While your specific service and industry will dictate your marketing strategy and tactics, the recommendations in this blog post apply to most service businesses – for example, if you are a Realtor, Attorney, Contractor, Consultant, Dentist, Designer, Developer, Accountant, etc.
Before we get into the details, let’s first acknowledge the big difference between selling/marketing products and selling/marketing services. We feel obliged to mention this because we often see product marketing strategies applied to services and vice versa.
“Why” customers buy a product is usually very different from why they buy a service, and many marketing strategies and tactics are not applicable to both. For example, how we would plan a client’s product launch would be very different from how we would plan a new service offering.
If you are looking for more information on launching a new product, here is a detailed breakdown. On the other hand, if you own or work for a service company, this blog post is for you.
What exactly are your customers/Clients buying?
This may be an obvious question with an obvious answer, but an impulse answer is often wrong. For example, an accountant would typically answer this question with, “Our customers typically need help with bookkeeping and taxes.” These are services that an accounting firm offers, but they are not the main reason a customer hires an accounting firm. Let’s break down these services and more important reasons why a customer hires an accounting firm.
Most small business owners hate doing bookkeeping, so as soon as they can afford a bookkeeper or an accountant, they will offload that work. Therefore, your bookkeeping process is not as important to a customer as your commitment to a) take this task off their hands and b) keep the books in order. Thus, don’t spend too much time selling/marketing your process.
Now, let’s look at taxes. Most business owners can file their own taxes. Software like TurboTax has everything you need to file business taxes, costing a fraction of what an account would charge, so why are most small businesses using accountants and not software to file their taxes? Because they have a few fears/worries that an accountant helps alleviate. For example, the fear of making a mistake, the fear of overplaying, the fear of getting audited, and the fear of not knowing the latest tax code changes.
These are all fears that an accountant or a CPA will help alleviate and why many small businesses and startups choose to hire experts; Therefore, your marketing materials should focus on alleviating this fear.
This is just one example, but the concept is the same irrespective of your service or industry.
Promoting your process is often a mistake because most customers are much more interested in the outcome.
It’s all about the desired outcome
This is one of the most important concepts that every service firm/business should grasp. You are in the business of marketing and selling the desired outcome (not services). Here are a few examples:
- Digital Agency (e.g., don’t sell your website development skills, sell an online lead generation channel (i.e., website)
- Law Firm (e.g., don’t sell your ability to create a “business entity,” sell the entrepreneurial dream)
- Consulting Firm (e.g., don’t sell your credentials, sell a transformation the client is looking for)
- Real Estate Firm (e.g., don’t sell an investment property, sell the financial freedom that real estate investing can provide)
- Fitness coach (e.g., don’t sell your program, sell the body transformation it produces)
You are in the business of selling the desired outcome. Everything else (experience, expertise, process, etc.) supports the desired outcome and your ability to deliver it.
Your customer will want to know that you are qualified, have the experience, and maintain a good process, but these are not the core reasons why most customers buy a service. Instead, it’s all about the desired outcome and if you can help them to reach it.
Should you guarantee the desired outcome?
If the best way to promote your service is to emphasize the desired outcome, the next logical question is, can you and should you guarantee it? As a service business, you have certain things in your control and things that are not. Therefore, it’s impossible to guarantee all desired outcomes.
However, this is not an excuse to take zero responsibility for the outcome. The attitude of “We don’t have control over our customers/clients, so we are off the hook” will put your business out of business.
You have to take responsibility for the outcome! If you remember anything from this blog post, this should be it. Irrespective of your service, or industry, you have to take some responsibility for the outcome. For example, a personal trainer can’t guarantee a six-pack because they can’t control their client’s diet, but they can ensure their clients will be healthier, fitter, and feel much better after three months.
Do you know the real desired outcome? Don’t Assume
Nailing down the desired outcome can be tricky because a) different people/businesses want different outcomes, and b) what a client/customer tells you is their desired outcome is not always accurate.
Let’s look at the first point. A realtor may have two clients looking to buy in the same city and with the same budget but with two very different desired outcomes. For example, the first client is worried about retirement, so she is looking to invest in real estate as her retirement strategy. The second client is an active investor looking to make a short-term profit.
These are two very different outcomes, so having one marketing campaign or a message targeting both would be a mistake. The first client doesn’t care about the potential income today. They care about their real estate portfolio’s income in 30 years. The second client needs short-term results and wants to generate a quick profit.
This is precisely why segmenting your customers is very important. Thus, you should never create marketing and advertising campaigns that target all customer types. Putting all your customers in the same basket (e.g., Newsletter, Google Ads, etc.) is an excellent recipe for mediocre results.
A customer may lie to you (and that’s ok)
In most cases, if you listen, your customers will tell you their desired outcome. However, that’s not always the case. Often, a customer will tell you their desired outcome, but they consciously or subconsciously conceal the true desired outcome.
Why would a customer/client conceal the real desired outcome? Because your customer/client may not want to express their real reason to you. Good salespeople understand this very well because they come across this situation often.
For example, if you ask a typical Equinox member (luxury fitness club) why they joined Equinox, they may answer your question with a simple “I am just trying to get back in shape.” And if we ask them, “Why Equinox vs. other gyms? “Because it’s clean, great equipment, excellent trainers, and spa facilities.”
These are all legitimate reasons, but why are they willing to pay 3 to 5 times more (compared to a regular Gym) to get back in shape? Also, it’s no secret that the proximity to the Gym is a great predictor of how frequently a person will visit a Gym – the further the Gym is, the less often you will go. So Equinox members are paying up to five times more and their chances of getting “back in shape” are lower because Equinox locations are typically further.
So why is Equinox thriving? Because Equinox is not in the business of selling a gym membership, they are in the business of selling luxury, status, and exclusivity. The tagline on Equinox’s website is pretty clear about this. “Equinox Luxury Fitness Club – It’s Not Fitness, It’s Life.”
Uncovering your customer’s desired outcome is extremely important because you cannot create an effective marketing campaign and message without it.
Emotion vs. Logic
Another vital aspect you must consider is that many customers buy on “emotion” and use “logic” to justify the purchase. Therefore, promoting emotional outcomes will typically perform better than logical outcomes.
For example, the insurance industry is very good at selling fear. The amusement park at selling joy. The luxury industry at selling prestige and status, and so on.
Furthermore, marketing campaigns that target emotions typically produce a better return on investment because they downplay the importance of cost (logic). For example, focusing on the price or value often attracts price-conscious customers looking for deals, which typically means a lower profit margin for the business.
We are not suggesting you completely ignore benefits that appeal to someone’s logical side of the brain, but focusing most of your marketing material on “logic” would be a mistake.
The service you offer should never be the primary focus of your marketing materials. Instead, focus on the desired outcome/result.
Of course, your services, experience, and reputation all play an important part in converting a prospect into a customer. Nevertheless, these are often the reasons to justify a purchase, not the primary driver on why someone hired you.
The primary driver is the desired outcome (conscious or subconscious), so keep that in mind whenever you sit down to plan your next marketing campaign.