How do you sell a new service that’s more expensive, slow and problematic, compared to the tried-and-true current method? You point out how your new solution helps deal with other, more pressing problems that your firm’s clients are facing.

Content marketing has a big role to play in demonstrating the value of new services. But as we’ll see, the topics you choose and the message must focus on the needs of your ideal client, not on facts about your services.

You need to be laser focused on your client’s issues, because if your service doesn't offer a solution to an issue that’s worrying them, they’ll just hit the “back” button or flip the page. Having relevant content makes it more likely that your ideas can get published, as described in my blog post #101.

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How to sell a service that’s slow and expensive

To see how to do that, consider the case of horizontal directional drilling. As the name implies, HDD involves boring horizontally through the ground, and it’s often used for laying pipelines. It’s a relatively new method, compared to the older way of just digging a trench, laying the pipe in it and covering it back up, called cut-and-cover.

Cut-and-cover involves a backhoe or other excavation tool, run by someone with the mid-level skill of heavy equipment operator. HDD, by contrast, requires much more elaborate equipment and specialized training.

So how does HDD even stand a chance against cut-and-cover? By relying on its key benefit – it doesn’t disturb the ground at surface. This makes it ideal for the increasing number of situations where surface disturbance is problematic enough to make HDD-related problems, such as price, look good by comparison.

I’ve seen this in working with engineering firms that help with the laying of pipelines. Decades ago, crossing a stream was easy – just run the excavator through it using cut and cover. But as environmental regulations protecting watercourses became more stringent, finding ways to avoid disturbing streambeds became more important. Then, it also became considered vita to protect not just the streambed, but the riparian strip as well – the land on either side of the stream.

Digging through a stream and riparian strip now required a lengthy environmental review process, often including site-specific wildlife and aquatic studies over a period of months or more.

Suddenly, pipeline companies got interested in any way their lines could cross a stream without surface disturbance. Anyone marketing HDD services now had a major benefit to offer.

So, in the articles I wrote on behalf of an engineering firm, for a pipeline publication, I focused on the issues that pipeline companies face. These companies have costs to manage, but they also have timelines and schedules, so that the completion of new wells matches the completion of pipelines to carry the gas to market.

HDD offers the key benefit of schedule reliability, because the environmental permitting process is much less onerous for HDD-supported stream crossings. There are fewer risks that environmental regulators will deny a permit or ask for further research. This injects reliability into construction schedules, as well as cost structures.

How can you use this to market your firm’s services?

How to find out your clients’ “hot buttons”

In your firm’s thought leadership content, your starting point needs not to be the services your firm offers, but the most pressing problems your clients are facing. I often say that it’s important to step outside your firm’s world and into your clients’ world, so that you can understand the top three issues they’re dealing with. If your firm’s proposed solution doesn’t focus on one or more of those three issues, you need to take another look, so you are in fact focusing on their hot button issues.

To do otherwise is about the same as you having a toothache so painful it’s come to dominate your life, and going to your dentist to have that issue dealt with. Instead of fixing the toothache, the dentist offers you teeth-whitening. You’d want to find another dentist, who will fix the problem that has you in pain right now.

How do you find out what “pain” (likely metaphorical) your firm’s ideal clients are experiencing? You talk with them. You read their trade media and association websites. You look at the topics of presentations at their conferences. Sometimes, there are LinkedIn groups you can join that talk about issues.

Also, talk with the members of your firm that have contact with clients. It may be hard to get their time, so you need to present it as a tool that will help them.

I find that many mid-career professionals are focused on technical excellence, and that’s good. But for them to advance professionally, they need to develop business, and for that, they need to understand how their service solves issues for their clients.

If you can offer some coaching around helping them understand those issues, you’ll both benefit -- Marketing understands how the firm’s content must be focused, and the client-service professional learns how to build business. That’s similar to the big advantage of thought leadership content, mentioned in blog post #105 – thinking through one’s ideas.