Thought Leadership Resources

#17 Using your content to “tell” isn’t enough – you need it to be persuasive

Sell the sizzle, not the steak” is a well-used principle in marketing. But in professional services, there’s not a whole lot of emotion involved. Or is there?


Even if you’re providing rational, fact-based services such as energy audits, supply-chain management or environmental reviews, emotions are always at work. The prospective client’s emotions are either pushing you towards success in getting the engagement, or away from it.

This is because of another well-known principle in sales – that people buy on emotion, and after the fact, justify on logic. In other words, they buy because of how the purchase makes them feel, and after they’ve made the choice, will find logical reasons for having made the purchase.

So, how do you find the emotional triggers that unlock a decision regarding a dull and dry business professional service?

Your content must address “greed” or “fear” – or both

The key is to understand that your service is anything but “dull and dry” to those who buy it. They’re faced with a problem they need to solve, or an opportunity they want to access. In other words, they’re struggling with the most basic of human emotions – what I call “greed” and “fear".

As a consequence, as you might expect, here we dive into the question of how content strategy can help you build the professional practice of your dreams. At issue: two motivations for your blog posts, speeches, white papers, articles and other content. In a future post, I’ll dig more deeply into how greed and fear are used to sell professional services.

But for now, the Twitter-length version:

“Greed” content concerns getting a benefit – more revenue, a bigger personal bonus, a promotion, a faster regulatory approval, better financing terms, or some other advantage.

“Fear” content concerns avoiding a problem – financial loss, an empty bank account, a missed promotion, getting fired, getting fined, spending time in prison or some other advantage.
The content you prepare must be built around either or both of those drivers. Unless you consciously think of what problem you’re solving or what opportunity you’re helping them access, your content won’t be effective in moving your prospects to take action.

To do this, you need to get a clear idea of the person you’re addressing in your content – how case studies work well if they reassure the client of your experience. That post discusses how to prepare a mental image of your ideal client. It includes their industry, profession, education and other factors that help you understand how to appeal to their interests. Only then, can you understand how your service helps meet the “greed” and “fear” buttons that will make people say “yes” to your service.

So, while your content must address real business opportunities and problems, it must do so in a way that appeals to the deep hopes and fears of people your avatar represents.

Case studies and testimonials help you persuade your prospect

There are two main ways you can use content to reassure prospects that you’re the right person for them: case studies and testimonials.

I’ve discussed case studies twice before:

Blog #13 discusses how case studies work well if they reassure the client of your experience, so you become a ‘safe choice’ -- whichaddresses the “fear” issue.

Blog #1 discusses how case studies work best if they make your client look amazing -- which addresses what we might call “greed".

Case studies can become not only a marketing tool, but a welcome source of reassurance for a worried person who’s considering hiring you. Case studies show your tenacity, resourcefulness and determination to get the job done right.

Testimonials can help with this too. They’re not just information for the client or bragging for you; they’re a key part of reassuring the prospect that you’ll do the right thing.

There are three main ways to use testimonials:
• On your website
• In files you typically drop into proposals
• On your LinkedIn profile (they’re called “recommendations” in LinkedIn-speak)

How to get testimonials for your work? Three steps:

Do really good work. Sometimes, the client won’t appreciate the finer points of your work, or the considerations you make to avoid problems or additional expense. So find a way to explain, without boring the client or sounding like you’re boasting, what you’ve done to help them achieve a good outcome. In my own work, I spell out the steps on the invoice for each project.

Ask. You might get a verbal “good work” message from a client, or an email thanking you for your work. But it always helps to ask, after the work is done, for a written testimonial. Often, people feel honored to be asked for a testimonial, and if you’ve helped them avoid a problem or gain a benefit, they’re likely to want to help you out.

Draft. I’ve had good success creating a first draft of the testimonial for the client, along the lines of, “I know you’re busy, so I’ve sketched out a few points you might include. Feel free to modify before you send it back.” Many people aren’t naturally good writers, and if you are, use that skill to help them help you.

Doing a draft first is particularly good for getting recommendations on LinkedIn. Of course, your chances of getting a recommendation on LinkedIn are greater if you send them a recommendation first.

Going deeper – putting yourself in your prospect’s position

The points above form some of the building blocks towards marketing materials that consider the deepest needs your prospective clients are feeling, and then meets those needs.

They may be concerned about being able to defend their choice of you, as an external supplier, to their superiors.

So, be sure that your credentials and experience are listed, but also that you have plentiful recommendations and case studies to show that you have what it takes. Your prospect may also be concerned that you can help her or him look good in the eyes of colleagues and superiors.

The prospect may be risk-averse enough to be worried that if the project goes sideways, she or he will be able to point to your stellar background and qualifications to demonstrate due diligence as part of the selection process.

Just be sure to think of the decision process from your prospective client’s point of view, and use your content to help provide the reassurance and support they need.

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Carl Friesen

Carl is the Founder of the Thought Leadership Resources and helps business professionals gain the skills they need to build their profile as subject-matter experts and thought leaders.

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