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How to Sell a Complex Service


Part One: My encounter with Gandalf


There are two reasons people won’t do business with you.

Either they don’t want what you’re offering, or they don’t believe you can provide it.

If either of these conditions are present, you’ll miss out on the deal.

But sometimes, someone just doesn’t understand your business. They might really need your service, but they think they don’t want it.

If it’s hard to explain what you do, then you’re probably facing this obstacle a lot. 

For example, last year I wrote an email campaign for someone, we’ll call him Gandalf, who provides a very complicated, technical service.

“Jacob,” said Gandalf, “if business owners understood what I do, they would want to work with me so badly they would come to my house and beg on my front porch, and they would see a line of beggars already there, and they would push the other beggars into my Ceanothus bush!”

I get it. Maybe you do, too. If you make a living doing some brilliant wizardry that looks like magic to ordinary muggles, this is for you.

Use these two magic words to clarify how you’re helping

First, you need to drill down. What are you really doing, from your client’s perspective?

I’m going to give you two very special words to stop you from overthinking this: So what. Imagine you’re talking to someone who is very smart but uninformed. As you explain what your business does, they keep asking, “So what?”

Here’s what Gandalf came up with.

“I summon eagles and protect hobbits.”

So what?

“I’m making it possible for Sam and Frodo to journey to Mordor, where they can destroy the Ring of Power by casting it into the fires of Mt. Doom.”

So what?

“If they don’t destroy the Ring, Sauron will use it to cover all the lands with darkness.”

So what?

“If Sauron wins, everyone will lose their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Ahah! So Gandalf’s business protects my life, liberty, and happiness. Let me get my checkbook!

When you do this exercise, you should come up with something that will be very compelling to the right people:

We cut employee turnover by 60% or more.

I get you paid the same day you send an invoice.

We reduce the workload by 30 man-hours, on average.

I save your marriage.

We turn $10 bills into $100 bills.

If it’s something your prospects want, you’ve beaten the first obstacle. Now you just have to convince them you can deliver.

You’ll know you got this first part right when most of your prospects are asking (at least tacitly), “How do you do that?”

You’d better have a good answer. I’ll show you how to answer this question in part two.



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