Inseparability: Selling Yourself

On why bespoke consulting or advisory services can't be marketed like products.

I've written a few months ago (here) about how most product marketing assumptions, when applied to the consulting world, are simply false.

This is not a problem per se, except for the fact many consultants get seduced by smooth-talking marketers who are not explicit about it. The advice they get is irrelevant (and often harmful) to their firms. That's why educating yourself on those assumptions is prudent, no matter if you're planning and running your marketing initiatives yourself or hiring someone to help.

One of the biggest differences between products and services is what's called inseparability.

When a business sells a product to a customer, the buyer takes it away with them. But services, especially bespoke consulting and advisory services, can't be separated from the provider. They are generally created and supplied simultaneously.

Think of dentists, lawyers, or musicians. These professionals create and offer services at the same time. What is being sold and who provides it become, in some sense, the same.

As Donald Cowell says,

“Goods are produced, sold and then consumed whereas the services are sold and then produced and consumed.”

This changes everything from a marketing standpoint. It makes it possible for a client to be dissatisfied with a strong, tested and tried offering - if the consultant who sold it provides a poor client experience. That's why the 50/50 rule exists.

Is this always true? Of course not.

Productized services, with fixed price and clear scope of work, are much more standardized. Asset-based consulting - where firms package and sell access to IP, proprietary data, and tools - also reduces inseparability. Those examples are slowly getting tested by boutique firms, and open up the possibility of adopting other business development strategies.

But for most of you, the point stands. Your offerings and how you deliver them are one of the same, at least on your client's minds. You can't look at one while ignoring the other.

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