Home' Inclean : INCLEAN Jul-Aug 2016 Contents www.incleanmag.com.au 47
By Robyn Haydon*
In the cleaning and facility management
industry, we are in the business of selling
services. Services underpin the economic
growth of our nation. A World Bank study
showed that in high-income countries,
services represent 66 per cent of GDP
compared with only 35 per cent in low-
income countries. In Australia, services
employ more than 8.6 million people,
representing 76 per cent of all employment.
As the people who deliver these services, we understand how
essential they are. Yet services can be hard to understand and define,
making them difficult for us to sell.
Complicating this is the issue that the people who buy our services
often don’t understand them as well as we do. The ‘product’ of
a service is often the result of specialised experience and training.
As a result, clients who lack this knowledge often have difficulty
evaluating the value of service products.
This lack of understanding leads to commoditisation and unfair
pressure to force our prices down.
Consider the impact of competitive tendering. Since the 1980s this
system of buying has grown quickly, and now most contracts of
any size and value are transacted through bids and tenders. In 2014
to 15, one of Australia’s largest buyers – the Federal government –
spent $59.447 billion buying goods and services through Austender,
and issued 69,236 supplier contracts.
In a competitive tender, you will be pitted against many
competitors – sometimes a handful, sometimes hundreds. This is
particularly challenging for people who sell services. Many services,
including cleaning services, are complex and time-consuming to
execute. Unfortunately, this also makes them complex and time-
consuming to explain.
In competitive tenders, we are pressured with word limits, page
limits and character limits. This means we’re under constant
pressure to get straight into unpacking our methodologies and
implementation plans (what and how). This often comes at the
expense of explaining the problem we are solving (why), which is the
main reason why a customer actually needs us in the first place.
It follows then, that learning to communicate value to our
customers is essential if we want to stand out in this crowded,
Value is like a snowflake – no two commercial value propositions
are ever exactly the same. This is because every customer has
different hopes, dreams, goals and problems to solve. Yet like a
snowflake, commercial value has a six-sided structure, and it is quite
beautiful when you see it up close.
Each of us buys with our gut, head and heart. Within each of
these drivers, there is a left-brained (quantifiable) and right-brained
(qualitative) attribute for value.
When cleaning businesses can explain the value of our offering
according to these attributes, it helps us to talk about what we do
in a way that speaks directly to the gut, head and hearts of our
Firstly, visceral (or gut) value attributes include cost and risk.
Author and neuroendocrinologist Dr Deepak Chopra says that gut
feelings are “every cell in our body making a decision”. Buying
Intangibility and commoditisation:
the problem with selling services
decisions are often triggered by fear, and we can help our customers
to understand and protect against their fears.
Secondly, buyers value logical attributes like productivity and
reduced complexity. The head drives logic, and most of us have
way too much going on in there to be logical about all of it. This
phenomenon is known as cognitive load, and we can play a role in
reducing this burden for our customers.
Finally, buyers value aspirational attributes like quality and
connectivity. Buyers want to make an impact and create a legacy.
Understanding this, we can set our customers on a different –
smarter and better – path than they would be able to choose on
When you are pitching for new business, thinking about the
commercial value you generate – and not just the work you do
– helps you to move your attention from inwards on yourself, to
outwards on the customer and their needs. This, in turn helps to
break down the intangibility barrier we face when selling services,
and protects us against commoditisation.
*Robyn Haydon is the author of three books on business
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