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By Paul Dunham

Service provider business marketing efforts are moving online not because a few marketing consultants and strategists say they are—but because their clients and prospects are online and their online experiences are influencing all buying decisions.

According to a Online Retailers report in 2004, approximately 40% of adults with Internet access researched a potential product purchase online. Today Service provider business, focusing on everything from high-ticket items to sophisticated buyers, no longer wondered whether this is also true for business-to-business services.

So, in 2012, when polled approximately 200 SME’s (small-to-midsize business) decision makers to see whether they visited the Web sites of business-to-business companies before they made a purchase from them. About 98% of buyers said yes, approximately 80% stated that their online experience did, indeed, affect their purchasing decision.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

Service provider companies like, law, accounting, consulting, and professional services business even those that are beginning to embrace marketing as a part of their strategy seem woefully slow to embrace the march to the World Wide Web. Often when I have spoken to service-firm leaders, they have consistently provided semi-valid reasons for inaction:

  • Humbug: "We do not sell our services online. We are not a soft drink company. We do not need ads. We do not need to create a 'Web site experience'."

These people simply don't understand and do not believe... and do not want to.

  • Fix My Web Site: "Yes, we're getting serious about our marketing. Can you help us fix our site? We don't think it looks good."

This is the equivalent of saying, "We need to get serious about our marketing. Let's redesign and rewrite our brochure." Yes, it may be necessary. But it's not sufficient.

  • Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim... Retreat: "We have talked about doing more online. And then talked some more and more...."

The decision-making process in most SME service provider businesses is slower than in a £500 million pound manufacturing company. They simply can't get out of their own way and allow themselves to implement a serious change to their marketing or business-development initiatives. And because online efforts are so new to them, they retreat to less-confusing ways: buying some ads in the local business journal, sponsoring a trade show, redesigning their brochure.

Break the Chains

To break free of old patterns of behaviour and embrace new ways of acting, companies often need a significant or galvanising event: a merger, a massive drop in sales, a major technological advance in their industry.

When it comes to marketing online, it is unlikely that there will be some major event to set your company in a new direction. But don't be fooled. A sea change has happened, and it's up to you to take advantage of it before your competitors use it to take advantage of you.
Here are four arguments you can use to help your company break free of your marketing and decision-making quagmire and boldly enter the new world (or in fact not so new) of online marketing:

1. Your buyers are online

As stated earlier, services buyers are headed online to evaluate your services. But it's not just evaluation: your potential customers are reading your articles (or articles about you) on online trade magazines; they are attending Webinars to help them make business decisions; they are reading your technical or interest articles online; and more and more they are expecting to see online videos describing you, your services and the successes you've had with other clients.

2. Marketing is now a two-step process

Whatever offline marketing you are doing—from direct marketing to advertising to speaking to PR experts the first stop most buyers are making is your Web site.

When they get to your Web site, it can either draw them in further to your services and the promise of working with your firm, or it can confuse them—even upset them—and drive them away

So if you're wondering why your direct mail isn't working like it used to, or if your event attendance is down, take a look at your site. Is it helping or hurting your marketing efforts? Do you have effective call to action buttons ?

3. The time for marketing strategy has arrived

Even in the recent past, marketing at a service provider business consisted of having a nice brochure and handing it out when your rainmakers went on new business development meetings. So, as "let's hire a marketing person" became the call at many service firms over the last decade, the business leaders immediately set their new marketing hires on the tasks of "redoing the brochure, getting our name out there through ads, updating our proposal template, and fixing the Web site."

And so, these mostly junior people jump right in on the graphic design and ad placement process. Unfortunately, "the graphic design-as-marketing" parade has gone by. It simply isn't enough any more...

Marketing at service provider businesses should be approached not by asking "How should we do marketing," but "How do we want to grow? And what do we need to get done to reach these goals?" If you start here, you'll find you need your junior marketing people to execute the more difficult work of finding new customers, engaging them with marketing, helping to close new business and keeping existing customers happy and buying.

In 2012, this means you not only need to be online but also need to be doing the right things online for the right reasons: in other words— have a clear scientifically developed marketing strategy.

4. Brand and response marketing converge

The previous three arguments can be summed up as "If you don't do this, you're in trouble." But it's not all doom and gloom. Online marketing creates a wealth of opportunities for above-average growth and success for firms willing to take advantage of it.

One of the best opportunities is the potential of combining your direct response marketing and your brand marketing into one integrated experience. Online, your branding experience (what you want customers to think about you) and your direct-marketing tactics (what you want your customers to do as a result of your marketing) are converging.

For example, you place an online ad in a top online trade e-newsletter that your customers read regularly. This helps your brand recognition as tens of thousands of potential buyers see it.

But you don't just place the ad; you also make an offer for a free copy of report on a topic that's important to them. They go to your Web site and form an immediate impression about you. If it's good, they stay and download the report or article. If it's not good, they are gone in 15 seconds.

If your marketing strategist is doing the job right, the customer entered your Web site on a landing page specifically designed to boost the percentage of people who stay on the site and download the articles and reports.

Let's assume they download your article or report. Next week, they read it and find it interesting and informative so they go back to your site to download the other two that are also there. To get these other documents, they need to register on your site, which they're willing to do because they liked the first. They read the articles and reports and say to themselves, "This is very helpful. If we do need these services, I'm sure we should work with this company."

In thanking them for registering invite them to a Webinar (online seminar) that your firm is presenting or a free workshop. Then they attend, along with perhaps one or two colleagues.... And the enticement into your firm and its services continues.

If this were a case study, I would finish the story about how client meets firms, client falls in love with firm, client hires firm.

For our purposes here, it's not important exactly how it plays out; it is important that this is how it is working for many of your potential clients these days. They are online and looking for your services. Are you ready for them?

Why not visit my web site and find out more.

Added: 1st July 2012

Paul has over 30 years experience in the manufacturing industry. Combined with his knowledge of marketing practises he's an expert when it comes to marketing for manufacturers.


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