It’s always a risk to agree to review a book by someone that you know, and, in this case, admire. I’ve known Laurie for many years and indeed we have both lectured on the CIM/PSMG’s professional services diploma courses sharing evenings amongst delightful new entrants to the world of professional services marketing in Canary Wharf offices.
It’s also a huge undertaking especially, as is the case in this book, as it took over 15 hours of careful reading and a further five hours or so to note down the most important and interesting elements. Yes, when I review a book I take it seriously and – assuming that the book deserves the attention – study it carefully.
I was particularly keen to take a look at this book for three reasons. First, Laurie’s past books have been hugely influential in professional services marketing – and“Marketing the Professional Services Firm: Applying the Principles and the Science of Marketing to the Professions” is a must-read for every practitioner in the sector.
Second, like Laurie, I worked in the technology sector (although this was long, long ago – before the invention of the PC and in the world of mainframes and midi computers) at corporations such as Comshare, Honeywell (now Groupe Bull) and Logica before dedicating my life to the joys (!) of professional service firms.
Third, his co-author is MD of ITSMA – the Information Technology Services Marketing Association which is collaborating with CIM to develop a new diploma course – based on this text – and this course may have a valuable contribution to play to both those service marketers in technology services and professional services.
There are two reviews – one for Professional Marketing magazine and the other for Market Leader magazine which is produced in conjunction with The Marketing Society and focuses on new thinking and different perspectives. You’ll have to read them when published or let me know if you would like a copy of the reviews in the meantime.
There were a couple of things that had particular resonance with me – perhaps because they echo my long held beliefs. The first was that “if closing techniques of product sales are used to clinch service deals, due to intangibility, the buyers tend to feel coerced or cheated and, as a result, might challenge the price or have second thoughts. In some cases, the deal can unravel”.
The other ideas I “took away” from the book were:

  • some new ideas on how to segment markets
  • the potential value of the ARR behavioural model for relationships between organisations
  • a reminder of the Hamel and Pralahad components of good strategic focus (essence of winning, stable over time, creates a sense of urgency, develops competitor focus, provides employees with skills needs, give the organisation time to digest one challenge before digesting another and establishes clear milestones and review mechanisms)
  • the need to “engineer” the customer experience and focus on the attitudes, principles and values that run through the organisation
  • in a service business, people must surrender themselves to the service provider and this yielding of control creates anxiety so they seek reassurance from the entity in charge
  • in sales situations, buyers always have two to four service attributes that will be more important than price and use “zones of tolerance” (Ziethaml and Bitner) to categorise as  ideal, acceptable and unacceptable
  • Account Based Marketing – an obvious development of key account management
  • The model of communications across stages in relationship development was not dissimilar to a model developed by myself and econsultacy in the recent White Paper on the use of social media in selling in the professions. Good to know that great minds (well, Laurie’s and Bevs at least) think alike

There were some cracking quotes:

  • “Brands are fiendishly complicated, elusive, slippery, half real/half virtual things. When chief executives try to think about them, their brains hurt” (Jeremy Bulmore)
  • “Marketers must listen and respond as much as they plan and pronounce”
  • “Some modern behaviourists argue that almost all decisions have an emotional element”
  • “If there is one difference between marketing literate companies and others it is their concentration on customer knowledge and their willingness to invest in research to get it”

Suffice to say that whilst it is neither an easy nor quick read, and whilst there are a couple of chapters that most experienced marketers will be able to skip, it is a tour de force bringing together so many important strands – from the best of corporate strategy, from the leading text books on service marketing, through the practical use of many popular marketing tools and even – in my opinion – leading the way in the relatively newer areas of customer experience management and account based management.
The first two chapters set the scene with definitions of “technology services” and providing a thorough introduction to the main theories underpinning services marketing. Chapter three “Gaining strategic insight into service markets” concentrates on the importance of market definition, market maturity and positioning and the well known and loved techniques and tools are treated to a rigorous assessment of their value and I applaud the commitment to research and the insights into alternative methods of segmentation.
Chapter four, internal perspectives and their strategic impact, returns from the external forces to the internal environment to offer tools on how to articulate a long term aim for the organisation or set the overall strategic course. Interesting quote on service style: “more emotional than a business model, deeper than a brand, more complex than a good idea and more solid than a vision” (Johnston and Clark). It goes on to admonish tech companies who “rarely grasp remarkable strategic power of building a brand” and comments upon customer equity.
Chapter five makes the bold claim to explore how to develop a successful brand and position it in a service market. There are nods to the key works in this area – Aaker, Berry, Darby and Karni – and, of course, the importance of staff engagement in the process is stressed at almost every turn.
Chapter six, one of the most important in the book in my opinion, is on innovation and service design. There’s a lovely analogy with ballet on how all components must fit together and a thorough review of some common mistakes. There are good processes for new service design although I wish the authors had been able to provide some service blueprinting examples relating to B2B services – maybe it is because they are so complex.
Then chapter seven moves from the strategic to the harsh realities of operational with a focus on selling with the opening (obvious) statement that “product sales tend to be short term and transactions, service sales are longer term and more dependent on the relationship between the buyer and the seller”. After a quick review of dominant models and ideas, it looks at more recent trends such as peer recommendation. The Xerox case study of an automated tool to help salesfolk build customised marketing and sales plans for individual customers is fascinating.
There’s a natural progression into chapter eight on marketing and selling to major customers. After some rudimentary material on selecting key accounts and the basics of account management some important new concepts around Account Based Marketing and account based propositions.
Chapter nine on communications with service markets is unremarkable apart from the material around Customer Experience Management (marketers giving direction to the operations of a service firm to ensure that the service experience matches the market claim) which I suspect will become a controversial and big topic.  And a nod towards the importance of employee networks. It’s a shame that it misses the social media phenomenon which would provide a further channel for many of the ideas on this, relationship management and thought leadership – particularly as the take up is probably strongest in the technology sectors.
Chapter ten returns to the important topic of customer experience with its focus on service quality. After a lively canter through the past fads such as TQM and Six Sigma it engages with material on moments of truth and employee empowerment. There’s little material on client lifetime value which is increasingly important and might perhaps have fitted better in the account management chapter.
Chapter eleven on “Service on a world stage” was a little disappointing and felt like a précis of the CIM’s now defunct international marketing diploma course – but perhaps valuable to those who didn’t study for their professional exams long ago. And the main work is Hofstede’s cultural study which took place in the ultimate technology company – IBM.
The case studies – from organisation’s around the globe including – contain enough information to see how the various ideas and techniques were successfully applied whilst being concise enough to read even if not directly relevant and entertaining. Amongst them were Virgin Atlantic, IBM (acquisition of PriceWaterhouseCoopers consulting and account management), Caminhos De Ferro, Orange Business Services, EDF Energy, Google (10 core principles), BP (Beyond Petroleum), Virgin Media, Interoute, BT (sustainability), Xerox (global account management), Case Northrup Grumman (campaign to win $2bn deal), Mastercard, Microsoft (systemised approach to customer case studies), Satyam (diamond campaign), Amazon (personalisation), British Airways (Terminal 5 disaster), Fujitsu (from silo to transnational).