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Standing Out From The Competition: Service-Business Marketing

“Standing Out From The Competition: Service-Business Marketing”

What should a company that deals in services do to get and retain clients?

OVERVIEW [top]Selling a service is about selling yourself. But in a marketplace saturated with service industry professionals, what can you do to stand out from the competitive crowd and carve a unique and profitable niche for your business?

There are several ways to set yourself apart. One of the most overlooked is to become an industry or local expert by writing articles for a local paper or talking on a local radio station. In a service business, your customer’s perception of value is critical. Increasing that value perception is the best way to focus your energy.

In the Quick Read you will find:

  • Ways to get noticed
  • How to generate positive public awareness for your service business.SOLUTION [top]

    Standing out from the competition with your service business requires that you provide a good service to begin with. Assuming your services are top quality and valued by your current customers, how can you grow and build your current customer base? Service businesses have low barriers to entry; there tends to be a field of competitors. Because of this, it is important to set your service business apart by increasing the public perception of its value.

    The following tips will get you on the road to standing out from your competition.

    1. Define your unique selling proposition, and emphasize it. If you don’t have a distinctive service, the only way you’ll be able to compete is by price cutting, and price wars are almost always lose-lose strategies.
    2. Charge for value. People are willing to pay for excellent service. Retailers offer bargains because they all sell similar products. In the service industry you want to set yourself apart by promoting quality and your unique expertise, and you need to price it accordingly. If you undervalue what you do, others will too. Few people would feel safe going to a doctor who had a sale on back surgeries. Charge competitively for the valuable service that you provide.
    3. Develop a brand. This gives consumers a tangible idea of what your company does. It communicates to them, through a logo or phrase, exactly what your service is. Major insurance companies have done this well with the symbol of being in good hands or the reference to being solid as a rock. Branding should also extend to your printed materials, letterhead, business cards and advertisements. These are tangible ways you can package your service and create a lasting, positive impression.
    4. Build lasting relationships with personal contact. It’s your job to make the clients feel important and confident that they’ve made the right decision bringing their business to you. Trust is a key component when it comes to marketing your service business. Keep in touch with clients. Set up periodic face-to-face meetings. Make phone calls. Send handwritten notes, thank you messages and postcards with business tips. Ask about their business but also find out what else is going on in their lives. Visit their offices. Know their staff. Don’t rely solely on e-mail or even phones for communication. Technology and automation can make the client feel disconnected or unimportant.
    5. Do your market research. Find out who your customers are by talking to them. Can they be categorized into market segments for target marketing, either by demographic characteristics or by the kinds of service they need and want? Focus groups aren’t always a strong option. You need to talk to people directly. The phone is usually the best tool for this type of discussion. Ask your clients for feedback on your service delivery. When forming a proposal for a new potential client, talk to others in the industry to find out about the business you are pitching to as well as the industry concerns, challenges and successes. This shows the potential clients that you’re already working for them and you care enough to learn who they are and how to help them. Few people do it, but the clients are flattered by those who do.
    6. Become the expert in the industry; Become known in the community. Establish your credibility by writing industry-related articles for the local business journal or a trade publication. Interview others and use their opinions as well as your own in these articles to cultivate a new client base. Teach classes to share part of your expertise with beginners. Financial planners hold workshops teaching people about investment principles, and their students often become clients because they’ve developed trust. If there is an issue being discussed in the editorial pages that you are passionate about, write a letter to the editor. Show the community that you have a particular professional expertise but that you are also personally concerned and involved in your community.


    With an eye on industry changes and an ability to identify the client needs and potential problems even before they crop up, Portland based Premier Press has become an industry leader in the printing business.

    “In the printing business you can save your customers a lot of time and money if you anticipate in advance all the possible things that can go wrong on a job,” said Jodi Krohn, vice president of the family owned business which claims annual revenues of about $16 million and 110 employees.

    But in a city with more printers than almost any other region of the country, it’s taken more than know how to stand out from the competition.

    Premier Press strives to build a brand and maintain relationships with clients by creating personal contact and referrals and giving away notepads and other relevant items that showcase Premier’s printing techniques. The personal approach is always the best, said Krohn, who — along with her two sisters — work to know each customer personally.

    Premier has also implemented a public relations program developed to showcase their expertise in the industry through articles and media relations management. And they guarantee their service.

    “Once we get a job in, we do what it takes to do the best work we can. We don’t spare any expense. We have more employees for the amount of revenue we generate than any other printer in the area to provide better, faster and more personal service. We are open around the clock to ensure deadlines and service. It’s all part of developing trust and letting them know that we care about our clients,” Krohn said.

    DO IT [top]

    1. Create a brand image for your business. Once you’ve defined your brand, take stock of what you’re already doing to create awareness for your service company and make a list of the areas you need to enhance. Evaluate your letterhead, logo, advertisements and business cards. Are they sharp, updated and professional? Pretend you are a client, and look critically at your workplace, your equipment, your staff and yourself. Does everything about your business inspire confidence in your professionalism and the quality of your service?
    2. Reinforce your image. Call the clients you haven’t spoken to in the last few weeks. Remind them of your specialty.
    3. Conduct some market research. Call fi
      ve clients and two industry professionals who you are not currently working with. Are your clients satisfied with your service? Say, “I want to improve my service. What should I work on first?” What big changes do the clients expect in the industry? Where do they need the most help? What is working well for them? Ask other industry professionals about the marketplace and challenges facing the industry. Be brief and friendly. Listen well. Use the information to tailor services directly to your clients.
    4. Write an article. Pinpoint a little known aspect of your service business or one that is misunderstood and write about it. Or provide information and guidance that you know is needed widely. Rely on your expertise as the main source and find a couple of other industry experts to reinforce what you’re saying. For example, if you are a public relations professional, write a piece about how companies can choose a public relations firm and send that article to your business journal. Selling insurance? Write about why premiums are rising and what people can do to protect themselves. A business consultant might draft an article about how to hire smarter. Pick your industry-related article topic, write the article and distribute to your regional business publications or industry trade journals.

    RESOURCES [top]


    Services Marketing: People, Technology, Strategy, 4th edition, by Christopher Lovelock (Prentice Hall, 2001). This MBA textbook discusses all the elements that make a service attractive and sticky.

    Internet Sites

    Follow Up with Style,” by Stanley I. Mason. MoreBusiness.com, 2000.

    10 Sure Fire Ways to Lose Clients Instantly,” by Marsha Lindquist. SalesResource.com, 2005.

    How to Ask for and Get the Fees You Deserve,” excerpted from Selling Your Services by Robert W. Bly (Henry Holt, 1992). Creative Latitude, 2005.

    Call Reluctance: The Dark Side of Professional Selling?” by Stephen M. Walsh. Southern Business Review 29:2 (Spring 2004) 23-31.

    Marketplace Wisdom and Consumer Experience: Redefining Sustainability,” by Kadirov Djavlonbek and Richard Varey. Journal of Research for Consumers 9 (2005).

    Simple Plan to Build and Market Service Agreements,” by Tom Grandy. Reeves Journal 81:5 (May 2001), 50 (2).

    Article Contributors

    Writer: Polly Campbell

    Jack Rubinger, President of Media Relations for Technology Companies, was consulted for this article.