Tactics and Tips for Marketing B2B Services
By Robert W. Bly

The best piece of advice I ever got on marketing services was one word from the head of an IT consulting firm who said: Productize.

Products are tangible and services are intangibles. 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 5 or 6 problems over and over again. Package these as consulting products. For instance, one of my clients offers a service where he helps facilitate IT retrospectives, a technique used in IT project management. Instead of just offering consulting which could include retrospective, 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 that problem. 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 e-mail and other promotions, can be written as narrative paragraphs or in bullets (you can of course combine the two). In my descriptions of my training programs, I have a headline (the course title), a paragraph or two explaining how the reader will benefit by taking the program, followed by 5 to 6 or so bullets listing the contents of the seminar.

In many service businesses, there is a need to present your services and also 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 free time and advice in the pursuit of new contracts, so why not treat this as a marketing tool? Call it a free consultation, free evaluation, or free needs assessment and assign a dollar value to it. This way, the client perceives that he is getting something of value before he even hired you.

Services with any degree of complexity and a significant price tag cannot generally be sold with one-step direct marketing. Exceptions? Of course. Therefore, most marketing of services is two-step 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, white paper, 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, e-mail, 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 web site 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 software offer, so without the soft offer, these valuable leads would be lost.

Lead nurturing is an old concept with a new name. As a rule of thumb, and this varies widely from marketer to marketer, ten 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, thirty percent or more will turn into sales.

Lead nurturing means continuing to market to a prospect 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, we talked about lead nurturing but seldom followed through because it was too cumbersome, labor-intensive, and expensive. The Internet has eliminated these obstacles to lead nurturing. At the very least, the prospect is added, with her permission, to your opt-in e-list, so she received either sporadic or regular e-mails from you. Several steps up from that is a customer relationship management system that distributes e-mails according to trigger events such as a birthday or transaction (e.g., download of a white paper).

Your company web site should be designed to provide visitors with what they need to know to make a decision about using your services. This can include services offered, benefits, your client list, client testimonials, bios of principals, and an About the company page.

Two questions service providers hear a lot from prospects is How do you work? and What is your process? This should be written out as a step-by-step process 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 web site 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 break-even 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 web site should present information you want him to know - content that would make him look more favorably upon hiring you. This might include a press room, articles page, awards page, white paper library, videos, audios ... anything that shows off your accomplishments, credentials, and advantages.

About the author:
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 75 books including The White Paper Marketing Handbook (Racom). You can find him on the Web at www.bly.com, or e-mail him at rwbly@bly.com, or phone 201-385-1220.