Get customers to come to you
by James “Alex” Alexander, Ed.D.
Services marketing plays a big role in helping sell services. Effectively done, it opens the doors to prospects, then makes selling easier and faster. No matter how superior your services, you are 10 times more likely to get the business if the prospect contacts you rather than if you do the contacting.
However, my research and experience show that services marketing is an area of weakness in about 70 percent of all services businesses and over 90 percent of services businesses inside of product companies. Yes, this is a huge opportunity!
There are many aspects to services marketing such as aligning the services strategy to the company mission, creating a portfolio of high-value services, building the brand and pricing services. I’ll cover those in the future. For starters, let’s look at the aspect of commercializing the sales promise — how to get more business easier, better and faster through promoting.
Leads: All the potential buyers for your services.
Suspects: Potential buyers who have expressed an interest in taking action.
Prospects: Leads who meet your qualification requirements.
Customers: Prospects who have purchased your offerings.
Clients: Customers who show loyalty to you, your offerings and your organization.
Business development is about getting, growing and keeping clients. Services marketing helps support all of the four business development processes outlined in Figure 1, but its biggest contribution lies in promoting, turning leads, all the potential buyers of your services, into suspects, potential buyers interested in taking action.
Think about this from a sales-productivity perspective — Instead of your services sellers taking a large chunk of their time dialing for dollars (a very inefficient process), you have a pre-qualified person calling you, wanting to talk about buying. You won’t spend hours and hours trying to get to the decision maker, or overcoming relentless resistance and more resistance. This means less stress, less wasted time and heckuva lot more fun. Effective promoting should be a business priority.
How much more productive will your services sellers be if just two prospective customers contact them each week?
Promoting services is different from promoting products; yet, most services organizations approach it the same way with poor results. Figure 2 shows what most services providers do compared to what really works.
Figure 2 is clear. The lesson is to avoid the actions listed on the left and concentrate on what works on the right. Let me expand on these actions with a little commentary on the tactics that work.
1. High-quality services experiences: Word-of-mouth is an important factor in how buyers buy any offering, but vital when customers face invisible choices. Hence, amassing a number of solid services experiences is essential if you want existing customers to buy more services and sing the praises of your services offerings and your services business. So do it right the first time is a good business motto coupled with do it very right the second time when the best intentions fail at first.
2. References and success stories: When buying intangibles, prospects will always put much more credence in what their peers say then what you say — nothing beats a relevant success story. I strongly recommend that you have three strong success stories from credible customers for each of your main services offerings in each market you serve. It will make selling much easier.
Services marketing should work with sales early on with potential showcase accounts to position the possibility and potentially make it part of the upfront agreement. Here are the tried-and-true guidelines in building strong cases and stories:
A. Briefly describe the client company — business focus, markets served, revenue, services orientation, geographic reach, etc.
B. Outline the business challenges/opportunities they faced, its business impact and why management reached out to your company.
C. Describe the type of solution they were looking for, their expectations and their objectives.
D. Refer to the services that applied to the customer’s problem.
E. Explain the business and personal benefits the client realized from your specific service interventions.
F. Highlight the positive comments in the customer’s own words about your company and their recommendations to others.
Let me emphasize again, gaining strong referenceable accounts should be a marketing and business priority.
3. Enewsletters. Quality newsletters should be a core component of your services marketing plan. I’ve had one for years and wouldn’t consider dropping it. Newsletters allow you to position yourself the way you want to with the executive decision makers of the markets and the customers you choose. Effective enewsletters follow these guidelines:
A. They talk about relevant business issues that your customer/prospect care about. Nothing cheapens a newsletter more (and dramatically lowers readership) than what customers perceive as a sales pitch.
B. Along with relevant commentary from your experts, they feature relevant commentary from recognized industry players.
C. They are succinct and well written by professional writers.
D. The newsletters make it easy for readers to participate and share their knowledge.
E. The newsletters are published regularly, either monthly or every other month.
Furthermore, newsletters easily integrate with your other content and marketing efforts. For example, Professional Services Journal has a Twitter
account (@psjournal), a blog and a
Facebook page. Not only do these share PSJ content, but also allows readers to interact with the team and each other.
Readers, customers and prospects have their preference in how they receive content. Some prefer email, some prefer blogs, some prefer Twitter and so on. Integrating content from enewsletters in other areas — including webinars — expands your reach while reusing your content.
Of course, don’t just set up a Twitter account, Facebook page, etc. unless you know your audience is there. Once you confirm they’re there, then go for it. If you can’t fully commit to one of these, it’s best to skip it.
If you have the dedicated horsepower internally to do this, then make it so. However, what I see is that to do a professional job in an on-going regular basis, you are better off outsourcing enewsletter activities to outside professionals.
4. Internet. You have spent a lot of effort gaining success stories — use them. Once again, let the customers tell your stories and sing your praises. If your services are a part of a product company, make it easy to access services information.
5. Seminars and webinars. These are other must-haves for services marketers. Develop a regular schedule of sessions that address a relevant and popular issue in your industry. Make it easy for people to sign up, easy to attend and easy to contact you. Furthermore, this is a good way to showcase industry research you have done, whitepapers or articles created by people in your organization to show your company’s thought leadership.
6. Public relations (PR). Although not a priority initially when building your services marketing capability, good PR builds your services credibility over time.
7. Industry influencer briefings. Similar to the seminar and webinar strategy, this approach can get executive prospects into the same room, making it much easier to start relationships. Besides, if your presenters have notoriety and prestige, some of that rubs off on your brand, just by
As you use the seven tactics, follow these best practices for a higher success rate.
• Staff a dedicated services marketing department with services marketing professionals.
• Annually conduct research (market, customer, competitor) to build content for enewsletters, webinars, briefings, etc.
• Aggressively fund promoting.
• Put metrics in place to monitor suspects and prospects generated and customers created through the promoting process.
• Cultivate three reference accounts or cases for each major services offering in each market.
• Ensure promoting contains a robust mix of activities including enewsletters, seminars, webinars and executive briefings.
Services marketing has a vital role in getting services business. Focus on promoting, and you’ll be rewarded with lots of sales opportunities.
About James “Alex” Alexander
Alexander is founder of Alexander Consulting, a management consultancy that helps companies create and implement professional services strategies for product companies. Contact him at 239-671-0740, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.alexanderstrategists.com.
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