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Why Marketing for Services Sucks



One of the greatest challenges of doing business in a “knowledge economy” is selling what is intangible.

If you are a coach, a consultant, an alternative health
practitioner, or any other business owner who is selling a service,

If you are a coach, a consultant, an alternative health practitioner, or any other business owner who is selling a service,, you know how difficult it is to come up with an effective message that gets across why someone should hire you.

Here’s a typical situation:

I had a client,Susan, who called herself an “Mind Body Therapist.” She had years of training in yoga, Chinese medicine, and homeopathy and had helped many of her clients make remarkable progress.

When I asked this client who her “ideal client” was she replied,

“My ideal client is an executive woman who feels stuck and yearns to fully express her authentic self.”

Now, I’m guessing may be  executive women in the world who wake up in the morning thinking “I feel stuck and I wish I could more fully express my authentic self.”

But I couldn’t think of a single person fitting that description. Well, maybe Oprah.

If you’re a small business providing a service and this is how you talk about your clients, you will struggle to build your business.

Taking a Closer Look at the Real Problem

The dilemma, business owners like Susan face is a challenging one:

When you have a services business, you are usually selling an experience and experiences are very difficult to describe in concrete ways.

Ideally, of course, your marketing speaks to the results your clients and customers get when they work with you. And if you have quantifiable results, fantastic!

But it can take a long time–weeks, even months–for results to appear and results are not a sure thing. For example, can a massage therapist guarantee that her client’s lower back pain will go away after six weeks of treatment?

Of course not!

Why Marketing for Service-based Businesses Tends to Suck

When business owners like Susan need to develop marketing materials but can’t speak directly to results what happens?

Well, they look for other ways to articulate the value they provide. Typically they will:

  • Talk about the particular process they use to help customers. The financial planner will tell you about the methodology they use to produce a higher return. The coach will tell you that they use archetypes and the Integrity Coaching Model.
  • Explain their certifications and education.
  • Provide a long list of features hoping their prospects will somehow be able to figure out why those features are useful
  • Talk about results in vague, general terms that sound good but have no real substance for their prospects.

There’s nothing wrong with process and methodology. Often the process or methodologies or systems we use help us differentiate what we do from what our competitors do.

And even though we can’t guarantee results, knowing our process has a positive track record because lots of practitioners have gotten good results, reassures us that our service is valuable.

The problem is that prospects don’t want to hear about your processes or certifications. They just want to know you can help them.

Keys to Marketing Your Services so Prospects Say “Yes!”

#1. Speak to Concrete Ways Problems Show Up in Your Customer’s Everyday Life

Using Susan as an example, her clients don’t show up complaining that their authentic selves aren’t fully expressed. What do they complain about?

  • They pulled off a miracle at work and their boss took the credit
  • Their husbands don’t help out enough with housework
  • They don’t want to spend an upcoming vacation visiting their family but feel guilty doing something different

Are these problems someone would talk about over coffee? Yes. And these are the problems Susan needs to address.

#2 Use Your Customer’s Words

This is where a lot of business owners get in trouble. They talk about the problem from their perspective using their language.

As an expert, you, the business owner have lots of knowledge and experience helping clients. The perspective of an expert who has “seen it all” is completely different from the perspective of the client who is overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to begin.

If you need to, interview a few of your clients and ask them,

“What was going on that you wanted my help with?” and

“What was it like for you struggling in that situation?” and

“What did you try before to fix the problem?”

#3 Use Your Customer’s Words to Explain What it’s Like to Work with You

Rather than try to explain the results in vague, general terms ask your clients for specifics:

“What made you decide to contact us?”

“What was it like for you to work with us?”

“How was working with us different from the other solutions you tried?”

“How has your situation changed?”

#4 Write a Short Success Story

If you’ve asked your customer all the questions in #2 and #3 you have a success story you can use in your marketing that will explain to your audience exactly what they want to know:

Can you help someone like me with this problem?

Here’s how Susan could use a story in her marketing:

I help dedicated executive women who want to be fully recognized for their contributions at work.

Here’s what one client had to say:

When I called Susan I was just about to quit my job as Controller for a small family-owned business. I’d been with this company for five years and when an opportunity for a promotion opened up, I was the best choice.

When I heard the CEO was looking at hiring someone from another company for the position, I was furious and began looking for a new job.

Fortunately, I had a friend who suggested I first talk to Susan. That she might be able to help me make a case to be promoted.

When I called Susan and explained my situation, I felt like she understood exactly what I was going through. She didn’t jump in and give me a lot of advice. She asked me a lot of questions about my work and why I had gone into corporate finance to begin with.

I realized I was doing the work I was doing because I loved the opportunity to see in a very direct way how I was helping a company get to the next level. This was something I had gotten to do with my current employer.

Realizing why I enjoyed my work helped me approach the CEO and explain why the promotion was important. For me to continue working with them, I needed to be in a position that would allow me to play a part in the next major move forward for the company. I wouldn’t be able to do that in my current job.

The CEO was honest with me. He said he had been looking outside the company because he was concerned that I didn’t have the experience he thought was needed. But he said he would hate to lose me.

He offered a compromise in which they would hire a consultant who would mentor me in my promoted position. In this way I would get the support I needed to handle my new responsibilities.”

This concrete statement of how she helps clients followed by a story that explains the experience is so much more effective than vague, jargon-laden phrases.

Bottom Line

Marketing for small service businesses sucks because it’s challenging for owners to explain why their services are so valuable.

To explain the value of what they offer, they focus on the processes they use, their education and certifications, and provide exhaustive features lists. Although this may impress other experts in their fields, it doesn’t help their prospects who just want to get help for their problem.

Instead, use concrete examples in the customer’s own words from the customer’s perspective to explain who you work with and the problems you solve. Add use customer success  stories to help prospects understand why your customers love working with you.