The more things change, the more they stay the same.

For as long as I have been involved in marketing professional services, I have believed that the business that educates most, wins the most.

That was certainly true when the standard approaches to adult education were one-way lectures or speeches and sometimes facilitated group discussions. This belief remains true today when innovations in information technology have moved adult education to new levels of popularity and variety of approaches.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that as an element of the information age, educational messages face the same competition for our clients’ attention as do our marketing messages. As if competition from other service professionals is not enough, virtually every individual or organization that has an online presence offers some kind of educational program. And many of these programs are huge. Take for example, the new concept of a MOOC.

What’s A MOOC?

In case this term is new to you, it means a massive open online course aimed at large-scale interactive participation and open access via the Internet.

Being a big fan of MOOCs, I am currently working on my fifth course through Coursera (a truly awesome educational resource…check it out) along with more than 125,000 other students worldwide. Presented by three Penn State professors, this eight-week course helps us learn about creativity, innovation and creativity with such tools and aids as videos, readings and problem sets. And as an added bonus, it helps build a community for the students, professors, teaching assistants and others interested in the topic.

As is always the case, we can learn from our competitors whether they are large organizations that offer one or more MOOCs world wide or the service professional down the street trying to attract the same clients as we are.

From MOOC to  SSOOC

Based on my experience with MOOCs, there is no reason that as service professionals we can’t start and maintain our own small scale versions of MOOCs. Let’s call our versions SSOOCs… Small Scale Open Online Courses.

Three factors that contribute to the success of MOOCs also apply to SSOOCs.

  1. content relevant to individual learners
  2. material presented by experts
  3. engaging tools and techniques

Without question, these factors are as relevant to my client-focused educational services as they are to yours.

Similarly, the same technological innovations that have led to the popularity of growth of MOOCs can be applied, albeit on a smaller scale, to my SSOOC and yours.

Here’s the clincher. The single factor that distinguishes the three Penn State professors presenting my current MOOC from University of Pennsylvania prof who conducted my first MOOC has little, if anything, to do with their respective universities. It’s all about the unique skills and experience of each individual professor that distinguishes him or her from all others.

From a marketing perspective, it is personal branding that one SSOOC from all others.

In other words, your SSOOC offers a new vehicle by which you can communicate to your market what distinguishes you from the competition and how this difference delivers value to clients.

It really is true that the business that educates most, wins the most. To learn more, take a MOOC and apply the same engaging tools and techniques to your SSOOC.

Here’s a quick question for you. When a client asks for your help with a specific problem, what is the best response?

Obviously the nature of the response depends upon the nature of the problem.

Urgent issues require immediate attention: prevent the situation from worsening and reassure the client that you can and will help resolve the issue.

The Best Response

However, once the urgency has been resolved, what is the next best response? Thank the clients for the opportunity of helping them and send them on their way?

What about helping clients take appropriate actions to prevent the recurrence of the same or similar issues? That would be a good approach to satisfy clients even more by exceeding their expectations.

An even better approach would be to help the client resolve the problem in such a way that both addresses any urgency in the situation and also makes the best possible contribution to helping the client achieve his goals.

More Revenue And Achieve Goals

Many service professionals experience a sense of urgency in their marketing.

They need more revenue…and they want it now. So they instinctively start looking for new clients to generate the new revenue they need. Once they have rounded up enough new business to reduce the urgency of needing revenue…problem solved. Back to business as usual: serving clients.

What about taking appropriate actions to reduce if not eliminate the recurrence of recurrence of urgent cash flow issues?

Or even better, what about addressing the need for more revenue in such a way that resolves the problem in such a way that addresses the urgency of the situation and also makes the best possible contribution to achieving business goals?

Whenever we face cash flow crunches, many of us instinctively we react by starting the hunt for new clients. Lost in this knee-jerk reaction to stop the pain is the bigger picture importance of achieving our goals.

