Successfully Sell Your Services Over the Internet

by Teresita Dabrieo and Peter Meyer, for Potentials in Marketing

Can you use Internet and Web sites to market and sell services? Whether you are marketing professional services for a major corporation or operate a one-person consulting practice, the Net can be a valuable tool for you. In this article, we will lay out the results of a year of research and trials. You will see that a few key strategies can take you from simply doing well to getting a great return on your investment.

This advice may be non-traditional, but we can tell you from trials in that these methods work! So use them and, as we say on the Internet, assimilate them. You may be amazed at the resulting return on your time and marketing dollars!

The Internet shares many truths with more traditional marketing. Start with the fact that selling services is not the same as selling products. This is especially true when it comes to the sale of high-ticket intangibles. Many of the marketing and sales techniques you see on line today follow the model of selling low end, commodity products at low prices. Netizens expect to find low value at a low price. If you have a high value service or product that you want differentiated, you will have to do things differently yourself.

Remember the USP!

Your on line prospect expects to be treated as an individual, so use techniques to focus tightly on your client. The Universal Selling Proposition (USP) is one of your most important tools.(A USP is the phrase or tag line that sets you apart from the rest of the suppliers while it explains what you offer.) Unfortunately, most tag lines and USPs focus on what the product or service does for the producer, not for the customer. This sells well to clients of advertising firms, but it does poorly for you and your business on line.

Also, plan on Internet readers being impatient. Why? Because your potential customer is glancing over a long list of messages, skimming 50 E-mail messages in minutes or "surfing" from Web site to Web site. Internet users quickly get in the habit of skimming over megabytes of information in seconds. They give you only a second or two to differentiate your service. To sell to that prospect, you must help him or her want to stop and look at your message. Creating an image or USP by talking about you or your product is not as attractive or powerful as talking about your customer and his or her problems.

To create a USP that really works, structure it around a problem and then the solution. The Net is a personable environment. Act as though you were talking to a friend - start with "You know how . . . ." and then describe the problem in a few words. Then resolve it with "Well, we help you to . . . ." and describe what your prospect gets. Not what he or she does, or what you do. Describe what he or she will get from your service.

Write as though you were talking, and scrutinize it by saying your USP out loud. Then write it out so that you could say the whole thing to a stranger in an elevator between floors. If it sounds good, and takes less than 3 seconds, see if you can get the essence to fit into an E-mail subject line.

If you are using a Web home page, remember that it takes time to display. If you have a great USP, but it does not display in three seconds at 14.4 Kbps on America Online, redo your page so that it does!

Sell Value by Giving Value Away!

You are an advocate of delivering value to your clients. On the Internet, producing value - as your prospects perceive it - is even more critical. Readers on line expect to find material of low value, and to pay accordingly. You can avoid that by making sure that what you do is unique and truly valuable to your target segment of Internet users.

That target market is probably there. Go looking for your prospects in news groups. There are news groups available on Internet for everything from computer consulting to dustbunnies. Look for the ones that prospects are likely to join. Most of the time they will show up in groups that focus on their avocation, not their title. When you find groups your prospects subscribe to, you can start to deliver value to them on line.

You want to deliver knowledge without arrogance. To go around the Net saying "I am a great problem solver" is good for attracting flame mail, but not for attracting high margin business.

The simplest and most effective way for you to solve this problem is the trusty free report. When you offer a white paper for free it can show the depth of your knowledge without you having to be pompous about it. Plus, the free report is something you can publicize on the Net. You can be seen as a service provider instead of a "salesdroid." With this group of value-hungry readers, you can really show your prospective clients:

… The depth of your knowledge,

… The results you have helped others obtain, and

… The attractive benefits of working with you and your firm.

To create that report, look at your USP as we describe on page (x). Remember, the USP describes a problem that your prospect is concerned about. If you can solve that problem, tell your readers how each of them can solve it themselves. Write it up in a short (less than 2000 words) report that can be sent as Email and posted at a Web site. Then use the news groups to let your prospects know they can get it. Do not be afraid to give away your secrets. Most people will not want to do what you advise without some assistance, so they are likely to turn to you for help.

