Your service delivery system is simply how you deliver your services. Ideally, it is created in response to your market research and tailored for the needs of your niche.
It might be tempting to build a service delivery system around what “sounds good” or “seems right” to you. Regardless of how good your hunches are, my unwavering advice to you is always to do your market research first, and then base your service delivery on the hard data that you generate. If this merely verifies what you already “guessed,” then more power to you, but more times than not, your market research will re-shape your hypothesis of what you thought your niche wants and needs.
Another way of putting this is to market to your target audience, not to yourself. And make no mistake: you are not your target market. This is one of the biggest flaws in all marketing (by no means limited to therapists or coaches). Often, businesses of all sizes forget that they aren’t their target market. Or to put it differently: they assume that they are their target market. So they simply say to themselves: “hey, this makes sense to me, so it must make sense to the people I’m trying to communicate with.”
The Golden Rule vs. The Platinum Rule
The Golden Rule states “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” While this practice civilizes us and helps us get along in society, it doesn’t work in marketing and building a service-oriented business. Here’s an analogy; if you wanted to give someone a present and you followed this rule, you would give them something you would like to receive, which only works if they’re exactly like you!
The Platinum Rule states “Do unto others as they want to be done to.” To do so requires connecting with others and learning what they really want, rather than what you want to provide them. This works great for sex; you’re much more likely to pleasure your partner by doing what feels good for them rather than what feels good for you. Your sales will be much higher by providing programs and services that address what your customers want rather than what you think they need.
Most practitioners understand this, yet seem to have a hard time implementing it. I’ve seen many conduct diligent market research (because they know they need to design their services for their niche) and then completely ignore their data and their marketing flops. It pains me to see such passionate, talented, well intentioned professionals struggle to make a living because they have such a hard time connecting with the people they want to serve.
There are a couple of reasons for this; both of them strangely obvious when you write them out the way I will here:
- Your target market doesn’t define what you do in your terms.
You live and breathe this stuff. You (naturally) take mental short cuts. You know what your subject looks like from the “inside.” You know the details. Your target market, however, does not. They have some understanding, but not at your depth or breadth. And this difference is far, far more than just a matter of simplifying and avoiding deadly jargon. It’s a fundamental shift in what you communicate; not just how.
For example, you may think that coaching is a “service that helps people achieve goals and move forward in their life.” Sure, that sounds reasonable. But if you ask 100 people out there what coaching means, less than 10% — probably less than 5% — will come even close to that definition. They’ll more likely say something like “coaching is a way for me to overcome problems and be happy.” The two versions – yours and theirs – may look similar, but the differences speak volumes. You’re looking at something from a feature-driven perspective. They’re looking at things from a benefit-driven perspective. You’re looking at things in terms of what it does – which is logical and factual. They’re looking at things in terms of how it promises to achieve a satisfying outcome – which is emotional and abstract.
And keep in mind that this is just an example. If you go one step further and imagine what a targeted niche will say about coaching, the differences between your initial assumptions and their black-and-white responses will be even bigger. This is because your target market has their own language and will interpret and define coaching as it relates to their world (that is, to their niche). In doing this, they’ll change more than just your (expected) words around. They’ll change the nuance and even the direction. What struck you as so obvious will reveal itself to be quite different. And you don’t have to wait long to see the evidence. The moment you start generating market research data, the proof will be right there in front of you: what you thought they wanted isn’t what they actually want.
Another example of how you view things differently than others is in the concept of therapy itself. I’d argue that you believe, rationally, that pretty much everyone out there in the world would benefit from therapy and enjoy personal growth. But guess what? Most people out there will disagree! Instead, they’ll figure that someone has to be “pretty messed up” to need therapy and that working with a therapist is a choice of last resort.
(And as an aside: yes, this stigma about therapy pains many therapists, as it did for me. And worse than that, it prevents therapists from reaching many of the people that they’d like to help. In fact, this dynamic may be one of the reasons why you’re looking to bring coaching into your professional world. If so, then be assured: you aren’t alone. Welcome to the club!)
- You don’t buy your own services.
As absurd as it seems just to blurt it out like that, it’s the truth (and, yes, absurd, too). You don’t buy coaching – at least not from you. And so, while you may have some powerful – and ultimately correct – insights about your target market, you truly cannot see their world as clearly as they can; because, again, you don’t buy your services.
Or to put it different: you’re already sold on your services. And whether you’re consciously aware of it or not, your intuition and subconscious are working overtime, behind the scenes, to create the reality that you want to experience; that is, one where everyone loves your coaching and would buy it simply because, well, who wouldn’t?
