Have you spent time and money on marketing efforts that you thought would pay off, only to discover that your awareness and engagement are flat? Or, even worse, declining? And maybe you feel like you have no idea why?
It sucks, right?
These may seem like obvious questions, but are you marketing a product or a service? And do you know exactly who your ideal client is?
If your business provides a service rather than a tangible product, and your prospects are businesses rather than consumers, this blog post is for you.
Selling services to a business is quite different than selling products to consumers. As a result, your marketing strategy should also be different.
So look back at your last marketing strategy. Is it built specifically to sell a service to a business? If you answered yes to my very first question, then probably not.
The good news is, I have the answer for you.
You need to focus on B2B service marketing.
Just an FYI, this post is long, to be sure. But it covers so much essential information that you need to know in order to have a successful B2B service marketing campaign, so it’s worth it.
Feel free to read this in order or skip ahead to the sections that pique your interests.
- A Brief Introduction to B2B Service Marketing
- How Is B2B Service Marketing Different From Other Marketing?
- Difficulties of B2B Service Marketing
- Key Benefits of Service Marketing
- Which Service Marketing Tools Are Most Productive?
- 6 Essential Steps to Build a B2B Service Marketing Strategy
- Final Thoughts
Before I go any further, let me clarify that “B2B service marketing” is really just the process of marketing your service to other businesses.
Like traditional marketing, the methods you use to market your service could include promos, content marketing, and advertising.
And in B2B, you also get to do fun things like referral programs and in-person meetings.
Your business will undoubtedly have a varied approach to how you market your services compared to other businesses, although some principles remain relevant to all.
Ultimately, it’s all about that personal touch.
B2B service marketing has its own peculiarities and unique challenges.
After all, a B2B client could purchase a product without ever having a conversation with the company that sells it.
This is not always the case with intangible services – although in the digital world, there certainly are exceptions. You could buy a domain from GoDaddy.com without speaking to a company representative (I know because I’ve done it).
But a brand like yours, working in the B2B space, needs to rely on establishing and maintaining relationships with clients. It’s a key part of your marketing mix.
“My what?” you may be wondering.
Ever heard of the 4 P’s of Marketing? They are product, price, place, and promotion – this is known as the “marketing mix” and it helps you to better understand your product or service and what it can offer, ultimately influencing how you market what you’re selling.
But we’re talking B2B here, so we need more Ps.
I’ve seen up to 13 Ps. However, I’m going with a more modest number here.
The Seven Ps of Service Marketing include: product, price, place, promotion, people, process and physical evidence.
Experts have different interpretations of the various Ps. I don’t intend to cover these points in detail because the number of Ps you decide to leverage ultimately depends on your campaign goals.
Still, two of the Ps that are exclusive to service marketing deserve special attention.
People refers to the actual team members providing the service.
Because people function as the providers they become inseparable from the service, so including them in your marketing mix is essential.
Simply put, you can’t do what you do without your people.
Process helps you focus on the steps you have to follow when providing your service.
Ask yourself: from beginning to end, how can you standardize the process and still ensure quality in each and every step?
Clients can’t use their five senses to experience what a service has to offer them, which means your ability to persuade them to buy from you will rely more on rapport-building than great packaging.
But you also need to back up your relationships with a service that functions seamlessly… otherwise, you’ll have unhappy clients.
Let’s just jump right into this section.
Here are some of the obstacles you may need to consider in order for your B2B service marketing strategy to thrive.
Yup, that’s right. People. People are complicated.
B2B means you’re often not convincing just one individual of your ability to do a job well, you are facing several people directly involved in the decision-making process.
It’s both detailed and tricky.
You have to convince all those involved in the decision-making process that they need what you’re offering. The larger the business, the more people you will need to convince.
This many-headed client expects you to deliver a high-quality result because the smooth functioning of their business will partially depend on your service.
The larger the financial (and time, and human resources) investment to buy from you, the harder you need to work to convince them you’re worth the money.
Not to mention your service needs to actually back up your promise.
In other words, the more your prospect will invest in your service, the stronger and more appealing your presentation will have to be to justify the expense.
Never forget that your relationship with the client is the most important service you provide.
In a perfect world, all of your clients are always happy and want to keep working with you.
For every one lost client, two more are needed to recover the loss and experience some growth. But to be clear, not every client is a good fit.
When it comes to B2B services, your ability to retain clients deserves attention.
Because your clients are businesses. All businesses want to reduce their spending. As a result, they are constantly on the lookout for cost-effective services and can be far more demanding than individual clients.
Additionally, compared to business-to-consumer (B2C), you’re more likely to have fewer clients who net you more money. As a result, losing clients can have devastating effects on revenue.
You’re looking for quality here, not quantity. The quality of the relationship is paramount for retention.
When we consider these factors, it’s safe to say that having a stable client base that keeps coming back should be one of your primary goals.
Survival of the Fittest
“Don’t find customers for your products; find products for your customers.” – Seth Godin
It’s been said over and over again— technology is constantly changing and evolving. You can’t expect to stay relevant if you’re not evolving with it.
