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Selling Your Services

“Yes, service is the heart of service marketing. But the heart alone cannot keep a service alive. Marketing is the brains of service marketing. If the brains fail, the heart will soon follow. “ ~ Harry Beckwith, Selling the Invisible

What kind of business are you in? I have spoken before of the fact that McDonald’s may not be in the burger business, but rather the real estate business because they own some of the most valuable real estate around the world. Is Nike in the shoe business or the service business? They provide a service by designing, manufacturing, and marketing athletic shoes. Am I in the coaching business? I actually think I am in the relationship business. By assisting clients to improve their relationship with self, God and others, their businesses prosper, their families are happier, and they are able to reach their goals while maintaining a sense of peace as opposed to panic. This relationship business (coaching) is an intangible, so how do I ‘sell’ this concept or service? I don’t actually fancy that word ‘sell’ at all and certainly don’t see myself as a saleswoman. Yet actually we all are salespersons.

Most people don’t buy a product, they buy the reputation of the person making the product or the expertness of the person selling or presenting the product. Many people buy a particular brand of car because of the intangible service and maintenance agreement that comes with that car. I drive a Mercedes not because of the prestige that come with the car, but because it is one of the safest cars on the road (and I think I need all the help I can get). Is Mercedes in the business of providing safety? Is Southwest Airlines in the transportation business or in the people business? Providing a service to people and building relationships with their no-frills policy of getting you where you want to go on time all the while creating a somewhat corny yet friendly ‘down-home’ atmosphere. People are paying for the no-frills yet reliable and friendly service.

In his best selling book , Selling the Invisible, Harry Beckwith talks about how 80% of us are marketing services and only 20% are actually marketing products. And those of us who recognize we are really marketing service are more focused on relationships and less on benefits and features. Savvy marketers are learning more about the seemingly irrational ways people think and act and are focusing more on getting to a “better reality” while recognizing the powerful influence of people’s perceptions. Perhaps what they are learning most is that in this powerfully complex world what works best today is simplicity.

As for as the coaching profession I have noticed a profound difference of perception as people begin to be educated as to what coaching actually is. When I first started coaching seven years ago I noticed that no one wanted any one to know they had coach - it was like having a therapist and needed to be kept secret. Then I saw a different reason for wanting to keep it a secret emerge: if the other people in the their business knew someone had a coach, then they might also get one and then Person # 1 wouldn’t have that competitive advantage anymore. Today I see that those who have a coach, share openly as if, “Well doesn’t everyone have a coach?” Much of this is about those of us in the business and particularly Thomas Leonard educating the public as to what we do and who we are. Secondly the profession has now been around long enough that the word is getting out, “Coaching works.”

So, where does one begin?

  • The first order of business: Yes, it’s important to get your name out there, but before you write that ad, rent a list, send out that press release or spend thousands on a web site, make sure your service is not good, but great! Unfortunately most of us think we are better than we are and that the services we offer are better than they actually are.

  • Stop making excuses: If you assume your service is bad, you will be forced to improve.

  • Pay attention to what works for your industry. I once had a great looking ad in a local magazine- glossy, well designed (and costly). But it brought me no business- only a few complimentary remarks from friends and business associates. On the other hand, writing articles and giving talks that show ‘who’ I am and my expertise in certain areas have proven to be much more beneficial and less costly. Why? An ad has difficulty in getting across what coaching is about, yet it works great for my friend who owns a carpet cleaning service. Pay attention to where your dollars and time is best spent.

  • Hello out there — standards have gone up! People are less willing to tolerate what they once did. If you don’t do a good job, they will go elsewhere. McDonald’s (once upon a time, it may not hold true today) raised our expectations of how fast ‘fast food’ could be and how clean rest rooms could be. Starbucks raised our expectations of how good a cup of coffee could taste and we didn’t have to brew it ourselves. Federal Express changed our expectations on overnight delivery. Kinko’s raised the bar on copying and printing services 24 hours a day, practically around the world. How do your standards compare to those in your industry?

  • Whether verbal or in print, if you can’t effectively articulate what you do, don’t expect others to get it. Work on your service until you know what you have to offer and know it well.

  • Once you know your service is a good - Forget about you and focus on the client. The more value you offer the client that fits in with their priorities, the more likely you are to get the business. I once had a client in another time zone, who worked a full time job and shared custody of her two small daughters meaning that they lived with her every other week. We first established that we were a good fit as far as coach and client. Then just by offering her the option of scheduling our coaching calls to occur on the weeks she didn’t have the distraction of her young children and making the sessions longer, we arrived at workable solution. My understanding that she had enough on her plate at the moment and my being willing to accommodate “her plate” made her happy and I had the business. Great client by the way!

As Selling the Invisible points out, marketing battles are not waged in the market but in the minds of the prospects. Understanding how people think helps you understand how to market and sell. Do you really know what you’re selling and who you’re selling to?

Copyright 2002 Judy Irving.


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