by Jay Lipe
When a shopper picks up a product in a store, what’s the first thing they notice? The packaging, right? The same holds true for someone buying a service.
Yet instead of a folded carton with colorful graphics, you are the packaging for your service business. Intangible points of contact, including your clothes, your briefcase, maybe even your breath, all burn a lasting image in your buyer’s mind.
Here are some of the more common packaging elements all service marketers should pay attention to:
All your technical expertise won’t mean diddly if you wear a tie dye t-shirt and striped bell bottoms to your first client meeting. “Always dress better than you need to,” says Sue Morem, author of How to Gain the Professional Edge; Achieve the Personal and Professional Image You Want. “Even when dealing with a casual company, remember you are not a part of that company; you’re an outsider.” If you’re not sure what to wear, find a personal shopping consultant.
I’ve seen people use briefcases that looked like they carried the first batch of Pony Express mail. Resist the temptation to use that briefcase Uncle Joe bought you at Wal-Mart and instead invest good money in one at a reputable luggage store.
Briefcases are one of the few personal effects almost every business person carries into a meeting and this simple item speaks volumes about your image.
When you pull out some paper to take notes, do you pull out a sturdy, professional looking notebook or just a pad of paper? This item, which sits on the table throughout the meeting, may go unnoticed by many of your buyers. But then again, it may not.
Saying please and thank you. A firm handshake. Looking someone in the eye when talking to them. “Etiquette is the equivalent of the ribbon and bow on a package,” says Morem. “Good etiquette lets others know you are in control and finishes off your image.” For a good primer on professional etiquette, consult her book.
Up until five years ago, I routinely faxed my proposals to prospects. Then, one of these prospects said to me “Jay, I have two proposals here. One is handsomely bound and the other is faxed. Which do you think I should go with?” Point taken. When final packaging your proposals, estimates or RFP’s, use the highest quality binding system you can afford.
Do you still hand-address your envelopes? A lot of business people I know do and I sure wouldn’t penalize them for it. But if your competitors are ink jetting their envelopes, your image will suffer ever so slightly.
What image does your email convey? If your email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, you might take a step back and ask yourself, what image does this convey? If you’re after a professional image for your service business, and you have an email address that doesn’t synch up with this image, you might want to consider upgrading it.
These days, with the costs of taking your business online dropping precipitously, your business really should have its own domain name. I’m not knocking AOL or Yahoo. But if you want to project the image of an established business that operates in a professional manner, having your own domain name is a giant leap. For more information about availability of certain domain names, visit InterNIC at www.internic.com.
Email fonts and colors
I’ve received some very professional looking emails. I’ve also received some emails that were laughably amateur. Increasingly these days, buyers and sellers make initial contact through email, and casual fonts or background colors that bury the body text penalize you right from the start. Consider your email address and template as “wrappers” for your business and treat them accordingly.
Talk about a moment of truth for your business. The vast majority of business calls (including calls from your prospects) reach voicemail, thus underscoring the need for a professional, well-crafted greeting. Don’t have your daughter recite her new poem or feature a rap version of “Old Lang Syne”. Keep it simple…and professional.
At the root of being on time is respect; respect for someone else’s time. So, be on time for all appointments. If you do run late, call and let someone know. If you’re running a meeting, end on time or announce that the meeting may go longer and give anyone an opportunity to bow out.
If you think any of these packaging elements aren’t worth investing in, then you’ve missed my point. Each one of these is a defining contact point between your service business and your market, and forms an important element of your packaging. Pay attention to your packaging; your buyer will.
About the Author
Jay Lipe, CEO of EmergeMarketing.com and the author of The Marketing Toolkit for Growing Businesses (Chammerson Press), is a small business marketing expert who helps companies grow faster. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (612) 824-4833.