Selling Services During a Recession

Advertising and promotion is one of the first line items cut from corporate budgets during a recession.  However, targeted prospecting can help service companies grow. It may be a good time to think about the basics of marketing and selling services again so your firm is the one specified as line items on corporate budgets are put back into use.

Research Pays

It is important to do some research about the major issues and trends in your prospect’s industry before approaching a decision maker about your services. This is always true but especially so when you are trying to get prospective clients to reinstate a line item on their budget.

For example, if you are selling to a defense contractor, it will be important for you to know whether they will be converting their technology to peacetime applications or looking for new buyers in other countries. This strategic decision will certainly have a profound affect on the services they will need and their response to you.

Tailor Your “Pitch” to the Strategy of the Prospect

One advertising agency could be successful selling to defense contractors because its account executives have secured language translation services and can prepare direct mail pieces for several countries. Another agency could be successful selling to defense contractors because it has a program to help employees of client companies understand, accept, and even celebrate changes being made.

Focus Your Research

Since there is little time to research hundreds of industries, it is usually wise to select a handful of industries that everyone in the company can keep in the back of their minds.  Clerical personnel can be asked to do Internet research or clip newspaper and magazine articles about target industries and companies. Professional staff can be asked to write notes from association meetings and observations made in the field. Copies of the compiled information can be distributed across the firm when everyone is ready to sit down and discuss the firm’s approach to a specific industry.

Know What Constitutes a Good Prospect For Your Firm

Many successful service firms have what they call their “Golden 50”–the 50 companies that share desirable characteristics to the company. Sometimes they are of a similar size. Sometimes companies hit a firm’s Golden 50 because they have a track record of using services effectively. Sometimes the defining characteristic of a Golden 50 company is related to philosophy.

It is important, too, not to limit the firm’s research to a single industry. Regulations change. Competitive factors evolve. Technological advances can take you by surprise. What is selling now in one industry may not sell in a few months, and you will need an alternate route to take.

Think About Marketing, Not Just Selling

Marketing plays a very important role in “warming up cold leads.” The decision maker in a Golden 50 target company will certainly be more receptive to your request for an appointment if he/she has seen articles about your firm in newspapers or magazines or has read articles written by you in professional periodicals. If you do not know the individual, why not introduce yourself via an article that you are proud of?

Your Marketing Program Has Room for Various Kinds of Associations

There are so many service firms that it is a real challenge to be distinctive and memorable in the midst of thousands. Many successful firms are finding that active participation in a professional association is an excellent way to get known.

It is important to be visible in organizations valued by your prospects and clients. Professional associations within your own field help you stay abreast with technology, new techniques, and legislation. Although networking in such associations can result in mutual referrals, their primary purpose is not the generation of business leads for you.

Don’t Go For the Sale At An Association Luncheon

It is important not to come on too strong when sitting next to prospective customers at meetings of their associations. In most instances, a service professional is trying to convey the image of being a source of expertise and a source of competent assistance and not that of a “vulture” desperately in need of sales.

It is usually a good idea to become active in a committee. When selecting a committee, it is important to lead major project(s) for the association. If your printing company’s distinctive advantage is its capacity to handle multi-color jobs, make sure the members know your firm is the source of their beautiful brochure.

Also, be sure your committee assignment is a good fit for both you and your staff.

Select a Double Mix of Marketing Activities So You Will Follow Through

It is usually a good idea to identify a few messages agencies are going to convey to their market(s) and plan a handful of methods to consistently communicate those themes. It is clearly more effective to do a few things very well and follow through than to take on a long list of marketing activities and drop the ball.

Your Magic Marketing Formula Will Depend On Your Targets

There is no one magic formula that works for promoting services. The optimum mix depends on the preferences of your target companies. Some people will want to read about your services within professional journals while others will prefer a more personal approach.

If your marketing efforts are effective and sustained, you will receive more calls from prospects requesting appointments with you. It is a whole lot easier to sell when the prospect has asked you to come see him/her.

Propose Services a Step at a Time

Once a prospect has made the quantum leap to even consider allocating money for your services (reopening a previously frozen line item), it is important not to scare them. When a company has not done any advertising over the past several months, chances are that a series of problems will have developed.

The company may need a great deal of your time and assistance to undo the damage caused by the recession. It is usually a good idea to take things a step at a time so the prospect is not embarrassed by their current situation, can justify the expenditure on your services to superiors, and can get used to things going well for a change.

Negotiate The Scope of Your Project, Not Your Prices

Many professionals have questions about how to price their services. Should they bid their work using a flat rate for projects or on the basis of time and materials? In a recession, it is often a good idea to have the first project bid on a flat fee basis since this removes one of the primary objections (barriers to getting a “yes”). Once trust has been established, you will have more leeway to structure future contracts to meet both the customer’s and your needs.

All too often people who are selling services are tempted to discount their fees in order to land a new account. Even in a recession, this can backfire on you. If your hourly rates have been computed based on reasonable costs and fair profit margins, where is the room for discounts? It is appropriate for you to make a reasonable profit from your work, even during a recession.

Hold Your Marketing And Prospecting Efforts Accountable

Resource management will make or break any service company especially during a recession. If a specific part of your marketing program is not pulling its weight, do not stop marketing. Instead, change your approach until you find something that will “pull.”

Your newsletter may change from print to electronic, or your telemarketing campaign may need to be directed to a different level of decision maker. Do not just keep doing the same thing if it is not working, but it is important not to stop marketing either.

Marketing and selling services to businesses can be very rewarding even during a recession. In fact, companies need help gaining a competitive advantage to pull out of the recession and can use outside services to make it happen. Prospects are starting to buy services again. They are just a bit more careful about the sources of those services and how much they will buy at one time. With some research, targeting, and managed marketing and prospecting efforts, your firm can be the one receiving newly allocated money from previously frozen budget lines.


Known as The Growth Strategist®, Aldonna R. Ambler, CMC, CSP helps rapidly growing midsized companies (typically $20 – 200 million/year) realize their goal of Achieving Accelerated Growth With Sustained Profitability® through opportunity/resource analysis, executive coaching, strategic working sessions, and her intermediary role regarding growth financing. Her clients are among the brightest, most ambitious business leaders whose names now appear on published lists of the fastest growing privately held corporations. The recipient of 23 prestigious awards for her success as an entrepreneur and industry leader, Ambler hosts a peer-to-peer Internet radio program, aptly called The Growth Strategist®, which features lively interviews with CEOs of midmarket companies who have successfully executed the growth strategy of the week.  She can be reached toll free at 1-888-Aldonna (253-6662), by e-mail at or online at

Growth Strategy Tip


Since I’ve met and know most of the most respected strategic planners in the country, it is notable that I chose Aldonna Ambler to take us to the next level.

Roxanne Emmerich
The Emmerich Group, Inc.

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