Have you ever tried to hire a PR company and been frustrated by the customary warning that they can’t guarantee results? I recently had a debate with a marketing friend over whether it is principled to guarantee someone press.
My position: We’re interested in press, but the idea of paying a monthly retainer and possibly not getting anything out of it? Not only is that a tough sell that doesn’t inspire a ton of enthusiasm, it demonstrates a lack of responsibility for the process and outcome.
Her position: PR reps are quick to tell you they can’t guarantee placement because they have no control over the journalists. How can they guarantee something that is out of their control?
In theory, I get it. In practice, I think it’s taking the easy way out. And I have been dying to meet the PR company that will put its money where its mouth is and guarantee—that would be a brand with serious moxie.
Here’s my thinking:
If you can make an audacious claim that nobody else has the guts to make, you are instantly differentiating yourself from the competition. In fact, you are addressing one of the main challenges clients have when hiring a PR company.
And because you are separating yourself so clearly, you are now in a ‘category of one’. You stand out from the competition—actually, you have essentially eliminated the competition! And that is the end goal of branding.
Once you are in a category of one and you have eliminated the competition, you are able to charge more than your competitors. When you offer something nobody else offers, you are able to command a premium price. Another valuable reason for great branding.
But you can’t just guarantee any result to any client, you need to make sure you are guaranteeing results to the right clients with the right caveats.
A principled guarantee is possible if you qualify prospects with integrity
We have all heard that it’s important to qualify prospects. This usually relates to maximizing your sales efforts: Qualify a prospect before you engage in a back-and-forth to ensure the individual actually (1) needs what you are selling, (2) has the authority to make the decision, and (3) has the funds available to purchase.
But there is a different kind of qualifying that I don’t hear about much. It’s the most important qualifying you can do when you’re building your brand reputation (which is always!).
Qualify clients to make sure they are in the position to get the maximum result from what you have to offer.
When you guarantee something—whether it’s press, sales, ROI, or a breakthrough experience—you are putting your money where your mouth is. You are saying that you believe in your ability to deliver results so much that if you can’t do it, you don’t want to keep someone’s money.
And when you are ready to put your money where your mouth is, you’re going to be a lot more careful about who you take on as clients. In the PR example, you’re not going to take on a client who isn’t a good candidate for press because you don’t want to gamble on a bad bet. Why waste your time with a client when you know there is a good chance you might not be able to deliver? You’re incentivized to take only those clients for whom you can knock it out of the park.
Am I suggesting everyone start promising audacious guarantees? Not exactly: It certainly doesn’t make sense for every business model (including my own, but I am still trying to figure out how to make it work).
I am suggesting that you operate as though you are guaranteeing results. The result will be a solid brand reputation. If you have the chutzpah to tell a potential client who wants to hire you that you don’t think it’s a good fit because you just aren’t confident that they are in the best position to get the best results from you, you elevate yourself to a level of integrity matched by few.
The bottom-line benefit
Having the guts to stand behind your abilities in an audacious way will close more clients, but do this only if you know you can back it up! Financially, attracting more clients at a high price increases your profit margin, and with increased margins and increased sales you will make more money. This is why the guarantee works: You are essentially acting as your own insurance policy against potential failed guarantees when you have to give the money back.
Carl Gould, a business growth expert once told me of a tutoring company he worked with that employed what he calls the Obnoxious Offer. They made the bold claim that if the students did the work, they were guaranteed a 1-grade improvement within the semester or their money back. And while the guarantee sounds impossible to claim— it relies on the student’s ability to follow a rigorous program— the company was confident that if they did all the work they really would see these kinds of results. In fact it doesn’t even sounds that audacious if the caveat is that the kid needs to do all the work!
Well, the results were staggering. Because of this claim, the company increased their price from $2,000 to $2,700 per student, but even with the increase they ended up closing 300% more customers. And the parents were all diligent about making sure their kids took the course seriously and did the work— they were incentivized to make sure their kids did the work so that if they didn’t get the 1-grade improvement they could get their significant payment back.
In the end only 1 family received a refund that first season, and only because the tutoring company had run out of tutors due to the high demand of the guarantee program! And, even more exciting, its customers were even happier than they had been previously. They were all getting significant results, and they loved it!
Okay, but how does that relate to other industries?
Let’s take this example back to the PR company. I asked my friend, “What are the chances that a highly skilled PR agency, with a good client with a good story and all the necessary resources and time to pitch that story, would not get the clients any valuable placement?”
Her answer? Almost never. In that situation it would be a fluke not to get results.
Then the number can work in this case too, but only if you qualify your clients. Sure, a small percentage of clients might get refunded for larger causes outside of anyone’s control. But the result overall would be far more positive than negative. The financial benefits of being so audacious far outweigh the infrequent instance where you might have to refund a client.
In addition, if you worked your hardest for someone, and because of something out of your control you couldn’t get anypress (we are assuming high-quality press here, as previously agreed upon with the client) and you refunded all their money, they would probably become one of your biggest fans and advocates. I bet the client would even come back to you in the future and recommend you to everyone. Because who does that?!
Present reality versus future payoff
Lots of people are having a hard enough time just finding clients, and if someone wants to pay them, they don’t think it’s their responsibility to tell them whether they should. But I think qualifying prospects as your ideal clients—that is, you would like to work with them, they have the money, and they are also in the exact position to get the highest value that you have to offer—is what is going to build you the powerful, profitable, admirable brand that is going to carry you to success in the long run.
Yes, you may miss out on some fast cash now, but the returns will be multiplied in time when you have a level of integrity in your brand that demonstrates your ability and desire to deliver only platinum-level results with everything that you do. If your actions communicate that creating the highest value is moreimportant than sales, everyone will win over the long term.
Brand equity is defined as “the commercial value that derives from consumer perception of the brand name of a particular product or service, rather than from the product or service itself.” When you’re a huge corporate company, that equity comes from consistency of message, visual branding, and all interactions with the brand and quality of products.
But when you are a small business selling your services, that brand equity is in large part your reputation. Why not build a bold, powerful reputation by demonstrating just how important it is for you to knock it out of the park with every single client?When pre-qualifying your prospects, focus on whether they are ideal candidates to benefit from your value rather than whether they have the need and the money, and your brand will be something people will talk about for a long time.