John Ragsdale is vice president of technology research for the Technology Services Industry Association. Ragsdale spoke with Kathy Macchi, a managing partner with Allegro Associates, which helps businesses develop lead generation programs. Macchi explained how service technicians, not often given to (or trained in) self-promotion, can let internal sales teams and customers know about “value added services,” such as tiered service plans and extended support hours.  Republished with permission from Ragsdale’s Eye on Service.

John Ragsdale: I sometimes think “services marketing” is an oxymoron. I’ve talked about the “reluctant hero syndrome” before—people attracted to customer service roles are more likely to receive gratification from helping people than being a “rock star.” This makes marketing what you do difficult when you can’t easily brag about your role. Do most companies have a services marketing team, or is this an emerging practice?

Kathy Macchi: Most companies do have service marketing roles now. They seem to start with the professional services organization and over time their scope broadens to include education, customer support programs and other non-product areas. Marketers I have met rarely suffer from the “reluctant hero syndrome,” so they have no problem talking about their areas of responsibility. Where service marketing is difficult is not working with the service or support groups but getting the service message out internally and externally where the majority of company effort goes to the product. Articulating value and having it understood and heard is the challenge.

Ragsdale: Let’s talk about the organization of services marketing. Is this a partnership with marketing? Are there dedicated marketing folks hired to work in support? Or marketing savvy support people doing double duty? What structures are the most common?

Macchi: I believe the TSIA survey data shows about half services marketing personnel reporting to the marketing organization and half to the services organization. I have found that the reporting structure did not matter as much as the overall company’s charter and viewpoint on role services and support plays. That role can determine the level of collaboration that services marketing plays with the larger marketing organization.

Ragsdale: I know that field marketing was cut heavily by many companies in 2008-2009, and field marketing is usually the group doing customer case studies and providing field sales with success examples. Is this putting even more pressure on the services team to provide their own marketing? No one else is doing it for them anymore.

Macchi: Services marketing typically has two audiences: internal and external. Their internal audience can be their toughest audience. With the majority of resources focused on the product, service and support can take a back seat at times. The key to success is to partner with corporate and field marketing. Both organizations have experienced cuts and are always looking for materials that are relevant to prospects and customers to create demand for the company’s products.

Who better than the services and support teams to provide content? Your teams consist of experts chock full of knowledge about the products and customers. By partnering with the corporate and field marketing organizations, you get information about your capabilities, team and expertise out to the internal and external audiences. Working with the marketing organization can produce far better results than working alone.

Ragsdale: You mention that IT buying habits have changed, and this is impacting service sales. Could you talk about what is changing?

Macchi: IT buyers are pushing salespeople out of the early stages of the buying process with search, industry influencers, their peers, and social media. Buyers find and consume information anywhere, anytime, from many different sources and channel. This puts pressure on vendors to “be everywhere” – pursue a multifaceted strategy for engaging with customers. So with all the changes, services/support can play a larger role in the buyer’s journey in what I call “trusted educators.” This role, I think, will be the role marketing plays in the future.

Ragsdale: One of the changes I’ve seen is that support is more visible in the initial purchase than in years past. As an example, Gartner has started evaluating customer service as part of a company’s standing in a Magic Quadrant. I’m glad to see the increased visibility, but I’m not always sure what they base those ratings on. Should customer support have more involvement in how company’s work with the big analyst firms? Having come from Forrester, we only talked to marketing VPs, never anyone from service.

Macchi: Yes, VP of services/support should be working with the VP of marketing to tell the story because it is a changing story. The days of charging a flat 18 percent a year for support are over. Customers are savvier and want to know what they are paying for and what they are getting. Same with professional services. Gartner evaluates professional service organizations on completeness of vision (understanding customer needs, value proposition, etc.) and ability to execute (scalability, SLAs, best practices, etc). The VP of services/support should be the person that can speak to the criteria Gartner uses to evaluate services/support organizations. Partnering with the VP of marketing to get that information and point-of-view into the report is critical.

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ABOUT John Ragsdale

Avatar photoJohn Ragsdale is vice president of technology and social research for the Technology Services Industry Association. He writes a regular blog, Eye on Service, for the TSIA.