A Professional Services Marketing Approach That Might Surprise You

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By Aaron Templer

It was a privilege to deliver a Professional Services Marketing course at the Chicago headquarters of the American Marketing Association recently, and I’m really stoked to boil it down for a presentation at a Michiana American Marketing Association event next week. Professional services continues to be an important market segment for Three Over Four, and as we all know: if you truly want to solidify a concept or area of expertise, understanding it well enough to convey it to others is great way to get there. These engagements are great opportunities to share value and also return it to our clients.

A funny thing happened along the way. I’ve come to realize that what drives effective professional services marketing isn’t marketing at all. It’s leadership.

That’s a weird claim. There are several reasons I can point to (and do) to back it up. Here’s the main one:

Since professional services are typically credence goods, a marketer must build trust ahead of anything else. And people don’t trust marketing.

Credence goods depend on a unique (and difficult to build) level of trust between the brand and its consumer. The benefits of credence goods are difficult to demonstrate up front, and consumers usually aren’t even sure they need it.

Actually, even after a credence good has been used, consumers are still left wondering about its value. How’s your college degree working for you? Is your career coach delivering? Did you really need that check-up with your doctor?

The fancy term for this is “information asymmetry” and it can create environments ripe for cheating. Add to the mix that we live in an age when consumers have all the power, and things really start stacking up against professional services marketers.

And since when is marketing and sales known for building trust anyway? By some accounts, marketers are trusted less than Congress. Ouch.

Advertising and Marketing ranks below US Congress for trust. That's a big hill for professional services marketing.
Advertising and Marketing ranks below US Congress for trust. That’s a big hill for professional services marketing.

I believe us marketers can learn more about building trust from the leadership discipline than we can from the marketing one. All it takes is a little willingness to see across silos. A leadership-centric approach to building trust can underpin your professional services marketing better than relying on your marketing acumen. (It might just transform it, actually.)

Take this article from Psychology Today. It’s a pretty good list of basic behaviors leaders practice to build trust. Imagine that the list was actually the 10 Guiding Principles for your professional services marketing plan, and how the tactics might flow from it. Take the first item, and tweak it a bit:

Demonstrate that we’re good at what we do.

Tactically, what can you imagine would fit this principle? How about content marketing? Or testimonials?

Take the fifth principle:

We want what’s best for our clients.

What kind of tactics might flow from that? A referral program for services outside what your firm offers? Free webinars or workshops? Suggested reading lists?

Or even number ten:

We see beyond ourselves.

Might that drive some marketing thinking in the area customer experience? Or value-based pricing that would set you apart from your competition?

I explore other areas where professional services marketers can look to leadership for guidance in the course and presentation. Like the need to convince a firm’s partners to take part in the brand management process as thought leaders and brand advocates. That’s leading up, an significant area of leadership a person can study. Or leading change when it’s time to rebrand: I’d argue that there are fewer changes in business as significant as a firm’s identity, values, and personality, something we ask marketing departments to lead.

In the end, all marketers are leaders and professional services marketers are uniquely so. Pulling a technique or two from the leadership discipline can transform a professional marketer’s approach to their job.

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