But you also must be sensitive to your clients’ changing needs.
What’s the next big opportunity that you can capitalize on? Will you trail blaze, improve someone else’s model, or even improve your own?
Part of being competitive in the market is also keeping an eye on the competition.
It’s more than just analyzing their offering. You have a lot to learn from both their successes and mistakes. Study their specific service marketing approach, and then figure out a way to do it better.
Realistically, you’re probably not the only brand operating in your niche. That means you require a solid service marketing strategy to reach your prospects and convince them that your service is the solution to a problem they may or may not know they have.
Reaching can be achieved through a number of approaches. The goal is to be heard by your target audience.
Convincing is when your unique selling proposition (USP) outshines the competition and converts your prospects to clients. How are you better than the alternative?
When executed well, the benefits of service marketing include the following:
Naturally, the most desirable outcome when offering a service is repeat business. Client retention, heck yeah!
Your fully satisfied client returns to you after the initial deal because they want you to perform your outstanding service again.
The probability of selling to an existing happy customer is up to 14x higher than the probability of selling to a new customer, saving you time, money, and resources.
And who doesn’t want to save time, money, and resources?
Another benefit of service marketing is the ability to impress your client so much with your superior service that they want to share your wonderful results with other departments or organizations.
Let’s face it, referrals are the Holy Grail. When clients recommend your service to others, they are doing your advertising for you.
With many happy clients, your pool of prospects can grow exponentially.
Let’s talk a little bit more about clients – for every one happy client (and his/her referrals), there is one unsatisfied client dishing out even more “anti-referrals.”
Phineas T. Barnum once said, “Bad publicity is good publicity.” To a point, this is true – especially for new businesses — because negative publicity can boost sales by stimulating awareness.
Social networking platforms such as Yelp, Facebook, and Instagram inevitably allow dissatisfied clients to publicly air grievances.
You can capitalize on this opportunity to improve the client’s experience and reverse negative opinions by following up with these clients, and doing so publicly.
This is not necessarily to say that you should hope for bad publicity.
But by responding to the unhappy client with kindness and respect, you’re putting the ball in their court and allowing everyone else to see that you’re making an effort to 1) resolve the issue, and, 2) salvage the relationship. Both of these factors could reduce the possibility of them going to a competitor.
Topping the Competition
This should be obvious – who doesn’t want to best the competition?
Organizational psychologist Adam Grant gave a TED Talk about “original thinkers,” and said, “According to a study that looked at over 50 product categories, those first to market – called movers – failed 47 percent of the time, while improvers failed only 8 percent of the time.”
So are you a mover or an improver?
Improvers have the luxury of learning from movers’ experience… kind of like the first born child blazing the way for siblings. Doesn’t quite seem fair for movers, does it?
If you are a mover though, not all is lost. You still have the opportunity to tweak your strategy and come out on top.
Many service marketing techniques and tools have been tried and tested over the years, each yielding different results.
Here are a few of the more popular service marketing tools, their benefits, and how effective they can be at improving your marketing strategies.
Think about who’s looking at your website. Do you know they are? What pages they’re looking at? How long they’re staying?
All the visitor statistics you want and need (and many you never knew existed) are available to you in Google Analytics as part of the new Google Marketing Platform.
From knowing how visitors are finding your website to testing how mobile-friendly it is, this tool can revolutionize your approach to marketing.
You will be able to find how, when, where from, and by whom your website is visited, enabling you to understand your audience and fine tune your website with relevant keywords and internal links that lead visitors through your sales funnel.
It’s basically like waving a magic wand and having a computer do all of the analytics work for you.
Work smarter, not harder, right?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an often talked about piece of an effective digital marketing strategy.
You can understand the importance of being top 10 in search engine results, and use the appropriate keywords to try and move in that direction. But what you may not realize is that SEO is based on way more than just your keywords, so you have to broaden your scope.
Google displays results by relevance, so it’s imperative to pay attention to the quality and engagement of your website content.
Ranking factors include the relevance of internal and inbound links, but also where and how you are mentioned in social signals, interviews, or guest posts that are published on external sites.
Ask yourself: when looking for a service provider (such as a digital marketing agency) would you scroll down through search results until the end of the 8th page?
Not likely, and neither will your prospects.
Your prospects are far more likely to visit one of the top three options on the first page of results. If that’s not you, then your competitors are probably getting the first stab at reaching and converting what could have been your prospects.
Relevance is king, and content is second in command.
Content marketing is the educational element of your marketing efforts – it is also an essential part of a successful digital marketing strategy.
Content has the ability to establish your expertise and authority within your niche.
In addition to establishing credibility, a well-planned content marketing strategy helps your prospects learn more about your service, how it can solve their problems and ultimately should drive them to buy.
Your content should be compelling and relevant and reiterate the benefits of your service. It can be delivered via white papers, webinars, coupons and free consultations.
Who doesn’t love cheap or even free stuff?
The idea of rewarding clients as part of your marketing strategy is not limited to B2C companies. Actually, this approach has been tried by several B2B service providers with positive results.