Remember: people don’t always (some cynics might argue often) buy things that “make sense.” How many people smoke, even though they know it’s doing severe damage to them? How many people crave losing weight but drive to restaurants where even the water has 1000 calories? These people are not insane. Their mind is enabling them to do something patently insensible, so that decisions like smoking, or speeding dangerously in a car, or eating that hot sauce that they know will have them crawling helplessly to the bathroom at 3am, all, somehow, make sense.
The same unreasonable “logic” applies to your marketing. You cannot simply assume that people will come to you for coaching because they have problems and you have solutions. Yes, that would be why you buy your services. But as we absurdly pointed out: you don’t buy your services. So that means you need to understand both the problems and the solutions in their terms. And those terms are invariably going to be different in small and surprisingly big ways.
Alas, we can wrap all of this up by simply saying this: If you ignore (or don’t conduct) your market research and simply put together what you want to do or what you assume is going to work, then you risk failure. If you listen and respond to what your niche wants and needs, you are almost guaranteed success.
Your Service Delivery System as a Client Creation Funnel
You may have come across the term “marketing funnel,” which is a way to easily represent a system of reaching out to a target market and bringing them into your sales cycle. Or to put this into coaching terms: it’s a way of reaching out to the people in your niche who will benefit from your coaching, introducing them to your services, ushering them into your practice and ultimately turning them into paying, satisfied clients.
Below is a snapshot of a 3-tier client creation funnel. Don’t worry if these terms make little or no sense. I’ll explore each tier and you’ll see how it all fits together. For now, just become comfortable (or as comfortable as you can) with the shape of the client creation funnel: the widest part is on top, and the narrowest is down at the bottom (this is sometimes called an “upside down pyramid” by marketing types).
The top tier of this funnel are your marketing activities designed to create prospects. The middle tier contain low to moderate-cost products and group services designed to provide value and create clients. The bottom tier is where your client services live.
Top of Funnel: Your Marketing Activities
One of the wonders of marketing is that it allows you to communicate with people you don’t even know – people who, potentially, are searching for precisely what you have to offer. And it’s the mission of your marketing activities – or the top of your funnel – to reach out to these good people and say: “hi there, I exist.”
While there are many ways to do this, the strategy that I use – and hence endorse – is one where you “market by providing value.” That is, where you share valuable information and resources with your niche in a way that encourages them to want more.
There are three very important things to note about these kinds of “marketing by providing value” activities:
- They’re free.
If you must charge something (and I have a hard time imagining that you must, but maybe you do), then it should offset your costs; not be a source of profit. Remember, these are about reaching out into your niche and introducing yourself. Just as you wouldn’t charge someone for simply meeting you for the first time on the street, at a conference or even in your office, you shouldn’t charge for these kinds of marketing activities. Frankly, most people won’t pay and even a nominal fee will turn away far more people than it will attract. In the bigger picture, you’ll undermine your marketing and will lose money.
- They must be valuable.
This second point seems…strange, but it has to be mentioned. The resources you offer must be perceived as valuable to your niche. So that means it can’t be thinly veiled advertising where you just self-promote and pitch your services. It has to be something that your niche finds interesting, informative and helpful. Really, the easiest way to determine whether something is valuable is to put yourself in your prospective client’s shoes. Would you find the resource valuable? Would it help you learn something useful, or provide you with a tool or insight that you’d be glad to receive? Your market research should help you identify your niche’s top needs, challenges, goals, and questions, which you can use to create free products (ebook, booklet, audio recording, CD, etc) and programs (seminars, ecourse, teleclasses, etc) of high perceived value that will attract prospective clients.
- They’re designed to build a relationship.
What you offer at this stage is not the “be all and end all” of how you hope to connect with your niche. It’s not the end of the line; rather, it’s the beginning. As such, create your resources with a vision towards encouraging prospective clients to deepen their relationship with you – and move further down the sales funnel. One of the most powerful ways to do this is simply to have their next step planned and a strong, focused website for that next step that you can point people towards at the end of your report, or ebook, or mention in your audio program, or highlight in your presentations.
Examples of Top of Funnel Marketing Activities
You’ve likely come across some (or all) of these types of top of funnel resources in your own travels. They include offering a newsletter, a seminar or teleclass, downloading an audio, and so on.
In addition, there are what I’d call more primary forms of top of funnel marketing activities, which are aimed at, simply, communicating what you do. These primary types are: speaking, writing and networking.
Networking includes building your referral relationships and joint venture partnerships. It also includes participating in groups and organizations that fit your niche (online and offline). Research shows that, by far, the most effective way that private practice professionals find new clients is by word of mouth referral. As such, networking and building your referral relationships is the single most effective way to fill your practice. We’ll discuss this further in chapter seven.
Speaking refers to giving presentations to groups, either in person or via conference call (teleclass or tele-seminar). Speaking is very effective for both coaches and therapists, as it gives listeners an experience of your presence and voice that approximates your actual service. Listeners connect with your voice and message and become attracted to the idea of working with you. The listening experience is also “safe” for your listeners because they’re anonymous or part of a group, and are thus not on the hot seat in a 1:1 conversation. As such, they can experience you from a distance and become comfortable with you.