On line, do not assume you have the right to be read or respected. Plan to earn that right by delivering value as your prospect sees it.

Develop Processes and Systems!

Imagine that you have 5,000 solid prospects who could be well-paying, fun-to-work-with people who want your firm to work with them. Now imagine that they all want you to pay them a sales call at the same time. The good news is you have them, the bad is that you have to get back to them right away. Without a really solid set of processes and systems you will go through pain when you should be enjoying success.

Just like your systems for leads, new customer acquisition, and customer retainment, you need the same things for electronic commerce. Unlike a lead from a trade show, a lead from the Internet has a much shorter life. Your prospect will forget what they saw at a Web site or on line sooner than a demonstration they saw at a trade show. People change E-mail addresses very quickly. When you get leads over the net, you need to apply tools to respond within a business day.

You want to retain these prospects, so your system should include some way to keep in electronic contact with surfers. It might be an offer to add the reader to an electronic newsletter (make it text based) or to send periodic reports and updates that focus on things of value to your prospect. Don't wait until you or your sales team has the time to follow up; create an ongoing process that keeps your prospect warm!

Use Appropriate Technology for Web Pages.

You will always have the choice between the latest technology and something a few months old. Netscape will generate new versions of Web browser almost monthly, and you can get and use them the next day. Remember however that your readers may not be as advanced. If you use the latest browser tools, your best ideas may become unavailable to your prospects!

For instance, if you design around streaming (a new and exciting design tool) you may be doing the latest thing. However your work may be lost to the more than 10,000,000 America Online, Prodigy, CompuServe, and Unix users without access to the tool. Don't focus on tools. Remember that content is more important than being cool.

The one thing to keep in mind about Web sites is that they are passive. They just sit there like a spider's web, waiting for customers to come to them. Always supplement Web sites with an outgoing electronic campaign to your prospects. Only a few of them are going to find you, you need to find them first.

Become Real!

People like to buy from people even if they cannot see them. You ask your telemarketers to smile when they talk to your prospects; make your electronic messages and Web site personable as well. For your Internet prospects, on-line relationships are as real to face. When marketing or selling your services over the Internet, take the time to craft ways for prospects to get to know you on line.

You must let people get to know who you are and what you bring to the table. Some of the ideas that have worked well on a Web site are: a philosophy page, a picture, articles about you, testimonials, voice clips. However, do not fall into the trap of what one friend calls, "Enough about you, let's get back to me." Instead, make sure that each of your personality points clearly ties back to what your customer will receive from you.

You can really get to know people as individuals over the Internet, and they can get to know you and why they want to work with you. If you hone your USP to focus on the prospect, provide value to him or her, demonstrate the wealth of knowledge you have, use the appropriate tools, have systems to handle client care, and talk about your prospects and their needs, you will find that you can market and then sell professional and consulting services quickly and profitably.

Sidebar - 5 Steps to More Effective Electronic Marketing of Services

Marketing services over electronic networks is not quite the same as most product marketing. There are some key steps you want to make sure that you follow in your electronic marketing and sales program for services.

1 - Tailor your USP. Make sure that your Universal Selling Proposition (USP) is both very short and totally focused on the effect that your client will get from working with you. Resist the temptation to talk about yourself, your company, and your product.

2 - Give Value Away. Internet prospects are likely to be used to looking at value before image. The best way to create an image of value is to deliver it. Consider providing a free report that shows how to resolve a critical problem. Do not be afraid to give away your secrets.

3 - Make Sure You Have the Right Systems. Internet prospects expect much faster turnaround than traditional prospects. Make sure you can respond quickly to volumes, and that you have a system to keep in touch with your customers and near customers.

4 - Put Effect Ahead of Technology. Just because the latest technology is available to you does not mean that it is available to your clients. Keep far enough behind the technology curve that you are with your customers. Remember that content is more important than being cool.

5 - Become Real. People buy from people, especially over the net. Make a real effort to be seen as a person in addition to a company.

Effective sales results come from effective tools. Use these well to get a great return on your investment of time and money.