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Truth and Lies in Professional Service Marketing

Over the years I have become suspicious that, for most businesses and most of our clients, the holy grail of a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) does not exist. The USP myth is further perpetuated by pop TV programmes such as Dragons’ Den, where a business proposition is judged purely by how new or innovative its core business is.

I have just read a publication sent to me on this subject by my former colleague Bob Harper of, called Truth and Lies in Professional Service Marketing, produced by the Wellesley Hills Group.  It explains why, in professional services at least, USPs are meaningless, and dispels lots of other myths for such businesses.

Here’s a summary of what I see as the main parts of the book:
1.  In professional services, the concept of differentiation does not apply in the same way as it does in the widget world.

2.  People want sincerity and authenticity.  Don’t fundamentally change what you do and how you do it to ‘please the crowd’.

3.  The core ingredients of a successful firm are: relationships, trust and superb value.

4.  When ‘selling’, do it, don’t say it. Use the sales meeting to help as much as you can, and give as much advice away (for free!) as you can.

5.  How you demonstrate value:
a.  Understand that your value lies in being genuine, distinctive and valuable, not in being unique.
b.  Make the value tangible – e.g. translate it into monetary value.
c.  Explain what you will do and how, and the outcomes.
d.  Don’t market the relationship, build it.
e.  Create experiences with you: offer seminars, white papers, lunches.
f.  Make sure the above experiences give real value.

6.  There is benefit or value in being the first, or newest or biggest, as far as the client is concerned.

7.  What does the buyer of professional services want?
a.  Reliability
b.  Accessibility
c.  Impact – give me service that will have an impact
d.  Fit – we must be a good fit (don’t do it if it’s not your specialism)
e.  Importance – make me feel important
f.  Service levels
g.  Prudence
h.  Research – stay up to date
i.   Listen
j.  Teaching – help me understand enough about what you do
k.  Business management – manage your business well
l.   Relationship management – treat me like a person

8.  What does the buyer of professional services rarely ask for? That you be different or unique.

9.  ‘The pathology of design monomania’.  Keep design of logos etc. in perspective – don’t allow everyone to chip in, and ideally let the professionals do it for you.

10.  The translation of most marketing copy is: “I have nothing real to say, so I will use some meaningless marketing speak.”

11.  Don’t worry about crowded marketplaces. You only need to worry about competition that is better than you.

12.  Cold calling can work, if your aim is to give value and not to sell.

I guess the obvious follow-up question to all this is: what constitutes a ‘professional’ firm? These days, it is far broader than just accountants and solicitors etc. I suspect that anyone who provides advice of any sort (e.g. helping customers buy the right widget) can benefit from applying the principles in this book.

What do you think?

If you’d like a pdf copy of Truth and Lies in Professional Service Marketing, please email. It’s only about 50 pages, so won’t take you long to read it. Or visit their website

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