B-to-B Insights: At Your Service
The best piece of advice I ever received on marketing services was one word from the head of an IT consulting firm, who said: "Productize."
Products are tangible and services are intangible. Tangibles are easier to sell than intangibles. Therefore, the more you can make your service look like a product, the more tangible it will seem, and the easier it will be to sell.
If you are a consultant, don't just sell "consulting," which seems nebulous and open ended. Most likely, you consult on the same few problems. Package these as consulting products. For instance, one of my clients offers an IT retrospectives facilitation service, a technique used in IT project management. Instead of just offering "consulting," which could include retrospectives or other services, he offers "IT retrospectives" as a specific product.
When you face the same problem, need or application repeatedly, you develop your own procedures for solving it. Package these as a product with both a clear title and a written description of what the service entails. This description, which you will use in email and other promotions, can be written as narrative paragraphs and/or in bullets.
Don't Sell Your Services Short
In many service businesses, there is a need to present your services as well as ask questions to determine whether your service can solve the client's problem. Only after this initial assessment can you quote an accurate price and have the client engage you. So, the question arises as to when you should "put the meter down"; i.e., when you should stop spending time with the prospect for free and start charging.
Many service providers give away time and advice in the pursuit of new contracts, so why not treat this as a marketing tool? Call it a free consultation, evaluation or needs assessment, and assign a dollar value to it. This way, potential clients perceive they're getting something of value before even hiring you.
Services with any degree of complexity and a significant price tag generally cannot be sold with one-step direct marketing. Are there exceptions? Of course. But most marketing of services is two steps or more, with the initial promotion generating the lead, which is then nurtured and closed in subsequent steps.
What offer works best in lead generation for selling services? Best practices call for dual offers, one hard and one soft. The hard offer in lead generation for services is typically to arrange a meeting or conference between the service provider and prospect for purposes of discussing the prospect's needs and how the services can address them.
The soft offer in lead generation for service marketing is typically the offer of a free brochure, whitepaper or other content related to the services and the problems they solve. Reply mechanisms for both soft and hard offers include a reply card, phone, fax, email and Web.
Are reply cards outdated in the Internet age? I think not. Even if the prospect ultimately replies online, the reply card is a visual indicator that a response is called for; the URL may be added at the bottom of the reply element.
Prospects who have a pending need for the services will want to meet with the service provider and therefore choose the hard offer. Prospects who might be interested down the road but have no need now or in the near future are more likely to choose the soft offer. Typically 90 percent of respondents will choose the soft offer. So, without the soft offer, these valuable leads would be lost.
Lead nurturing is an old concept with a new name. As a guideline, and this varies widely from marketer to marketer, 10 percent of the leads received will turn into sales after an initial response and perhaps a follow-up or two. By comparison, with ongoing nurturing of leads, 30 percent or more will turn into sales.
Lead nurturing means continuing to market to prospects once they have responded to a promotion and been entered into your database. Marketing to existing leads usually produces several times greater response rates than marketing to a cold list.
In the "good old days," marketers talked about lead nurturing, but seldom followed through because it was too cumbersome, labor-intensive and expensive. The Internet has eliminated these obstacles. At the very least, the prospect is added, with permission, to your opt-in e-list, so she receives either sporadic or regular emails from you. Several steps up from that is a customer relationship management system that distributes emails according to trigger events such as a birthday or a transaction (e.g., download of a whitepaper).
A Website to Drum Up Business
Your company website should be designed to provide visitors with what they need to know to make a decision about using your services.
Two questions service providers hear a lot from prospects is "How do you work?" and "What is your process?" This should be written out step-by-step and posted on your site as a "Methodology" page. This will save you from having to repeat these details in every sales conversation and document you produce.
The longer prospects stay on your website once they visit, the more they learn about you. Add features that increase the stickiness of your site. On bly.com, for example, there is an online tool visitors can use to calculate breakeven points for mailings. Other sites have successfully increased stickiness with devices including games, quizzes, puzzles, cartoons and animation.
In addition to information the prospect needs to know, your website should present information you want the prospect to know—content that would make him look more favorably upon hiring you. This might include a press room, articles page, awards page, whitepaper library, videos, audios—anything that shows your accomplishments, credentials and advantages.
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter who has written copy for more than 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Praxair, Intuit, Forbes, and Ingersoll-Rand. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s top copywriter” and he is the author of 90 books, including “The Copywriter's Handbook.” Find him online at www.bly.com or call (973) 263-0562.