NTM Engineering is a civil engineering firm located in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania. Heather has been Marketing Manager with NTM for the last six years. While she didn’t begin her career in marketing, she made the transition a few years after earning her BA and has continued building her career since then.
Like many firms in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry, NTM doesn’t market a product. Instead, they provide digital marketing for professional services. That got us thinking. What are the key differences between professional services and product marketers?
Product Marketing vs Professional Services Marketing
While these two marketing styles share many of the same strategies, they also differ significantly. They don’t face the same challenges, they focus on different KPIs, and ROI can be more difficult to track for professional services marketing.
Both include a combination of sales, marketing, and customer service. Both will focus on certain marketing channels like organic search, paid ads, and social media.
The company website will matter in both disciplines. With 75% of consumers judging a company’s credibility based on their website design, it may matter a little more in professional services marketing as trust is an important component.
What is product marketing?
In product marketing, the in-house team or a digital marketing agency will promote and sell a specific product. Product marketing includes the 4 P’s: product, price, place, and promotion. There will be a supply and demand, and the goal is to sell as many products as possible to the target audience.
What is professional services marketing?
Similar to product marketing, this marketing will be completed by either an in-house team or in collaboration with a professional services marketing agency. There are three additional Ps to consider: people, place, and promotion.
Instead of manufactured products, services are being marketed. While all marketing will focus on a niche market, professional services marketing is often very niche-down—as with NTP Engineering or FFKR Architects. There is often a longer buying cycle, and the goal is to build relationships and win the target audience’s trust.
Marketing Tangible vs Intangible Goods and Services
A product is a tangible, measurable, often manufactured item. It is a physical product that can be described, displayed, and represented with ease. They can be tested, inspected, touched, tasted, or smelled. Pricing is simple and straightforward. Tangible products include inventory, land, vehicles, machinery, furniture, etc.
A service, on the other hand, is intangible. These are not physical products, and while they may be represented digitally (i.e., licenses or software subscriptions), they are difficult to represent to the customer. Intangible products include travel, consulting, education, accounting, engineering services, healthcare, etc.
Standardized vs Customized Products
This can be confusing as standardization and customization are available in both disciplines. There are certainly customizable products available on the market. Intangible products may come standardized, as seen with many computer software programs.
But, generally speaking, tangible products will still have some standardization to them. You may be able to customize the color, the features, or the size, but the base product will still remain the same. There are also industry standards and health and safety standards to consider with tangible products.
Intangible products are often customized specifically for the client or customer. They are designed to suit the needs and preferences of each individual purchaser. A doctor will not treat every patient exactly the same. They tailor their service based on the problem their patient is facing, just like companies do with intangible products.
Because of the customizations, proposals are often a major piece of professional services marketing and communications. Proposals are most common in B2B marketing and are written to communicate the project and team expertise to potential clients. These proposals may be requested from the company specifically, or they may submit them as part of a larger Request for Proposal (RFP). RFPs solicit bids from qualified contractors or organizations for a specific project.
Proposals are similar to more traditional product marketing in that they are designed to make the organization stand out from its competitors and show the potential value of the product being marketed. Unlike product marketing campaigns, which tend to be more standard, each individual proposal is customized to the client and the RFP.
Marketing Tactics for Products vs People
The biggest difference between these two marketing disciplines? Professional services marketing targets people, not things, as Heather stated during her interview.
A physical, tangible product is simple to market. The target audience is often easily defined; the product can be tested by consumers and reviewed specifically. Professional services are often focused on the people providing those services—their qualifications, expertise, and experience matter.
Marketers will highlight the product and its features or benefits with product marketing. While professional services marketing may also touch on these, they will focus their attention more on the people themselves. Trust is a major component of winning over a customer or client with professional services marketing. Ensuring that the target audience understands the qualifications is essential to building that trust.
Marketing Focus: Transaction vs Relationship
The foundation of any professional services marketing strategy is relationship building. Professional services marketers need to truly understand their target audience’s pain points. They need to understand how the potential clients’ businesses work and be able to clearly communicate how their organization is the best option.
Product marketing is much more transactional. There is minimal relationship building for potential clients or customers. Instead, relationship building occurs during the customer journey in the hope of maintaining loyalty and increasing customer lifetime value (LTV).
This key difference impacts what marketing channels are considered most effective. Many professional services marketers don’t believe that email marketing has as much of an impact on closing sales as it does with product marketing. With products, email marketing has a 4200% ROI potential. With professional services, this may not deliver the same return. That return is entirely dependent on the industry being served, though. So it would be wise to be aware of industry standards for the niche market before making any decisions.
Product Quality vs Experience Matters
Quality of products or services matters regardless of industry. Bad reviews and a lack of referrals will have a significant negative impact on a brand’s reputation. This can lead to lower sales, fewer clients, and less profitability.
For tangible products, the quality is dependent on the product itself. Was the material quality? Did the product work as intended or marketed? Did it malfunction? Is it potentially dangerous?
For intangible products, the quality is dependent on the experience. Due to the customization factor of this marketing discipline, each customer may have an entirely different experience. So, the people are once again highlighted here. Quality will also include whether or not the company delivered on its promises.
What Holds More Weight? Degree vs Certification
While anyone can enter the field of marketing with the right skills, many will get a related degree. If you study marketing in college, they will more than likely focus their attention on product marketing. Professional services marketing does not have the same resources as product marketing. The Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) offers training and certifications for those interested in building a career in professional services marketing. Heather has been part of their organization for most of her marketing career and believes they are an excellent resource.
Who Can Help with Professional Services Marketing?
If your professional services company or organization doesn’t have an internal marketing department or should your marketing department need additional help, an external marketing agency acting as a direct extension of your team is always the best option. If you are looking to collaborate with a professional services marketing agency, contact us to schedule a free 30-minute strategy call. Our experts are ready to dive into your business and create marketing tactics that work for your target audience.