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Is your service business e-commerce friendly?

Posted Saturday, January 25, 2003

No doubt about it. The Web is a perfect tool for some service businesses to sell all or part of their offerings. For others, because of what they sell, it doesn't work at all.

If you fall into the latter column, don't despair. Even if your services aren't right for online sales, there are plenty of other ways to market and save money through your site.

Look for your company's characteristics in the descriptions below to determine if online selling is a smart option for you.

You probably can sell services through your site if they:

- are standard services

Services that are standard, as opposed to custom, lend themselves to being sold online. Examples include a public relations company that charges a fee for writing press releases, or a research company that conducts standard competitive analysis work. Because these projects have strict parameters in terms of client involvement and project deliverables, a standard price can be set, a sample can be provided on a Web site, and a sale can be made online. Some companies create these "off-the-shelf" service packages as a way to engage customers so they can sell them more customized services later.

- can be easily understood

Tax services, Web site design, bill collection, and Web hosting are easy for customers to grasp and therefore have the potential to be sold online. Many of the customers for these services have purchased them elsewhere in the past, and therefore may visit your site simply to research credentials, view work samples, or retrieve referrals before making a purchase.

You probably cannot sell services through your site if they:

- require significant education to sell

Many services are so unique that the sales process involves explaining exactly what they are, and what the benefits include. If a sale of your services requires a high degree of customer education, consider using your site to accomplish some of this work by defining service elements, providing samples and identifying customer needs. You can then direct customers to the phone or your physical location to continue and close the sale.

- need client input to craft

Some services are shaped to meet specific client needs and cannot be sold unless clients provide information regarding their needs and goals. An example of this is business consulting, in which projects and benefits are customized. The sales process often includes discussion of a client problem as a means of learning enough to craft a pitch for project deliverables and benefits.