The BrandingWire posse of pundits are doing their monthly “thing” – all 10-12 of us blog on a single branding topic.
This time, Lewis Green of biz solution plus suggested we all blog on a situation I’ve personally encountered: “how to brand and market a B2B consulting firm”.
That’s exactly what I’ve had to do, and what I do for at least three-quarters of my clients. First, I’ll answer the questionin the headline: yes, branding is important – no, vital – to the success of a B2B service provider.
Now, as I begin writing this I became troubled with a case of déjà vu. Last month’s BrandingWire blog addressed the branding needs of an IT provider who is, of course, a B2B consulting (or service) business. Rather than repeat my comments from September, I’ll just supply this link, This IT company needs to focus.
The major points from that blog are three-fold:
Find a viable niche
Demonstrate your expertise in print and in person
Differentiate your business from competitors
Now that that’s out of my system, I’ll share some additional observations, opinions and suggestions.
A question of personalities.
What’s a better tack: branding the company or the founder?
I personally believe both should be “branded” in the sense that the people of the firm are the “product” the firm is offering. In my particular service category, brand consultancy, Profit does a good job of co-branding people and the firm. Scott Davis and David Aaker are both well-known authors and speakers. Aaker is probably the most quoted branding guru around. Profit encourages its directors and specialist to author articles and become guru specialists in certain aspects of branding and strategic marketing. They fill “niches”.
Now Profit goes after the big clients. But the same approach for a consultancy serving smaller clients can be powerful.
In addition to authoring articles, speaking at every occasion and belonging to niche-related associations and groups, the individual consultants can indeed become known as specialists within the firm. They are part of the team an account manager can call upon to address client problems. Even a one-person consultancy can take advantage of this approach if he/she has a competent network of specialists to call on.
When services become products
A common practice, one advocated by Anthony O. Putman in his highly-valued book, Marketing Your Services: A Step-by-Step Guide for Small Businesses and Professionals, is to “package” your services. Based upon knowledge of the needs of the market segments you serve, package your services to provide a complete solution to a problem your customer base commonly faces. Then, establish another package addressing a second problem and so on.
Incidentally, Putman’s book has been my guide book from its publication in 1990. Several other books and manuals I highly recommend to service marketers are:
All of Harry Beckwith’s books: Selling the Invisible, What Clients Love, The Invisible Touch.
C.J.Hayden’s book, Get Clients Now.
Robert Middleton’s website and his Info Guru Manual.
You’ll find other materials abound, but those above will provide a solid base for planning and action.
Building On-going Relationships
This is the key to successful consultancies. And you’ll hear the complaint from some clients that consultants are always trying to sell them something more. What’s a consultant to do?
There are three suggestions here. The first I also recommended last month, and that is to build relationships as far up the organization chart as possible. Speak to those people in strategic terms. Become a confidant.
Second, become the “auditor” or the “educator” in your particular specialty. Accountants and legal firms establish the auditor type of client relationships naturally. On-going education in HR topics and sales are particularly effective for high-turnover employee businesses. If you address a truly valuable function within the company, becoming its auditor is a source of income as well as being a way to continually interact with management.
The third area is to perform on-going research. While an audit is primarily an internal function, research, be it market, technology, competitor, best practices or industry trends, is out-going and can be highly useful to the client and profitable to the consultant. It’s helpful to create a research “product” and brand it.
While working on the Hewlett-Packard account at Tallant/Yates Advertising here in Denver (1974-1978), we conducted benchmark research every year to determine market share trends, attitudes among engineers about electronic products and advertising effectiveness. A great source of income as well as a way to maintain client relationships at the top of the ladder.
Personal experience in relationship building
I admit, I don’t pay enough attention to it. I’ve always been of the opinion that my work speaks for itself. When I end a project I always get a good reference from the client. They are pleased, but they are through with the branding process. I’ll hear from them again in a couple of years to update a brochure or to send someone a logo.
Most start-up small businesses, the niche I’ve targeted, only want a name, logo, tagline, stationery, a brochure and a website. They haven’t the funds for more even if I were to convince them of a need for more.
So what’s the answer?
Find market segments with on-going branding needs. Then develop the service packages and auditing systems they recognize they need. Then I’ll talk and write about those solutions. That’s where I’m pointing my business. It’s a challenge and an adventure.
Now go to The BrandingWire to read the responses from the other posse members. Each site is listed under the blogger’s names in the right column, or go to The BrandingWire blog site to get the overall picture before visiting the various sites. I’m sure you’ll find perspectives, many different from mine, that may be just what your business needs to develop and sustain client relationships.