Selling is emotional and only the seller can take the buyer on that emotional journey.

Selling products versus selling services. What’s the difference?

Of course it’s not black and white especially when human interaction manifests. Still, selling the two calls for similar principles, but different techniques. Products are wares which are tangible. Like the loaf of bread you buy from the kiosk or, toy, the hawker. Products can be seen, touched and, sometimes smelt, tasted and heard as well. And that’s powerful in getting to move the buyer to purchase. Tantalizing all the senses heightens emotions favourably towards a close-the sizzling aroma from nyama choma joints thrives on this. Or, unfavourably, as would a smelly commercial loo or music from a CD with scratches.

Product sellers have the advantage of their wares attracting the prospective buyer even before the seller steps in. Half the job is done. Like the display window with attractive clothes would woo you into the shop. And you can ‘experience’, say, living in a house you fancy, even without buying it. Some electronics shops allow you to even play video games for the experience. All these advantages work to the benefit of the seller.

You can’t touch a service

On the other hand, services are a different kettle of fish. There’s nothing to touch, see, smell, taste or hear. As one frustrated seller told me, “ni kama kuuza hewa” (it’s like selling air). For this reason, with services, words are your anchor. How you weave them is your salvation. And so, the attraction (‘display window’) that ‘the bank has waived joining fees for credit cards’, becomes, “Do you know the bank is giving away credit cards for free?” And closing calls for, “Do you wish to sign with the blue pen or the black one?” Whereas a product lends itself to a demo, services don’t. There’s nothing to demonstrate about owning an account. And, no, brochures do not fit the bill; brochures don’t sell, salespeople do.


This is something those new to selling quickly realise after they have dished out 100 flyers with their contact scribbled on them and not a single call has ensued. So the progressive services seller needs to become a words smith. In effect, paint a picture of the demo. So the exotic destination seller tells the romantic husband, ”For your 10th anniversary dinner, we shall exclusively serve you and your wife, her favourite meal, under the full moon, by the beach.”  Most probably the brochure intimated that, but the brochure is inanimate.

Selling is emotional and only the seller can take one on that emotional journey. Which puts the seller of services in another comparative disadvantage- the buyer buys him from go and continually does so throughout the engagement period. The seller is the ‘product’ of the service-the tangible part of it.  Services start and remain immersed in interaction with the seller. This is a profound difference. Most likely a salesperson got you to buy the insurance cover. When you agree to open a bank account or subscribe to a network, you will not ‘own’ the service you have purchased.

You don’t own the service

For instance, you say you have (own) a bank account, and confidently refer to it as, “My account”. But where exactly is it? Not on you or with you-it’s at the bank! Yet you call it yours. Compare that to the phone you buy and exclusively own. For this reason of quasi-ownership, continual interaction with the seller is inevitable where services are concerned. And the use of appropriate words becomes a continual quest by the seller in keeping the buyer happy. No one has all the words down pat; as with everything else, you learn from others as you go along.

Of course, the differences are not black and white as has been shared. Products may woo the buyer, but sellers will still need to close the sale with words, for instance. Still, appreciating the differences helps the respective sellers put things into perspective.

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