What does the selling of children’s art classes have to do with the marketing of professional services? Quite a bit, as it turns out.

Recently, I had a lunch meeting with a colleague who talked of a conversation she’d had with one of her friends who we’ll call Busy Mom. One of Busy Mom’s challenges was about finding a good daytime program for children during March Break, which is a week-long school vacation each spring.

Busy Mom said that she’d contacted a private art school about March Break programs, fully willing to spend several hundred dollars on a program for her children. But the owner wasn’t all certain that she would get enough students to run a March Break program that year, and wasn’t willing to commit to enrolling Busy Mom’s children.

So Busy Mom thought, “Enough of this,” and called a competing art school whose owner said, “Yes, we have a program for March Break, and we have two spaces for your children.” Busy Mom grabbed those spaces right away, and the first school lost a potential customer.

The point of this story is; what was Busy Mom looking for? Some chance for her children to express themselves artistically? No. Busy Mom wanted to solve a problem – what to do with her children for March Break. As long as the program sounded acceptable to her children and the price was right, she’d take what was on offer. With that problem solved, she could work on the next item on her to-do list.

That’s the punch line for professional services. Many business professionals I’ve worked with are really good at their work – they can carry out a Phase One environmental assessment, or do a traffic study, or else plan a stormwater-management program (or whatever) with zeal and skill.

But they may miss out that the client isn’t really interested in supreme artistry and competence around the work. The client wants the work to be done reliably and to meet regulatory standards, and that’s it. The client is buying a disappeared problem, in the same way Busy Mom was buying a disappeared problem. In some cases, a client is looking for a way to access an opportunity, and that's often the flip side of problem-solving.

So if you’re selling a professional service, you should present it in a way that shows your ability to solve problems or access opportunities.

Focus your content on your clients’ problems and opportunities

How does this work in the world of professional services marketing? I saw some of this in a presentation by Paula O’Brien, president of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, in Toronto recently. She talked about how clients are now demanding more that the firms they work with be problem-oriented, rather than function-oriented. More so, those firms must generate content giving solutions to the challenges being faced by clients.

In my view, this means wrapping one’s content around either ‘fear’ or ‘greed’. This means that content must either be focused on a problem that you solve (that’s ‘fear-oriented’ content) or a way you have to access opportunities (that would be ‘greed-oriented’ content).

This post, for example, is what I’d call greed-oriented content in that I’m showing you how you can make your content meet a need, so that it will get noticed by the people you want to serve.

So I suggest that in determining a topic for your next blog post, video, guest podcast appearance or other content, you first sit down and think of how to make it relevant to your audience. What problems are you helping them solve, or access opportunity?

“Fear-oriented” content must be scary

Fear-oriented content must be about a topic that is likely to cause your clients some serious problems, if they don’t take action now. It can be a hard-news item, such as a new ruling, regulatory change or law – a topic I’ve discussed in Post #6, on “newsjacking.”

But it can also be a gradual development, which I’ve covered in Post #23, on “trendspotting,” about how to discuss a slow-moving trend your clients may have missed, but which will affect them.

Fear-oriented content must cover these points:
1. Describe the potential problem, in terms that are relevant to them.
2. Say why it matters – the effect it will have on their industry, or specifically on their organization.
3. Deal with any ‘objections’ that they might reasonably have, likely around “It won’t affect me,” or, “Even if it does affect me, it won’t be a serious problem.”
4. Give your informed opinion on how the situation will develop, in its effect on your clients.
5. Make your recommendations on how they can avoid or minimize the problem.

“Greed-oriented” content must present realistic opportunities

Content that tells the prospective client how to access an opportunity is much the same. It must be about something that is realistically accessible by the client. For example, it does little good to tell the client to put more retained earnings aside as a financial cushion, when the company is running an operational deficit. And if your solution costs money, it helps if you can provide advice around how they can get the cash to implement what you’re recommending.

Furthermore, your recommended course of action shouldn’t be focused on “Hire us, we’ll save you.” That’s called a sales pitch. The client is looking for ways to access opportunities that they can implement themselves.

Greed-oriented content is structured in a way similar to fear-oriented content.

1. Describe the opportunity, in terms that are relevant to clients and in a way they see that the idea is feasible.
2. Say why it matters – who is likely to benefit from the opportunity you’re offering.
3. Deal with any ‘objections’ that they might reasonably have, likely around “We tried that, and it didn’t work,” or “A friend told me that it’s way more trouble than it’s worth.”
4. Give your informed opinion on how the situation will develop, in its effect on them.
5. Make your recommendations on how clients can maximize the opportunity.

It can be both ‘fear’ and ‘greed’ but must be at least one of them

Some business professionals love generating content out of the goodness of their hearts. They genuinely want to help others. That’s a beautiful thing. But if your content is to have any utility to others, particularly those you want as clients, you must be sure that it either helps the prospect to avoid a problem or access an opportunity.

Having said that, the subject of your content can be both ‘fear’ and ‘greed’ in orientation. For example, consider the many government programs that have developed to foster research and development. Companies that learn to access these programs can free up cash flow (greed) and those that don’t, will fall behind due to competing with one hand effectively tied behind their backs (fear).

So, have a clear idea of the needs and opportunities available to your “avatar” or the construct you’ve developed of your typical client (discussed in blog post #5). Then, develop content that shows your abilities to understand their world, through addressing the problems or opportunities (or both!) that they’re facing.