As a nice residual benefit, your speaking engagements can be recorded (audio or video), and re-purposed into programs available on your website. You can then offer these programs to website visitors in exchange for their email address (this is called generating an “opt-in,” because people are actively and directly “opting” to get “in” to your mailing list). And even better, you can set this up so that it’s automatic – you don’t have to manually send your website visitors anything. They’ll simply self-identify that they want to “opt-in” to get your audio or video program, and they’ll automatically receive the material.
Writing includes all of the content on your website, your blog, published articles (in print and online), any books or ebooks that you’ve written, and e-programs you might have (these are a series of lessons delivered automatically by what is called an “autoresponder”) and so on. Through your writing you’ll provide valuable information to engage, inform, and help the people in your niche see that you’re a credible expert who understands their needs.
Also, when writing (and this applies to speaking, too), don’t worry about giving too much information away and, ironically, not positioning yourself to actually coach these people. Information in today’s world is freely and easily available. The information that you provide will motivate and inspire, but by itself won’t typically create change – which is why they need you (and by all means, you can convey this in clear, honest terms in your material).
If you’re willing and able, I recommend you consider writing a book. You have information and wisdom to share, if you write a book that targets your niche it will be your best door opener and marketing tool. I resisted the call to write a book for a long time, but in retrospect wish that I started years ago. Don’t worry (as I did) that you might not have anything unique to say; just write from your experience and perspective, and in doing so you’ll provide value to people in your niche.
Both free and low cost products are valuable marketing tools at the top of your funnel. These include audio and video programs, ebooks and eprograms, and printed materials such as books, pamphlets, mini-posters and wallet cards. All of these products can be produced digitally and offered online at virtually no cost to you. Hard copies can be produced in bulk at very low cost to distributed in person or by mail.
Don’t be afraid to invest some money in creating a great promotional product, as most of them are far less costly than a color brochure — and are more effective! For example, the last time I used brochures (4 color tri-fold on glossy card stock) I paid close to $2.50 each, but a promotional CD cost me 40 cents each, and the CD is far more effective at providing value, attracting prospects, and delivering my message and promotional information.
– Workshops and Seminars
Workshops and seminars are very effective for attracting prospective clients. While you could provide these at a low cost to cover your expenses, I recommend offering them for free, provided that attendees register in advance on your website (again you can use an autoresponder system to make this fast and easy for everyone, including you). Again, don’t balk at the idea of offering something for free. Many successful personal growth gurus conduct free seminars and workshops as their primary marketing activity. Why? Because until people get to know you, a fee can be an (impenetrable) barrier. Remember: you aren’t at the bottom of your marketing funnel yet. That means you don’t need to (and shouldn’t expect or design your services to) profit from these top of funnel activities. This is all about generating prospects by reaching out and saying “hello;” it’s not about generating revenues…yet!
– Niche Communities
We covered this topic in chapter five (so if you skipped chapter five, guess what your homework is?). Frankly, niche communities are my favorite top of funnel marketing activities. They’re a gift that keeps on giving, and have worked for me very, very well (which means they can work for you, too!).
Middle of Funnel: Client Enrollment Activities
Middle of funnel activities allow you to connect with many potential clients, so that you can engage them individually and identify needs, goals, and challenges that require more focused, personalized support. Your middle of funnel target market is “fed” by your top of funnel activities.
Middle of funnel activities are low to moderate cost products, services and programs designed to provide value, generate revenue, and most importantly: create clients. Here’s where you do more than just say hello; it’s where you say: I can help you, here’s how, and here’s what it will cost. As with your top of funnel activities, these address the needs of your niche that you identified in your market research. Here are some examples of middle of funnel activities.
– Workshops, Seminars and Classes
Workshops, seminars, and classes are time-limited group programs that give participants (i.e. your potential clients) an extensive experience of you, so that when those activities are finished, there is a reasonable expectation that some or all of the participants will want to purchase your services and therefore become clients.
Unlike the top of funnel workshops and seminars that we just looked at a moment ago, here in the middle of funnel stage you’re more direct and explicit about how your services are going to help participants. That’s because at this stage of the funnel, it’s very easy and natural (i.e. not “sales-y”) to discuss your offerings, and how by working closely with you, participants can apply what they’re learning – instead of struggling to do that on their own. Your participants have qualified themselves as “very interested” (a.k.a. “hot prospects” in marketing lingo) for your coaching services because they’ve paid real money and invested a significant chunk of time to participate in your workshop, seminar or class. In other words: You know they’re not “look-e-loos,” like some of the top of funnel folks. These people seriously want the results and benefits that you’ve made available, and they’re willing to pay for them.
