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    Selling a Promise


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 2/2005

    Photo: Photodisc

    In many developing countries, not being taken seriously in the global marketplace is the single greatest barrier to exporting services. Building credibility abroad is the springboard to success.

    Exporters in the services sector are trying to sell something invisible to the buyer; in fact, they are selling a promise. It is much easier to market products because they can be inspected and tried out. Services are usually not delivered on the spot and the buyer does not see an immediate benefit.

    Doreen Conrad, Chief of ITC's Trade in Services Section, explains: "When a service provider has credibility, it encourages buyers to cross that imaginary line and take a chance that they will deliver what was promised."

    Build and manage reputation

    Because service exporters are trying to convince someone to buy something they cannot see to test, it is essential that they appear to be as credible as possible. Credibility can be established through strategically building and managing your company's reputation.
    • Recommendations from past clients. Most people use recommendations and referrals when selecting a service provider unless the service is low risk and inexpensive. One of the reasons why people use word-of-mouth referrals is to manage risk. If someone they trust is satisfied with a particular service, it reduces the perceived risk.
    In addition, searching for and evaluating potential service providers is time-consuming. For these reasons, exporters need to get as many people as possible to give them recommendations and referrals. Written testimonials from satisfied customers are also highly effective credibility-building tools.

    • Objective evidence of ability. Recommendations, referrals and testimonials are just one way to build credibility. Buyers also look for "objective verification" of a service provider's capabil-ities, that is, validation that comes from - or appears to come from - an external objective source. This is a cornerstone of public relations, or reputation management.
    For example, if an exporter is invited to give a presentation, it implies a stamp of credibility because it appears to the public that the sponsor believes them to be competent. Showcasing awards in industry newsletters or in mainstream media through press releases is more effective messaging than paid advertising.

    Successful exporters seek many other ways of presenting their services in public, such as hosting an information seminar, speaking at conferences and writing articles for trade or business media. This can establish exporters as "experts" in their field.

    • Benchmarking against international standards. Another way is to become certified to an international quality standard such as ISO 9001. (ISO 9001 is a set of standards for quality management systems that is accepted around the world.) Such certification could make the difference for a firm being taken seriously in a bidding process.

    • Credibility by association. Partnering with a larger, well-known international firm for a small part of a large project or contract brings instant credibility. Membership in industry associations brings with it implicit guarantees of approved credentials and standards of ethical behaviour.

    Boost national profile

    On a broader scale, governments and trade support providers can help raise their countries' image as a supplier of quality services. Trade support institutions such as trade promotion organizations, service sector associations, chambers and other public or private sector agencies often have links with potential business partners abroad.
    To help boost service exporters' visibility, they can analyse their competitive strengths and promote them to foreign trade partners. Governments can also help to fill gaps in information by sponsoring research into exports of services, such as the size and dynamism of the sector and its contribution to foreign exchange earnings.

    A "face to the world"

    Making a good impression on potential customers is paramount. A web presence is increasingly important. This "face to the world" is the linchpin of a presentation image. Potential clients will also review promotion materials with an eye to cultural issues.

    The two-minute test

    A "benefits message" is equally important. Service providers must bclear about what benefit is on offer and why it should matter to the customer. What is known in the public relations world as the "elevator test" challenges exporters to state their added value succinctly when meeting a potential client in an elevator or at a reception. In two minutes or less, exporters should be able to complete the following three sentences:

    • We provide . . . (services/capabilities).

    • What differentiates us from other firms is . . .

    • Think of us when you need. . . (the benefit provided).

    "Building credibility should be a key consideration in designing strategies to increase exports of services," says Ms Conrad. "Exporters should try to earn as much credibility as possible, but should also remember that losing credibility is easy. Earning it back is nearly impossible."

    Winning awards gains customers
    There are many ways to build credibility, a first step into the global marketplace for service exporters.

    Finding ways to compete for awards, then promoting your award on your web site and in printed materials can win client confidence and minimize their perceived risk.

    Existing and potential clients of Totalserve Management Ltd have increased confidence in the Cyprus-based financial ser-vices company since it won a fourth Export of Services Award in December 2004.

    "Existing clients are proud and prospective clients are impressed by our achievements," says company chair Peter G. Economides. Mr Economides notes that professional intermediaries prefer to work with award-winning, reliable service providers and that suppliers have more confidence in the company. The award is an annual event by the Ministry of Trade, Commerce and Tourism and the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce.

    Credibility and quality go hand-in-hand. For Totalserve, ensuring service quality involves setting out the operations in writing, as provided for under ISO 9001 (an internationally recognized quality standard), and continually monitoring and improving these procedures by a responsible quality manager.

    Totalserve started its operation in London in 1972. Since then, the company has earned a solid reputation in the international tax and trust world and has offices in London, Athens, Thessaloniki, Bucharest, Moscow, Tortola and Warsaw.

    For more information, seehttp://www.totalservecy.com

    Credibility checklist

    Offer personal guarantees of competence through:

    • Referrals and recommendations from well-known contacts.

    • Testimonials from satisfied customers.

    • Membership in professional associations.

    Provide objective proof of competence through:

    • Public presentations and speeches.

    • A competitive online presence.

    • Appropriate licences or certifications for professional staff.

    • ISO registration for quality management systems.

    • Awards to the company or staff for excellence.

    • Publications by professional staff.

    • A listing in well-known directories.

    • Media coverage of company activities.

    • Partnerships or strategic alliances with known industry leaders.

    • Participating in online discussion groups.

    Provide a positive presentation image by:

    • Making a "benefits statement".

    • Building quality into a web site and other promotional materials.

    • Showing sensitivity to cultural factors.

    Sources: ITC Training Modules on "Successful Services Exporting", which are based on research carried out for ITC by Dorothy Riddle. Writer: Dianna Rienstra. Contributions: Doreen Conrad, Prema de Sousa, Natalie Domeisen