Marketing Professional Services - Part 1

By The Drum | Administrator

January 21, 2002 | 5 min read

Speaking in tongues: professional servicies companies have to introduce a relevant communications policy if they are to sell their services to the man on the street.

There are significant differences between selling services and goods. As a result, service organisations promote themselves and their service products differently.

There are various reasons for these differences. John Bunn, UK Head of Media Relations with PricewaterhouseCoopers: "The only things we have are our people and our reputation."

Another reason is the consumer attitude towards services. Service purchases are generally regarded as riskier than buying goods. This is caused by the fact that most consumers find it difficult to evaluate the quality and value of a service. In their choice of professional services consumers rely more on subjective impressions, such as a firm's image.

Service purchasers make more extensive use of third party information sources and seek the opinion of colleagues, friends or family. Research also shows that business purchases of services involve different and sometimes fewer decision-makers than goods purchases. And, crucially, in the process of buying a service business people are often looking to establish a long-term client-supplier relationship.

Although it is difficult to generalise, because of differences in characteristics of service sectors and the features of the specific services a firm offers, building personal relationships is a very important aspect of selling services. Joan Roemmele, marketing manager with property consultants DM Hall, says: "My main task is to create opportunities for partners to meet clients in an informal business environment."

That the person who sells the service is often the same person who performs the service puts a greater emphasis on staff involvement and personal sales. Vincent Gray, business development manager with Masons Solicitors: "We have 800 people working for the firm. Each one is a member of our sales staff, cross-selling different services."

This can also cause problems. A typical problem in professional services, where restrictions and ethical codes have only recently been removed or amended, is that many practitioners have a negative opinion about promotion. Some still see themselves as public service suppliers and are unfamiliar with the philosophy and practice of marketing.

Another problem professional services people have to deal with is more general and occurs in almost any industry and public sector. This is the issue of fragmented communication.

Organisations communicate for many different reasons. To establish a good reputation in order to sell products and services, to secure investment, recruit staff and obtain supplies, to get access to influential people, local administration, national government or international legislative bodies, or, in the case of non-profit organisations and public institutions, to explain and win support for causes, measures and policies.

Every organisation communicates in different ways, utilising different means of communication and different forms of communication. These forms of communication are known under various names - corporate communication, public relations or marketing communication, to name the most commonly used terms (in the second article of this series we will examine the differences between certain forms of communication and the philosophy behind these forms).

Within most organisations there are different departments or persons dealing with communication. In addition to these departments and persons, other units and individuals within the organisation also communicate with specific audiences.

Virtually everybody is communicating. The organisation as a whole relates to the public at large and to specific groups. Individual managers speak to a wide range of internal and external audiences. The purchasing department works with suppliers. The public relations department contacts journalists. The marketing department addresses groups of clients and prospects. Every employee deals with members of the public.

This leads to fragmentation of communication. Fragmentation not only harms efficiency and effectiveness of communication, but also increases the chances of errors, mistakes and incidents leading potentially to the loss of a good reputation.

Well-known examples of fragmentation are the contradictory statements from Shell managers in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands during the Brent Spar affair, and cigarette manufacturer BAT, which succeeded in combining an upbeat newspaper advert about the excellent financial performance of the company with a front page article in the same paper about forced redundancies.

Cleopatra Veloutsou, lecturer in marketing at the Department for Business and Management Studies of the University of Glasgow, is amazed how many large organisations do not have a clear direction in their communication, despite the fact that they operate in a quickly changing environment: "Not having a communication policy is like being on a ship in a stormy sea without an engine and a course. You are at the mercy of the waves. Even when the storm calms down, without a course you do not know where you are going."

If an organisation is able to avoid fragmentation, it can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of its communication and increase the chances of achieving its goals. And that is the main objective of an overall communication policy.

Barry Jackson is an independent consultant working with the international law firm Clifford Chance on its global communications review: "Having a communication policy helps us to consistently get the key message across." The second article of this series will review how leading professional service organisations, such as Clifford Chance, are already working with an overall communication policy.


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