).” Note that most of your communication effort is on the benefit — not the features of the offering.

So by offering both products and services, each customer contact must be considered in terms of how the package of solutions you have available can best address the customer’s needs at that moment, while building confidence in their eyes that you can deliver on this and future transactions.

-- Mike Porter, director, Master of Business Communication Program, University of St. Thomas, Opus College of Business