Marketing of professional services differs from most marketing in a few fundamental ways. What they are, and how you can overcome them in a digital world is the focus of this article.
You don’t have a physical product you can package and sell
The biggest difference between professional services marketing and other marketing is the lack of a physical product. This is a key stumbling block for most professional services companies. After all, in order to sell something, you have to have something to sell.
It's not just the lack of a physical product either – not having a physical product means no branded packaging, no point of sale, no webshop – all of which would normally provide plenty of opportunities to promote and communicate the virtues of the product.
Furthermore, professional services are often negotiable in price and offered over an extended period, so there isn’t a single, set thing that you buy, no simple package at a set price delivered on a certain date. And that solution may differ greatly from one client to another.
It should not be underestimated just how much of an issue this is; so much so, that many companies will try to create a ‘product’ – offering a set service for a set price. Another tactic is to sell levels of service such as bronze, silver and gold – to allow for a more obvious comparison between the levels of service, and to encourage upselling to the next level.
All this is good. Anytime there is a service you think you can ‘package’ and sell as a product, you should try and do it – it helps the prospective client feel they are getting something tangible and specific for their money. As something they feel they can touch, will have a higher perceived worth, and a higher feeling of trust, than an intangible, vaguely defined… something.
However, not everything can or should be packaged up into a neat ‘box’. So the alternative is to educate the prospect about your service and offerings, helping them to understand what they will get for their money. This has to be done through content. Creating compelling, educational, useful content that helps the prospective client to see the value of enlisting your company’s help, is the way to sell your services.
Remember that just as you face the challenge of marketing your services, your potential clients also face the challenge of making sense of the problem they face and the possible solutions. They will be researching and trying to gain an understanding of their own way forward.
This represents a great opportunity to be seen as helpful and a trusted source of information. By providing information and help in the form of content – blogs, eBooks, white papers, videos and so on, you help them and work towards opening a dialogue.
Do this right, and you will be in the most favourable position when the client decides to buy.
Your reputation and trust is authority based
In other industries, reputation and trust can be created through the branding and marketing of the product and its features. In professional services, that reputation and trust is driven by the knowledge and authority that the company projects. That knowledge and authority is a more complex sell and is difficult to explain in a few words. Research has shown that establishing authority is critical to attracting sales and it’s particularly vital for professional services companies.
Here again, it is content that provides the answer. Creating content that establishes authority is essential. You can use content such as blog posts, eBooks, videos and social media posts to demonstrate:
- your knowledge of the real issues that your client’s face,
- your strategic thinking
- your industry knowledge
- your ability to read the future direction of the industry
In particular, you can use case studies to powerfully demonstrate:
- Real-world solutions
- Your approach to problems
- Your working methods
- Your experience
Case studies can also more subtly demonstrate the level of clients you work with – potential clients will often look at a client list to see who the company has worked with, to see if there is a client like them, or more often than not, a client they look up to in their sector. A case study featuring that client validates the list and confirms that you really did work with that client.
Most of your business is based on personal relationships
In order to expand your business, you will inevitably need to go beyond your circle of business contacts; beyond physical networking. Traditionally, most professional services businesses sales coming from personal encounters or word of mouth referrals, but professional services marketing is changing now; how can you replicate that at distance, and in a digital world?
Today’s digital equivalent of networking to meet new clients is social media. By publishing and promoting content to social channels, you can initiate a dialogue with potential clients. Engaging with clients in groups and forums on platforms such as LinkedIn and replying to questions on social channels allows you to virtually meet new potential clients.
Social media is also a good conduit for referrals – people see your content, and if they are useful and relevant, they will post a link to their colleagues or forward a post to friends.
In addition, you should encourage clients to share your content (make it easy) and their experiences of working with you via social media.
If you can, a guest blog post about their experiences working with you is an invaluable asset – equivalent to the strongest of word of mouth referrals.
Once again case studies are a great way of illustrating your personal relationship with clients – they can show:
- How you work with clients – in particular during the initial phase of a project
- How you value your clients
- What level of service you offer
- How you support your clients
A personal relationship is important when it comes to customer service too. Messenger apps can provide a channel for this, in addition to the more established email and telephone support. Publishing help content, guides and information is fundamental to supporting existing clients (and impressing potential clients).
Content is your product
Whilst professional service companies face some distinct marketing challenges, there are proven and effective means by which to overcome them.
Content is the key, not only creating content that prospective clients will find valuable when doing their research and investigating solutions, but also content that can be shared on social media. The creation of appropriate content and social sharing replicate and magnify the old methods of seminars, presentations, networking and word of mouth.
So, whilst it’s true you might not have a physical product, you need to think of content as your product – producing a good product and promoting it well, will bring you the prospects and the sales.