– Paid Information Products
Information products such as books, CDs, DVDs, ebooks, and so on can be packaged into a “Home Study Program,” which includes a workbook. What distinguishes these from the top of funnel products is that there should be a fee associated with them. These products can be digitized and offered as downloadable products from your website, which is good for immediate delivery and keeps your costs down. If you aren’t sure what to put into your program, simply record the seminars, workshops and other programs discussed above.
The great thing about information products is that folks on the receiving end are telling you, clearly, that they’re motivated to learn more about your services. As such, you definitely want to follow-up and call or email them. You can do this in a pleasant and acceptable way by simply thanking them for their order, and letting them know that you’re available for questions. You can also send them a gift certificate for a free consultation with you, or some other valuable incentive.
Also, it’s a good idea to follow-up a couple of weeks after the information product has been downloaded or shipped. This is because most purchasers of informational products don’t get around to actually using it – at least not for a while. In my experience, when you contact folks and remind them of the value of “consuming” what they’ve already purchased, they respond favorably, and are very impressed by your caring customer service. As your business grows, I recommend that you add staff who can perform this important follow-up function.
– Paid Memberships
Memberships include telephone and web-based niche communities and both virtual and in-person group programs. The difference between the top of funnel niche communities and middle of funnel niche communities is that, here, you provide more focused and personal support, coaching, and mentoring at a group level – and you’ll charge enough to obtain participant commitment and investment. Also, a top of funnel niche community might have a casual “show up when you want” attitude, while this middle of funnel membership program expects regular participation, is ongoing, and uses recurring billing to charge by the month (or year) until the participant cancels.
A straightforward way to set up a membership program in the middle funnel looks like this:
- market the program with a promotional seminar or teleseminar
- begin the program with a six-week class to cover the information members need to learn and help them get started
- meet by telephone for on-going support once or twice a month
- supplement the program with a dedicated website, online community for group interaction, regular “tele-clinics” for more focused support and problem-solving
- offer “bonus” seminars for more advanced information
If you decide to run this kind of membership program virtually (i.e. online), you can potentially serve hundreds, even thousands of participants at the same time!
Bottom of Funnel: Your Client Services
The ultimate goal of your funnel is to create a regular stream of coaching clients. As a therapist you know that growth and change is hard, and that the vast majority of people need personal support to achieve their goals. It’s the exact same with coaching: change is tough, but you can help. Your top and middle funnel activities introduce and convince your prospective clients of this fact, and your bottom funnel activities focus on carrying it out. Your bottom of funnel client services can include:
– Individual Coaching
Individual coaching might be the ultimate goal of your funnel system. However, if you successfully target your niche and develop a solid top and middle funnel using the above-noted strategies and ideas, then you might encounter one of those “nice problems to have”: you don’t have time to meet with individual clients! To remedy this, you can leverage your time with group coaching programs (this is discussed below). You can also bring associates into your organization, which you train and mentor. You then choose the clients whom you want to coach, and refer the rest to your associates.
– Group Coaching
Group coaching is a great bottom of funnel activity, especially in a small group of 5-10. That’s because it’s affordable for participants, profitable for you, and very effective for achieving measurable coaching results. Participants benefit from multiple sources of input and support through brainstorming, master-minding, and coaching each other – provided that a good group leader is there to encourage and facilitate this. And as an added benefit, a good, ongoing coaching group becomes very tight-knit, which in turn functions as a powerful support system for participants that promotes longevity and retention; I’ve seen coaching groups stay together for years at a time.
Retreats are like workshops, though typically longer, more personalized and intimate, held in a beautiful vacation-like setting, and often involve recreation and play in addition to “work.” Imagine the great group coaching and transformational experiences you could provide with a small group in Hawaii, or on a cruise ship, or a cabin in the mountains for a weekend or even a week or more!
Packages involve grouping your services, products and programs into a package tailored to meet the needs of your niche. All of the bottom of funnel we’ve looked at so far can be packaged and further grouped into tiers, such as a “Silver,” “Gold,” and “Platinum” packages. To figure out how to do this, once you’ve designed your service delivery system and all of its components, ask yourself: “If a client were to pay top dollar for my best and most effective program, what would that program look like and how much would it cost?” Include all of your products, services, and programs, and provide numerous bonus items for added value (such as an iPod or MP3 player loaded with your audio programs, additional coaching/consulting time with partners or associates, free airfare and lodging for your retreats, and so on). To make smaller or less premium packages, simply start removing some of the pieces of the “best package” and re-price accordingly.
Remember: While marketing and delivering free and low cost products and programs (in your top and middle funnels) might seem like a lot of effort, time and even some costs, the rewards are immense. You’ll identify and connect with many highly qualified prospective clients — people who you couldn’t have reached otherwise.
Listen to this great audio program-