Considering people are 4x more likely to buy services or products recommended by word of mouth, this idea becomes all the more appealing.
Remember that referrals mean your client is kindly doing your work for you, and could be one of the most effective (and cost-effective) B2B service marketing tools.
As we talked about before, what you’re offering clients and prospective clients is not something tangible. Services rely heavily on positive reviews, whether delivered digitally or by word-of-mouth – the more you get, the more potential your business has to skyrocket.
Seems easy enough to implement these tactics, right?
Before you can effectively execute the elements of a marketing plan, you must lay a solid foundation for your strategy to work from.
1. Find Your Niche
As obvious as this might seem, you cannot afford to neglect this step. You must understand where your service stands in your niche at this point in time and how you’re differentiated from the competition. Ask yourself:
- “What service are you offering that you seem to think I need?”
- “Why do I need the service you’re offering?”
- “Why should I work with you instead of your competition?”
- “What’s in it for me?”
It’s important to know the answers to these questions before approaching prospects. By doing so, you’re less likely to waste resources chasing prospects that have no need for your services.
By determining who your prospect is, and narrowing your focus accordingly, you will be able to set goals that will help you perfect your digital marketing strategy.
2. Set SMART Goals
“Provide high-quality services to many great businesses.” Does that sound like a good goal?
Well, it isn’t.
Vague, ill-defined goals are a big problem.
Defining “high-quality” and “many” is paramount in this example – how else will you measure success?
To be able to examine your progress and how effective your marketing strategy is, you must first know where you want to go.
Enter SMART goals–that is, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely goals.
“Sell $100K worth of SEO services to 10-15 local businesses over the next 12 months,” is a much better goal, because it sets a clear expectation that your entire marketing plan will be based on.
SMART goals enable you to measure progress and reassess your approach if you find that you’re not hitting projected benchmarks.
3. Determine Your Budget
This is the cornerstone of any campaign strategy. You can’t go far with your endeavor if financial control isn’t part of the planning process.
As with any other decision, choosing your service marketing strategy will demand careful consideration before investing.
To make the most of any budget, limited or not, you will need to see clearly how much money you have available to commit to your strategy.
In doing so, you will be able to see how much money you can allot to a certain tool or technique and then select the ones you can afford to prioritize.
4. Understand Features vs. Benefits
“Stop interrupting what people are interested in and BE what people are interested in.” – Craig Davis
Here’s a question for you— why you are the best solution to your prospects’ problems?
Let’s pretend for a minute you offer cloud-based financial reporting software to medium-sized businesses.
A feature of your service is 24/7 customer service support.
The benefit of your 24/7 customer service support is peace of mind for the finance person (who is also the operations person, and sometimes also the receptionist) when the CEO requests a one-off report that doesn’t get run very often at 4 AM on a Wednesday. This finance person knows your customer service team has their back, enabling them to breathe easy, run the report with your assistance, and move on to other projects.
By touting the benefits of your service, you’re essentially telling your prospects why they should buy from you. Don’t rattle off a bunch of features and hope they’ll figure out the benefits – just tell them!
Prospects become clients when they see that you can solve their problem better than your competitors.
Being able to demonstrate clearly to your prospects why they need what you are offering – and why your service, in particular, provides the best solution – is half the battle won.
5. Build a Strong Digital Presence
Simply put, I am referring here to having a great website that is attractive, loads quickly, and is user-friendly.
This is the home for your content, and your content marketing strategy can’t be effective if your website is dated or hard to navigate.
Your website content sets the tone to educate and establish authority, and you can support your authority with well-placed statistics and testimonials if you have them.
Don’t forget about graphics, either. For example, a tech company’s website shouldn’t include photos featuring a beige tube monitor—it looks dated and irrelevant, eliminating credibility as a leader in their niche.
Social media is your other “physical” product, so, again, make sure that your graphics and content are relevant, interesting, and support your credibility.
There is little doubt that a prospect (especially those with a dedicated acquisitions department) will check not only your website but also your social media presence when evaluating their options for service providers.
6. Fish Where the Fish Are
If you are looking for a specific type of client, it’s unlikely that casting a wide net will get the results you’re looking for. As a result, Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is probably the best approach for you.
ABM enables you to take a proactive approach to finding leads.
Finding out where to focus your marketing requires understanding your prospects’ habits.
It just makes sense to build your presence in the environments where your prospects are doing their research: social media, forums, news publications, etc.
If, for instance, you are offering call center service, a compelling ad will be wasted on a Facebook group that is geared towards “solopreneurs” who will most certainly not use third-party services but instead would work one-on-one with their clients.
The lack of a robust service marketing strategy is a key factor separating an underachieving business from a successful business.
How can you prosper if you are not visible? How can you convert prospects if you aren’t persuasive in your presentation?
By building your marketing strategy with services and B2B in mind, you’ll experience greater ROI for your efforts.
This is a pretty big process – a full-service digital marketing agency can partner with your sales and marketing team to help build your B2B service marketing strategy, support you in execution, and recommend tactics for capturing and nurturing leads that will turn into clients.