Selling the Promise – The Key to Marketing Your Service Business


As customers, we all regularly purchase a service, from dry cleaner to auto mechanic, from tax preparer to plumber. It is true that some service industries are time- or capital-intensive, thus making it difficult to enter—for example, becoming an electrician or owning a vacation resort. However, entry often requires little time or money and no industry certification. You could become a bookkeeper tomorrow by simply hanging out your shingle—no license required. Consequently, the ease of entry means there will always be someone who will sell it for less and provide it at a lower quality than you will.

The key to being successful in a service industry is to remember that from the customer’s perspective you are selling a promise. “Trust me, and everything will turn out great.” That is certainly what the customer is hoping. Customers take a variety of risks when dealing with your business. Understanding these risks from their perspective, and then having a marketing strategy that addresses those risks will increase your sales. It is that simple.

Probably the main risk customers are taking is performance risk. Will your business perform as promised? First, you must have a selling process and the requisite skills to determine what the customer both truly needs and expects. Having a service delivery system enables consistency in delivery of the service, which in turn makes high quality more likely. From a marketing standpoint, does your Web page provide the information that will help the customer place your business on the short list while they are looking for a service provider? Simple items such as time in business, industry certifications, testimonials, and images of the experience in dealing with your company all help the customer decide whom to select.

Ask yourself this: When potential customers are finished viewing your Web page, will they still have some nagging concerns about dealing with your business? You need more than an “about us” page. Since the customer cannot see your product to compare it to another, as can be done with a piece of furniture, your Web page should help give a true sense of the experience the customer will have with your business. After the purchase, the customer should be able to report that the actual purchase experience matched what he or she expected to get from reviewing your marketing materials. Having a “frequently asked questions” page helps remove doubt in the customer’s mind, thus making the purchase more likely.

A local company has a “What happens after I place an order?” description on its web page to help the customer understand in advance what it will be like when they purchase from the company. Rick Steves, a travel company based near Seattle,  goes a step further. His business focuses on the true European experience rather than a “tourist” experience. This means staying in out-of- the way places. He mentions that the trips may be “too authentic for some” to weed out those not willing to carry their luggage up 100 flights of stairs in a castle.

Another risk customers take is the financial as well as time-loss risk in dealing with your company.  Your marketing materials and your customer service strategy should cover these concerns. Everyone talks in generalities about customer service, but having a statement such as “98 percent on time and under budget” sends a specific message to the customer and should set you apart from your competition. If these risks have not been dealt with properly during the marketing and selling process, the customer may not have completely bought into you as a service provider.

Recent changes in search engine optimization will place companies in the “top seven.” If you Google “auto repair,” you will see a list of seven local auto repair shops on a map. You should be working with your Web designer to be on that list. Remember, the goals of the marketing effort should be to increase sales and customer satisfaction through helping customers know exactly what they will be getting while minimizing their psychological stress in the purchase.

Jim Kress teaches marketing at Central Oregon Community College. This coming winter term his students will be evaluating local web pages for service businesses. If you would like a free evaluation of your web page please contact him for an appointment. He can be reached at 541-383-7712 or


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