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Promise Them Anything!

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  • | 4:14 p.m. March 4, 2010
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“Services” are largely intangible and experimental. This intangibility makes the “product” development process more complex. In fact, marketing professional services main distinction is that “production” occurs at the point of sale. This means that the concept of “inventory” is largely irrelevant, and suggests that consumers probably have a more difficult time evaluating among service alternatives. The product itself, is actually the service. Hence, what the business consultants know about marketing tangible products, needs to be adjusted for marketing intangible services.

Why services differ
A service is not something that can be built in a factory, shipped to a store, put on a shelf and then taken home in a fancy box. A service is a dynamic living process. A service is something that is executed on behalf of or with the improvement of someone. A service then is performed. A service is motion and activity - not pieces or parts. In short, a service is a “real time” occurrence. It exists only at the time when it is rendered. And, you better get this “ho-hum” concept right, because the future of your corporate life will depend upon it!

How do you promote, communicate and market something your client may not be able to taste, touch, smell or feel; and, can evaluate only as it is experienced? That's the unique problem you'll always face as a marketer of professional services - law firms, community banks, builders, financial services, architects, advertising, insurance, real estate and more. Add to this basic difficulty, the absence of a marketing tradition in branding services organizations, along with national or multi-regionals initiating penetration into the Gulf Coast, and you have all the challenges you can handle.

Service quality is the foundation for services marketing and it will surely naturally be for your Gulf Coast enterprise. And, the core of service quality is reliability; keeping the promise of the brand. The enterprise that breaks its promises or drops the ball on quality or makes mistakes, looses the confidence of its clients. Always try very hard to not only deliver on every promise, but exceed on every expectation.

Extend the goodwill you create through your specific performance. It might just be through a short series of phone calls to confirm promises kept. It might be a personal handwritten note. It might be a small gift like a business or arts publication subscription, or a book relating to client interest. It might be an invitation to your next seminar, or tickets to an event. It might be a quality advertising specialty gift, or it might be a post “sale” six month follow up.

The great service companies all execute a strong service concept. They do the little things better than their competitors. They always seem to effectively manage the little twists and turns of their offerings. They listen to their clients and frequently formally solicit ideas from staff. Further, they continually strive to exceed client expectations and keep in contact following the “sale”. Additionally, they are deliberate about planning, reviewing, executing and rewarding top service exhibited by staff. Does this sound like your Gulf Coast enterprise?

Compete or die
You obviously must be reliable just to compete. You must exceed in reliability to create such a strong impression that clients will abandon competitors. Firms are duty-bound to do what they promise; on time, on target, on budget. Beyond meeting expectations, you need and should create opportunities to surprise clients. Do this and you'll pull the client in even closer to the enterprise and reinforce your reputation for superior service.

For some time I have been trying to simplify the professional services marketing scene by suggesting to senior level managers they have three and only three channels in which to affect their Gulf Coast share of market and thereby increase their sales. It really is simple. Here it is: Attract more new clients. Do more business with existing clients. Retain and reduce loss of present clientele. You'll need and want different sophisticated programming for each channel.

In the interest of printed space, let's focus on what I know to be the most impactful, lowest cost, easiest to initiate, absolute biggest winning opportunity for you to generate additional volume. Its existing clients!

Turn inward
I've always been amazed at the big budgets going to solicitation of the unknown, unfound, unproven new prospects. And, often little recognition, appreciation or even acknowledgements of present clients.

Think how little it may cost to maintain and grow existing clients. Then, also think what the “lifetime” loss of just five percent of your present clients going away starting this year would mean. Conversely, just think what a five per cent client increase would mean through their own incremental purchases and referrals.

If however, you could simply retain and reduce loss of existing clientele, just think how secure you'll be. And, your new volume from existing client referrals and natural growth from those referred new clients will be that much more rewarding.

The central core here is the client that I think of as “the advocate”. These are the clients who have continuing need for your service, who have been well served by you and who are likely to buy additional services from you. They tend to refer people to you and are unlikely to defect to a competitor.

These folks are the most profitable of all. They'll spend more money with you. They'll spread favorable world of mouth and they are more likely to pay a premium for your service. They naturally want an on-going relationship with you because you know them. They know and care about you. In fact, you may be surprised at the positive response and profit making potential of this important audience that you already “own”. Don't let them down. Rather, pull them in.

The final word
You can promise anything that you can professionally deliver. Services marketing is in the execution and not just the strategy, inspiration or the mechanics. Practice promise keeping and not just promise making.

If your Gulf Coast enterprise executes, it will be exceptional. You'll do things better than your competitors. You'll be branding the company and not the “products”.

Listen closely to your associates. Train, inspire and reward your performers as they strive to exceed client expectations.

The first word and essence of services marketing is indeed “service”. And when the product is a performance, nothing is more important than performance quality. Let's put it another way: A high quality, reliable professional service may be the best marketing device ever created. Loose, casual, unfocused, mediocre service is the quickest path to deserved oblivion.

Lou Lasday creates action-oriented Strategic Marketing Initiatives for Gulf Coast emerging companies. He has been a general partner of an Ad Age Top 100 marketing communications firm and regional president of the American Marketing Association. Lasday can be reached at {encode="[email protected]" title="[email protected]"}


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