Yet another example of the productive tension of marketing professional services, a pressing need for new revenue also offers the opportunity to help us achieve our overall goals.

Just like helping clients with their issues, it’s a whole lot more than just making the problem go away.

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In my last blog post, I outlined how marketing as education can help five different groups learn more about us and our services.

Even though this post was intended as a stand-alone piece, it also serves as another example of the productive tension of marketing.

An Aversion To Marketing

On the one hand there is the ongoing need for continuous marketing activities, this time in the form of educating strangers and contacts.

But on the other hand, there is an ongoing aversion to marketing. It’s also possible that this aversion appears even worse by the suggestion of adding educational elements to professional service marketing.

For many service professionals, there is a huge disconnect between serving clients and marketing their services (aka the productive tension of marketing).

For these people, adding education to the marketing mixture serves to increase the tension: “What! You want me to educate strangers? That’s what I do for paying clients!”

It’s Not ‘Either/Or’–It’s ‘Both/And’

The key to effectively managing the productive tension of marketing is understanding that it is not an ‘either/or’ scenario. It is not necessary to choose either marketing or client service.

It is ‘both/and‘: we can both serve clients and also market our services.

What’s even better is that education is the ideal approach to engage in both marketing and client service.

In the simplest of terms, there are two key aspects of education, which is about helping others learn.

One aspect is generating new information. The other is applying this new information to solve a problem or make a difference.

This distinction suggests the ideal ‘both/and‘ solution for applying education for both marketing and client service purposes.

Learning New Information And Applying It

For marketing purposes, we can offer new information, much like I am doing in this blog post.

What new information can you incorporate into your marketing?

When serving clients, as professionals we help them learn how they can apply new information to help them with their specific problems or make a difference in their lives.

Continuing to use this blog post as an example, I would help clients understand how to use marketing as education in such a way that both distinguishes them from the competition and helps attract new clients.

How can you help clients learn to apply the new information that was part of your marketing message?

Managing the productive tension of marketing is a fairly straightforward process. Let’s not make it more difficult than it needs to be.

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As service professionals, we tend to rely more on our experience and intuition than objective research. This really isn’t surprising: few of us have the resources to undertake serious research. For most of us, our research is seldom more than a quick scan of blogs and online posts.

Whenever I come across some sound research that is interesting, and even better, relevant to my work, it’s definitely worth a serious review.

Yesterday this happy circumstance popped up on my computer screen.

Marketing Trends And Strategies For Consultants

Marketing trends and strategies for consultants  surveyed the types of marketing activities on which consultants spend their time. It also compared how the time spent resulted in income. If you are serious about marketing more effectively and efficiently, this report is a must-read.

From my perspective, the most reassuring finding of the report confirms several of my experience and intuitive based beliefs.

I have always believed and continue to believe that networking and referrals are the two best marketing strategies for service professionals. The survey results indicate that 70% of the respondents report these two strategies have made the most money for their businesses.

Time & Money Spent

Given the importance of these strategies, it’s not surprising that the respondents also report spending 57% of their time on these activities. Obviously, it makes sense to spend most of your marketing time on those activities that generate the best results.

There are a couple of other interesting findings.

The report indicates that the third highest amount of respondents’ time is devoted to the marketing activity that is the third lowest money-making strategy.

In numerical terms, 10% of the respondents spend the most time on social media, which only 2% of the consultants report as having generated the most money. Not sure about you, but I’ve come to believe that social media can consume a ton of time while generating generally unsatisfactory results.

The survey also asked about money spent on marketing each year. Once again, no big surprise here.

Of the more than 10,000 consultants surveyed, 78% reported spending less than $6000 each year.

Regardless of whether or not you are a consultant, the same considerations apply to your marketing.

How can you spend your marketing time and budget to generate the most money for your business?

 

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Once upon a time, professional service marketing was unnecessary.

Clients and potential clients generally knew what kind of help they needed. They also knew the people in their local community who provided this help.

