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Selling the Intangible: How to Effectively Market a Service-Based Business

September 22, 2008
By Sheryl Batchelder


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Selling the intangible: How to effectively market a service-based business
In some respects, selling a
product is easy. You have an item you can show and demonstrate to
people when in person, and something you can take photos of for your
marketing pieces.

sherylbatchelderIn some respects, selling a product is easy. You have an item you can show and demonstrate to people when in person, and something you can take photos of for your marketing pieces. Even more important, your prospects can use multiple senses to make a buying decision. For example, they can hear the hum of the car’s engine…they can see the beautiful and vibrant color of the artwork…they can touch the clothing’s fabric…they can smell the designer perfume…they can taste the delicious baked goods. You have numerous ways to make the product “real” for your prospects.

    Selling services, however, is a completely different animal. You don’t have an item to show people, and there’s nothing to photograph for your marketing pieces. As such, it’s often more difficult to sell a service. But difficult does not mean impossible. You simply have to be very clear and extremely creative in your marketing packages so your prospects take notice and understand what they’re buying. That’s why so many service-based companies are now going the extra mile with such things as leather presentation binders, gold embossed and natural fiber proposal folders, and other touches that help create marketing materials that truly stand out.


    The more high-end your services are, the more that people expect your marketing materials to be unique and ornate. In such cases, it’s all about the presentation materials, whether it’s a pre-sale proposal package (such as an RFP) or a post-sale document folder (such as closing documents for a vacation ownership program). In these cases, your materials are not just marketing pieces; they’re who you are. When you’re selling a service, you’re really branding your company or the experience the service will give your prospect.

    The fact is that with the right marketing package, you can have your prospects saying “yes” to your service at the first hello. In other words, you want your clients to be so impressed with your marketing materials that they say, “As soon as I received your package I knew I would do business with you.” Following are the keys to making that happen.

1.  Decide on the look or feel you want to convey to your prospects.

    Every company has an image it wants to portray, including yours. Before you can design any marketing piece, you need to be clear on that image. Many companies have a rough idea of the look or feel they want their marketing pieces to convey, but they’re not confident that their image is correct or even marketable. If you are unsure what your company’s image is or how strong it is, then hire the services of marketing professional who truly understands your vision and who can help you articulate it.

    Why is pinpointing an image often so difficult? Because the world is changing so fast. Every business is constantly evolving. As such, it’s difficult to figure out where you are currently, especially when you’re so close to it. And since companies are always trying to reinvent themselves, defining an image isn’t something you do only once. Chances are your company is always changing, and that means you’ll have to change your marketing pieces and the feeling they convey every two to three years, if not sooner.

2.  Do your research.
    Be sure you find a manufacturing or printing partner that is willing to work outside of the box. Since you’re selling a service, you can’t have run of the mill marketing pieces or packaging. But many manufacturers will only do “standard” things. So even if you design a wonderful and creative package, your manufacturer may not be able to create it. They may ask you to compromise material, size, or quality. That’s why you need to find a company that’s willing to take chances and try something different and creative.

    In the process, also look for a marketing piece manufacturer who will educate you on what will and will not work. Many times a company will go to a manufacturer with a beautifully designed marketing package that is simply not functional. For example, a fine-dining restaurant wanted their menus printed on wallpaper rather than standard paper. While using wallpaper instead of paper is a growing trend, this restaurant chose wallpaper that was a natural material, which meant it would show oil and grease—not a good choice for a restaurant. The restaurant spent $300,000 printing their menus. Two weeks into the restaurant’s operations, the menus did not hold up and had to be redone. It was a costly mistake that they could have easily avoided had they done their research.

    Whenever possible, work with a manufacturer during the design phase and listen carefully to their creative and practical advice. Many service-based companies are creating marketing pieces out of materials that have never been used before, such as wallpaper, copper, aluminum, and hand-stitched leather, just to name a few. Some materials work and some don’t. It all depends on the material and the intended use. You certainly don’t want to find out your idea won’t work after it’s created.
3.  Spend the money on a prototype.
    When you have a marketing piece that is complex or using a unique material, you definitely want a prototype. If you don’t spend the money on a prototype, you may end up with a final product that is not exactly what you wanted. Depending on your marketing piece’s complexity and design time involved, your prototype can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, but it’s money well spent. You want to eliminate all surprises and know what your final product will look and feel like. After all, your marketing piece is your company’s image and your prospect’s first experience with you—make it a good one.

Creativity = Profits
    In today’s marketplace, competition is fierce. Many companies offer similar services for similar pricing, which is why you need an immediate edge over the competition. Your marketing pieces and packaging are the perfect way to set your company above the crowd. In fact, if everything else is equal, your prospects will go with the company who has the best image—and they’ll make that decision based on the marketing items you send them. So break the mold and get creative. Use the new materials and packaging options available. Do what you must to set your services ahead of the pack. When it comes to selling services, a little creativity goes a long way to positively impacting your company’s bottom line.

Sheryl Batchelder is an expert who specializes in bringing branding ideas to life. Her company, NIS Print, offers a wide range of prototyping, print and production services to match each client’s needs. NIS partners with companies such as Loews Hotel, Darden Restaurant Group and Marriott Vacation Club to produce marketing materials, specialty binders and portfolios that enhance brand recognition. To find out how Sheryl can help your company, call 407-423-7575 or visit