Productizing by Not Selling Talent

Productizing by Not Selling Talent
Photo by Sigmund / Unsplash

A longtime friend of mine is a diamond salesman, and a very good one.

What always struck me about that business is the inherent and unquestioned quality of the product. There is no ambiguity. Both the buyer and the seller know exactly what’s being sold, and at what level of quality and characteristics.

My friend is able to sell this product with full confidence. The sale isn’t based on a mere promise of quality, or the unique talents of one individual. The sale is made once the stone has been examined, weighed, qualified, and valued.

It’s been almost two weeks since I opened the doors to my new business, Audience Ops.

Things are moving fast! I’ve surpassed my sales goal of landing 1 client retainer in the first month. 4 clients have signed on already and we’re only halfway through the month!

Productizing a service isn’t just about making a simpler way to sell it. It’s about crafting a better way to deliver it. The client must receive a better solution than the alternatives.

I want to sell diamonds. Unquestionable quality, delivered consistently and reliably every time. No ambiguity or unmet promises. Trust and confidence in every sales conversation, backed up by a service that I know delivers. Period.

So how do we get there?

I decided to start by writing down what I’m calling “high level service goals”. These are not sales goals, or marketing goals, or productivity goals. These are my goals for the service itself. What will it be? What will it not be? How will we meet a high quality standard, and bake it right into the service from day one? These goals serve as my framework for all of these decisions.

Here they are:

  • Don’t sell talent.
  • Save through focus.
  • Every interaction should be routine.
  • Respect the responsibility.

Let’s unpack each of these…

Don’t sell talent

When a designer sells their service, they’re selling the promise of their talent living up to the expectations of the client.

Many designers make a great living because they’ve honed their craft and built up a strong client base. But every so often, their client’s expectation isn’t met and things go off the rails. Sometimes the client is being unreasonable, sometimes the designer simply didn’t execute. Either way, when talent is the selling point, it adds an element of risk, both for a client when hiring a designer, and for the designer when taking on a new client.

In Audience Ops, the selling point is not my personal talent as a content marketer. Nor is it the individual talent of whichever writer is writing for a client’s blog. Sure, I’m seeking out highly talented individuals to join the Audience Ops team. Sure, I’ve built up personal experience when it comes to using content marketing to grow a business.

But these alone are not the product. You can find talented and experienced individuals anywhere. Our value prop has to be built around something unique that only Audience Ops can deliver.

The selling point in Audience Ops is our overall methodology, and our resources and systems that execute it.

We have proven methods for doing customer research that help us get inside the minds of our client’s customers. Every blog post and email campaign we write for our clients go through a collaborative process that involves 2 writers, a copy editor, and a technical assistant.

Yes, everyone working here is talented. But it’s our collaborative process and unique approach to doing up-front customer research that will actually move the needle for our clients.

This is how we’ll achieve the goal of giving the client a better solution to the alternatives, which would be doing their own content marketing or hiring a single freelancer.

Save through focus

Southwest Airlines has an interesting way of cutting costs. They don’t skimp on the free peanuts or pay their pilots less (at least I hope they don’t).

Early on, Southwest made the decision to fly just one sized aircraft–a 737 that is ideal for domestic flights around the US. This keeps costs down when it comes to service, maintenance, and training their personnel, since these can all be streamlined for just the one 737 plane size. If they had a large fleet of different plane sizes, they would have varying requirements and complexities, which would be a more expensive operation to run.

The key to making the numbers work in Audience Ops is to stay focused. If we’re doing lots of different things for lots of different clients, it will be nearly impossible to streamline our process.

Using the same strategies I teach in the Productize course, I’m focusing the service in two ways:

  • Delivering one solution
  • Serving one ideal client

One solution

Already, we’ve had requests for a wide variety services. All have been related to content marketing. But each is targeted at solving a different problem, requiring varying resources and processes. For example, I’ve had requests for guest blog outreach, infographics, sales page copywriting, conversion rate optimization, and other requests.

My team and I could do all of these things. But instead we’re focused on solving one key problem: Founders need a reliable way to grow their audience and customer-base, but don’t have the time or resources in-house to do it.

Our solution is an end-to-end blogging package, designed to attract the right people into their audience, and keep them engaged through smart email drip campaigns and newsletters. We have a process for executing this (and only this) service effectively and efficiently.

I’ve chosen this specific set of features in our service, because in my experience, this solves the problem most effectively, and gives founders the content marketing system they need, fully implemented, running, and managed for them.

One ideal client

We’ve had quite a few inquiries from potential clients for Audience Ops (more than I expected!). Luckily, most have fit the ideal client profile Audience Ops is built for: B2B online product companies.

By serving B2B companies, we can write for audiences made up of founders, entrepreneurs, marketers, freelance professionals. These groups tend to be hungrier for content that will help them get ahead, which is right in our wheelhouse.

We focus further by working with online product companies. SaaS, downloadable software, and productized (online) services. These types of companies stand to benefit most from having a growing audience, which converts into ongoing leads to grow their customer-base.

Serving one ideal client has several benefits:

  • Plenty of audience and topic overlap. Our clients benefit from having a team who is well-versed in writing for this type of audience. Each market has it’s own unique aspects, which we target in our content, but having this general focus helps us be more effective.
  • We’re able to optimize for best results. By serving clients with similar audiences, we’re able to apply our learnings to all of them, making results more predictable.
  • Marketing to one ideal client is much easier than casting a wide net. We’re working on launching the Audience Ops blog, which will be aimed at educating our ideal customer.

Every interaction should be routine

Building on the idea of focus, my goal is to ensure our processes are completely dialed in to the point that every interaction is routine.

Back when I made my living as a freelance web designer, my weekly interactions were all over the place. One day I’d work on a custom one-of-a-kind website, another day I have to put out a fire with an unhappy client, the next I’d take a sales call with a new prospect, another day I’d chase down an unpaid invoice, and in between I’d have to learn the latest tools and techniques.

That lack of routine led to burnout, lack of focus, and lack of quality.

This time around, my goal is to ensure every step in our engagement with a client goes according to plan. Each interaction should be a defined step in our process. From our pre-sales consultation call, to the founder interview call, our research process, monthly report, and ongoing delivery. Nothing “pops up” out of nowhere and throws us off our game.

If I find that a particular client eats up far more of our resources, or that we’re tasked with doing something “just this once”, then I know something’s not right. It’s not the fault of the client. It’s my job to ensure these things don’t crop up from the start, by focusing on an ideal client, solution, and an ever-improving process.

Respect the responsibility

I chose to get into the business of content marketing because it can make a real, lasting impact for our clients. It’s not intended to be something that sits on the side, out of view. We’re being the voice of our client’s brand, speaking directly to their customers and building that relationship. That’s a huge responsibility.

I feel strongly about ensuring that every piece of content we publish on behalf of a client would be good enough (if not better) to publish on one of my own business’ blogs. But just saying this isn’t enough. It has to be backed up by processes that ensure we meet this standard every time.

One of the (not so) secret ingredients to our process is the collaboration among our team. A lead writer will be assigned to a client’s blog. But every piece will be reviewed internally by a 2nd writer who’s job is to find 3 ways to improve the piece. From there, it goes to a copy editor who’s job is to catch any typos and other mistakes. Finally, our technical assistant adds graphics and other enhancements. Right now, I’m involved in some of the internal feedback and creative direction, but eventually this will be the role of a project manager / content strategist.

It’s systems like these that make me excited about getting back into consulting again, this time with quality and process built-in from the start.

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