As long as service professionals continued to do what they had always done, they could remain reasonably confident that clients would find them when they needed them.

But that was then…only a few decades ago…and this is now.

In today’s global marketplace, consumers face a staggering array of professional services, from traditional accounting to newer areas such as website and mobile marketing. And within each service area, there is an equally staggering array of individuals seemingly qualified to deliver the professional services that they promote.

Putting aside the question of how individuals find and choose the right service professional to help them, how can we as service professionals distinguish ourselves from the competition and stand out from the crowd?

The best, in fact the only way to distinguish ourselves and stand out from the crowd is to continue to innovate in everything that we do.

Effective innovation starts with a clear understanding of what it is…and what it isn’t.

Innovation is something that is really new and different for you and/or your business.

Innovation is not unique in the world.

From this perspective, there are six main approaches to innovate:

  1. Combine existing things in a new way.
  2. Learn something new from a different business and apply it to yours.
  3. Challenge the usual assumption of continuing to do things they way they have always been done.
  4. Learning from the competition.
  5. Collaboration with customers.
  6. Experimentation, trial and error.

Choose and apply as many of these approaches as will work for you and your business.

If however, you ignore all of them, you will probably remain lost in the crowd.

A public relations disaster in professional service marketing offers good news and bad news.

The good news is that relative to a PR disaster for a high profile multi-national corporation like Apple, service professionals’ PR disasters are largely ignored outside of our small corners of the world.

In Apple’s case, it has a very large corner of the world and when it messes up…it does it big time. Hard to ignore the fiasco of Apple banning Google Maps from iPhones in September in favor of its own error-riddled maps.

Whoops!

According to businessinsider.com,

“CEO Tim Cook had to issue a public apology, conceding that the maps “fell short” before suggesting users download competitors’ products from the Apps store. Cook specifically called out Bing, MapQuest, or going to Nokia and Google’s website.

“The product manager who oversaw the maps team was fired months later.”

Whoops.

The bad news is that for those of us who run our own business of providing professional services, we don’t have a large organization in which we can hide until people in our market forget about our personal PR disasters. Nor do we have anyone we can blame…and fire.

Yikes!

Quick Escapes

In my case, my biggest PR disaster was the second worst speaking engagement of my career.

Having just completed a study of the best marketing practices of high ranking real estate sales people in the Toronto area, I was invited to share my findings in a presentation at a conference of the sales people at a very large and well-respected independent real estate company. Considering myself more of a facilitative speaker than a lecturer, my plan was to guide the group through the process of identifying the key findings. My contact person at the company liked the concept so we ran with it.

Within 10 minutes of starting, it was obvious my audience was not following my game plan.

When I gave the group a small exercise, a supportive member of the audience suggested that his colleagues had short attention spans and my best approach would have been to just tell them what my findings were so that they could get on with their days.

Switching from my prepared facilitative approach to an unplanned lecture format, the rest of the presentation was…needlessly to say…a total disaster. At the end, it was almost a race to determine who could make the fastest escape…me or the frustrated audience.

But life continues and I survived.

Lessons Learned

Looking back, there are two valuable lessons to be learned.

  1. Better Planning: Had I spent more time learning about what my audience wanted, the disaster could have been avoided. However, as often happens with those of us who provide professional services, when we are asked to share information and advice, our egos get in the way. I knew what they needed to learn and was confident in my plan to help them learn.
  2. Contingency & Risk Planning: Any business activity, such as marketing and public relations, that offers high potential benefits also carries with it the risk of major damage in the event of failure. As part of business and marketing planning, it’s a good idea to think the unthinkable. What are some of the most damaging public relations disasters that might arise?What are the most appropriate damage-controlling responses to these disasters?

The best approach to managing PR disasters to minimize the risk by proper planning.

The next best approach is having a contingency plan in place that sets out damage-controlling responses.

If you are lucky enough to escape disaster, good for you.

If however, you do experience a disaster, better for you. Your plan will minimize damaging fall-out.