If you’re a salesperson, practice lead, business development specialist, or owner in the professional services space, there’s a very good chance you’re looking for real business growth. And, to a large extent, growth means more leads.
The most productive growth strategy for professional services firms requires a potent blend of expertise and communications that reach buyers who are ready to act. That means leveraging both proven online marketing techniques and the demonstrated expertise of BD professionals through a thought leadership strategy.
What can make a difference in terms of real business growth? How can professional services providers—with clients to help, staff to manage, and hands to shake—assess whether their marketing approach needs a tune-up or a teardown?
Before we explore the answers to these questions, let’s first look at how buyers are purchasing professional services—and what that means for growth.
Making a Good First Impression Online
When decision makers have a problem, they go online.
Online resources like company websites, LinkedIn, and industry blogs give buyers an unprecedented depth of information and breadth of choice about providers. Today, 77% of professional services firms generate new business leads online, and 80% of buyers check out service providers by looking at their website.
When buyers face any sort of challenge, they search online. Maybe they find a helpful post on an industry blog published by an unfamiliar firm. Over time, the buyers follow the blog, attend a free webinar, and receive useful tips in weekly emails from that same firm. If the buyers later need services in the area covered by these pieces of content, they are likely to pick up the phone and reach out.
Figure 1. How Buyers Check Out Potential Professional Services Providers
Just a few years ago, formal references would have dominated this chart. Today, a firm’s website is the uncontested champion, though buyers are typically using multiple resources. In fact, they’re using an average of 3.2 methods—many of which are online. From search engines to social media, today’s buyers have a wealth of ways to learn about providers and solutions—and they’re using them.
Develop Great Content Around Your Expertise
Your expertise can drive the success of your content marketing long before you talk to a prospective client. And that’s exactly what happens in the most successful content marketing campaigns.
Strong content has a couple of key attributes. It should be:
- Educational. This isn’t guerilla promotion. Your content should teach audiences something valuable, not promote your firm.
- Relevant. Your content should speak to target audiences’ real challenges and opportunities. It has to be rooted in a sophisticated understanding of their needs and marketplace.
- Accessible. Content should speak your audiences’ language. Keep it clear and accessible while avoiding unnecessary jargon.
Right away, these three key characteristics should give you an idea of why your expertise is so important: as a business development specialist, you have the ability to ensure that content meets all of these criteria.
Your accumulated experience in your industry is valuable for growth—often, more valuable than you realize. Knowledge that you take for granted and ideas that are basic to you can provide essential insight to others. So take a step back and assess what you know.
What do you know a lot about? What are the typical client problems you help to solve? What has your experience taught you about the causes of these problems? The answers to these questions are fodder for educational, relevant, and accessible content.
Give It Away
I know it sounds counterintuitive, but you’ll want to give away—free of charge—much or all of that great content. The goal is business growth, and to do that you want to put yourself in a position to advise your target audience. This is a great way to be introduced to prospective buyers and spur growth. Build credibility as a problem-solver in your marketplace, as a knowledgeable advisor. If you do, potential clients are more likely to prefer you over a competitor.
Educational Content and High Growth
When your firm starts assembling its marketing toolbox, it makes sense to ask, “Which tools work?” After all, if a tool or technique isn’t going to make a demonstrable contribution to the bottom line, then why bother?
For answers, we can look to our studies on the marketing strategies used by average and high growth businesses. Our research shows a major difference in the way high growth and average growth firms approach content and digital marketing.
The chart below shows where 500 professional services firms focused their efforts (there was a stark difference between the high growth and average growth firms).
Effectiveness Rating: High Growth vs. Average Growth Firms
The top techniques used by high growth firms are dramatically underutilized by average growth firms.
Figure 2. Top 5 digital techniques favored by high-growth firms
The research shows that companies that blog regularly see 50% more traffic and 70% more leads. Why? Not only does educational content (like blog posts and white papers) help boost your firm’s credibility and share your expertise, it also helps raise your visibility in search engines—so prospects are likelier to find you when they go looking for solutions.
Long after you or your firm’s other experts have written and posted a blog, that content keeps working for you by raising your profile in searches and educating potential clients who might not otherwise have known you are out there. Robust educational content — often known as “evergreen content” — will remain relevant for years to come. Think of it as a long-term investment in your brand, and ultimately in your business growth.
Moving Forward with a Thought Leadership Strategy
Marketing and promoting your expertise through a thought leadership strategy doesn’t work overnight. It succeeds through sustained effort.
Once your team is committed, here are a few ways you can help shape relevant content:
- Identify your typical prospect type
- Isolate 5-6 key concerns per prospect type
- Identify areas of specialty — from a prospect’s perspective rather than a service perspective
- Identify field-facing personnel fluent in the business “language” your ideal customer speaks
With the organizational support to produce a steady stream of quality educational content, your firm should be able to command greater visibility among potential clients and make the most of business growth opportunities. Without it sustained growth is hard to come by.
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