By: Sharon Berman,
Published: Los Angeles Business Journal
The word “merchandising” brings to mind grocery stores and clothing store windows, but it’s not something professionals usually associate with themselves. Yet it’s exactly what they must do – merchandise themselves and their firms.
Webster’s defines “merchandising” as “the planning and promoting of sales by presenting a product to the right market at the proper time, by carrying out organized skillful advertising using attractive displays.”
Have you noticed the recent trend among service firms to refer to their service lines as “products?” In today’s world, professional service providers should consider themselves, their firms and their services as “products” – and market them with maximum impact.
How then can you merchandise yourself and your firm? First of all, it takes a 360-degree view. That means each contact with your market in any form presents your “face” and provides an opportunity to promote what you do in a tasteful, yet attention-getting manner.
Answering the phone
Let’s start with your “director of first impressions,” as your receptionist or employee who answers the phone is so aptly called. If voice mail plays receptionist, the questions you should ask yourself are the same: How many rings before the phone is answered? Is the voice welcoming? How long is the party on hold before being transferred, and can you use that time to market?
Not many service firms are using a message-on-hold yet, so having one now can give you an edge. If done professionally with the right voice and messages, it can be a terrific marketing tool.
Take a look at the client areas of your office. Many firms overlook the reception area as an opportunity to merchandise themselves. You only get one chance to make a first impression on a prospective client, so make the most of it.
What does your reception area say about the firm? It doesn’t need to look hip, slick and cool, but it should tell the buyer what they will be buying. Instead of back issues of magazines unrelated to your business, display current professional publications, copies of the firm’s newsletter and reprints of your articles or anything written about you or your firm. Surprisingly, putting reprints in your reception area is often overlooked.
What about your corporate image package? Your logo, letterhead, business card and related materials are part of your merchandising package and speak volumes about you. Make sure their look reflects who and what the firm is. If your business card is plain vanilla, for instance, consider revamping it as part of your overall marketing program. Even “solid and traditional” can be said with a flair that makes you stand out.
If you’re using poor quality paper and think it makes no difference or your markets don’t care, think again. The quality of all your marketing materials tells the world whether or not you think you are worth investing in. If you don’t think you are, why should anybody else?
Remember Web site
Sometimes, professionals object that “no one ever chose a lawyer, CPA or doctor because of their logo or letterhead.” But consumers have a great deal of choice among professionals, so you need to take advantage of every possible edge. Have potential clients ever told you that they didn’t choose you because they thought your competitor had more “zip”? Of course not. They simply went to the other firm and you weren’t any the wiser.
Does the quality of your printed marketing materials match the quality of service you offer? Many professionals are so proud of what they can print off their computers, they’re unaware how two-bit it can make them look. And if your photo looks like it was taken in junior high, it’s time for an update.
Don’t forget electronic documents. Make sure they have the same attractive and professional layout as your letterhead. That brings us to your Web site. Web sites are critical today because they allow prospective clients to research your firm without feeling pressured or obligated to call.
The goal, of course, is to prompt them to call and you need the right Web site to do that. Has your Web site evolved to keep up with the times, or is it still the one you put up several years ago just to throw your hat in the ring? If you haven’t touched it since, it’s time to re-evaluate it.
Finally, take a look at yourself. Would you say that you are well merchandised? True, substance is what professionals take pride in, but unfortunately clients judge you by the outside package. Are your suits too tired? Are you literally well heeled? While you may be looking at the tops of our shoes, others are looking at your heels.
What impression do potential clients get from your car? While a late model Mercedes looks nicer than a Toyota, that doesn’t mean you need to buy a new car today. It’s more important that the car looks like it’s well cared for. Prospective clients don’t want to see the kids’ fastfood wrappers on the back floor. If that’s too obvious for you, take a second look around for details that need improvement, keeping in mind that your car is part of your merchandising.
But there’s more to it than physical appearance. Do you exude an air of conconfidence, making clients feel comfortable putting their trust in you? You don’t need to be an egomaniac or the life of the party, but you have to let people know who you are.
Fortunately, once your office, printed materials, Web site, car and personal appearance are in harmony to send the right message, presenting your product to the right market skillfully and attractively, your self-confidence can’t help but grow and you’ll radiate an aura of competence and credibility.
Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Marketing & PR, a marketing consultancy specializing in working with service firms. She can be reached at email@example.com.