Professional services marketing versus product marketing – are they really apples and oranges?
Sure, there are a number of similar inbound marketing principles that will apply to strategies for both types of offerings. But there are also characteristics that more acutely define selling in the professional services world – characteristics which ultimately differentiate the approach businesses in this industry take when developing successful campaigns from those tactics used to effectively market products.
More often than not, marketing a service entails implementing a few extra layers into your game plan. Or at least mustering up a little more patience and endurance for the long haul! In a nutshell, here’s a breakdown of the six challenges distinct to professional services marketing which heavily influence the strategic planning process:
Services – unlike products – cannot be seen, touched, held, etc. Buyers only know the true value of your service after they receive it (often with full effects taking place weeks or months later). When people make these purchases, they are essentially buying into trust and ideas, requiring professional services firms to market not only the service itself, but the people, knowledge, and skills behind it.
A B2B firm’s sales cycle is generally longer and more complicated than that of a B2C company, as the perceived buying risk is typically much higher. Add marketing an intangible service into the mix and the funnel is further extended. Therefore, crafting specific marketing components for each stage of your unique sales cycle can make all the difference. Your initial goal may even be to start with a small win – and then continue to upsell and cross-sell as you impress your clients again and again.
Purchasing a product is characterized by a simple transaction, whereas investing in B2B services always requires some form of relationship. Moreover, you can’t walk around trying on services; consequently, buyers often determine which brand is going to be the best fit for their business based on a series of personalized interactions – and relationship marketing plays a substantial role.
As sellers of professional services, know that you are always marketing. Every touch point you have with a prospect or current customer throughout an engagement matters and supports the value you bring, particularly after the initial sale. Even if a mistake is made, a defunct product can be returned and usually has fewer negative repercussions than a badly managed or poorly executed service. According to Bain & Company, a customer is actually 4 times more likely to defect to a competitor if the problem is service-related rather than price- or product-related. Therefore, delivering on what you promise is all the more critical.
Understanding your customers’ pain points and what makes their businesses tick is a key preliminary step to selling your services. Your company must be the answer potential customers are looking for. So it’s important to educate your audience via easily accessible channels, providing informative responses to common industry questions – as well as solutions to problems your prospects frequently encounter. Your website and blog are great places to start!
Your client needs to fully understand the benefits you bring to the table, why only you can do it, and why the client isn’t able to do it as effectively on its own. Be prepared to brag a little bit – confidence is key. How have you resolved issues like your prospects’ before? How have you positioned yourself in the market relative to your competitors? Sometimes it’s okay to talk the talk when you can walk the walk.
Professional services marketing really is an exceptionally different animal. As a company offering professional services to B2B businesses ourselves, we’re accustomed to navigating the challenges specific to selling in this industry. If you’d like to learn more about this topic and, of course, pick up a slew of free tips and insights, definitely check out our new and comprehensive eBook below – Professional Services Marketing: The Art of Making Your Services Easier to Sell. And let us know if you have any questions!
Oren Smith—our resident Marketing Manager and data geek... *ahem* expert—has been heading up PMG's marketing for 5+ years. Between stretches of content writing and inbound strategy, you might find him planning his next adventure abroad or enjoying a good, old-fashioned lobster roll.