Purpose – this paper aims to uncover the specific difficulties associated with buying services and proposes a structured purchasing process which can help organisational buyers to overcome the problems associated with services purchasing.design/methodology/approach – the authors investigate the supposed differences between goods and services procurement by means of literature research and a questionnaire distributed among dutch purchasing managers. Additionally, they draw on experiences from additional case study research and business practice to better understand the results of the survey and to further explore the actual process of buying services.findings – the results of the literature review and the survey show that developing a proper specification is an important prerequisite for purchasing services successfully. Based on these findings, an expansion to the traditional purchasing process is proposed which incorporates the steps of pre-selecting suppliers and detailing the initial specification.research limitations/implications – the survey is limited to the netherlands. Furthermore, the questions in the survey consider the respondent's perception and not the “truth”.practical implications – for organisational buyers, the importance of a proper specification implies that they should involve service providers early on in the service purchasing process. The service providers consequently can exercise the appropriate resources to develop a high quality solution, but need to be able to demonstrate this added value in these early phases of the services purchasing process.originality/value – the paper adds to the discussion on buying services and tries to find out why this is perceived as complicated. It highlights three problem areas and proposes a solution to tackle these.