How can professional services firms raise their reputation and visibility in the marketplace? The answers aren't the same as they used to be. In fact, our research shows that when clients go to check out professional services providers, 80% use online sources of information compared to 55% using traditional references.
Traditional marketing techniques are giving way to strategies that are designed with modern clients in mind - and the old ways are no longer enough. So what are the top techniques for professional services firms today?
Defining Marketing Techniques
Before we consider the best marketing techniques, it's important to nail down what exactly we mean by that. Simply put, a marketing technique is anything you do to bring in new business or increase your firm's visibility and reputation.
We're not talking about strategies for closing sales once you have the opportunity - marketing techniques are all about generating those opportunities in the first place. These are methods for targeting promising markets, building your brand and generating and nurturing leads to drive faster growth and higher profits.
There are many different marketing techniques both online and offline. Major offline examples include trade shows, networking and in-person speaking engagements. Key online techniques include a firm's website, ongoing search engine optimization efforts, and industry webinars.
Taken together, online and offline marketing techniques allow you to reach clients wherever they may be. Traditional, offline networking has been an important part of the professional services industry for some time, but these days crucial relationships are forged more and more often through social media like LinkedIn.
Speaking engagements and seminars have long served as platforms for industry leaders to share ideas and vision with the industry. Today the Internet allows these ideas to reach a wider audience through webinars and blogs.
In this evolving, increasingly complex marketing world, how can professional services succeed? Which techniques are the most important for building a powerful reputation?
1) Specialization and niche targeting
Our research has repeatedly shown that the fastest-growing firms tend to be specialists in a carefully targeted niche - an area of the industry that they understand thoroughly.
Not everyone recognizes specialization as a marketing technique, but in fact, it is among the most powerful. Why? Specialization impacts every aspect of your business, from the audiences you target to the messages you craft. Specialization makes all of your marketing efforts easier, because it tends to define exactly what you do and distinguish you from the competition.
Often, specialization forms the basis of a firm's competitive advantage. If you understand a very particular slice of the marketplace better than anyone else, then you're best-equipped to recognize what matters to them and speak to their needs. Specialization is perhaps the most powerful differentiator.
2) Visible Experts℠
Visible Experts are exactly what they sound like: high-visibility experts in your industry, leading figures who advance big ideas and draw clients through the sheer power of their names.
Our research shows that firms with in-house Visible Experts experience a variety of important benefits. These highly visible experts generate more leads, command billing rates that are up to thirteen times higher, and close sales more easily.
Many firms have experts, but often they're not widely visible, and there's no focused plan to increase their visibility. Many firms simply don't recognize the benefits of high visibility.
If they do, they don't realize that there are proven strategies for building an expert's profile. By giving experts a platform to educate audiences, whether through books or blogs or webinars, firms can support an individual's reputation and ultimately encourage growth for the firm as a whole.
For firms with rising experts on their teams, cultivating Visible Experts from within is a powerful strategy. When your firm has a clear specialization and a nationally-recognized Visible Expert, you're in an excellent position to accelerate your marketing efforts and your growth.
3) Blogs and articles
There are two sides to blogging: maintaining your own firm's blog, and also blogging on other people's sites. The same goes for articles, which you might write for your own firm's publications or outside industry publications.
Blogs and articles are platforms through which you can project your firm's particular expertise, way of thinking, and problem-solving acumen. By educating your audiences, you demonstrate your relevance to them and show them your qualifications as an expert.
There is also a second key benefit to blogging. It is an excellent way to increase the drawing power of your website. The search engines look for fresh content on your website. They also highly value content that is linked to by other sites. A robust guest blogging program coupled with engaging content on your own site is a great marketing technique to deliver these twin benefits.
This is also why blogs and articles are an important part of any effort to cultivate Visible Experts - not to mention a cornerstone of online marketing.
4) A lead-generating website
A website carries your identity and message to an ever-growing online audience. But it can do more. A lead-generating website is carefully crafted to serve as the hub of your online marketing efforts. Attractive, easy-to-find content is served alongside relevant offers designed to convert visitors into leads, all integrated into a comprehensive lead-generating and nurturing ecosystem. Because of its central role, a lead-generating website is sometimes called the "Queen of Marketing Materials." It's a key ingredient for turning visitors into fans and fans into clients.
5) Search engine optimization (SEO)
Going hand-in-hand with a lead generating website is a thoughtful strategy for search engine optimization (or SEO). SEO is really an umbrella term for a variety of techniques designed to make sure that your valuable content gets in front of the right audiences.
And one of the most important of those strategies is to ensure that your content really is valuable. There is no shortcut here. You must develop well-written content that is truly useful to your specific target audience.
There are also a host of important technical issues to attend to. Your website must be structured and tagged properly and pages should contain the appropriate keywords to signal to the search engine what it is about. It is indeed an art and a science.
SEO isn't a one-time effort, but an ongoing strategy to create quality content that is easy for your audience to find. This is an absolutely crucial technique for generating low-cost, high-quality leads online - and the only reason it's not higher on the list is that its impact is primarily on the online side of your marketing equation.
6) Speaking engagements
Speaking engagements are one of the most powerful lead generating techniques of high-visibility experts - and a great way to build one's reputation. Speaking engagements confer credibility and often put you in front of a highly-targeted audience, presenting an excellent opportunity for generating leads.
This is why 26% of Visible Experts rank speaking engagements as their top source for leads. And it is why speaking engagements have long been an important part of many successful firm's arsenal of marketing techniques.
But all speaking engagements are not created equal. You must be in front of your target client group or folks who are in a position to recommend you to your potential clients. And, of course, you must have something valuable to say.
7) Trade show participation
Much like speaking engagements, trade shows are a great way to get a high concentration of potential clients all in one place at same time.
One of the major advantages of trade shows is that they allow organizations to come together around a common theme. This means that your audience can be truly targeted.
At a trade show, you can share content, network, connect with other professionals, and exhibit. By choosing (or organizing) the show strategically, you keep your cost-per-interaction low, engaging closely but also efficiently with many potential clients in a short span of time.
The keys to success are careful targeting, planning, and follow-through. Done right, trade shows are a lot of work, but yield a lot of reward.
When it comes to networking, trade shows are an efficient offline technique. But you can achieve many of the same aims in the online space with LinkedIn. As the premier social network for professional services, it is a rich source for influential and engaged professional contacts.
Other social media like Twitter are also helpful, but LinkedIn is really the top of the social media food chain for the B2B world. It's not only a way to connect one-on-one, but a hub of focused professional services communities.
There are many active LinkedIn Groups where thinkers from across industries discuss issues that impact professional services firms today. For firms not already leveraging LinkedIn, it's easy to get started. But just having a passive presence will not yield major benefits. You need to develop good individual profiles for your key team members, have a robust firm page, and actively engage in relevant groups.
An active social media presence also works hand in glove with your blogging and SEO efforts. Sharing valuable content is the currency of social media. It will draw web traffic and increase the impact of SEO through the links that follow.
9) Online video
Online video allows for many of the benefits of face-to-face interaction. You can "meet" the people you're working with, get a glimpse of their world and give them a more personal impression.
With live streaming video you can also pick up on visual cues like body language. Video also allows you to share detailed, highly visual tutorials or demonstrations easily.
You can use video as a live communication tool with distant prospects or clients, through services like FaceTime or Skype or Google Hangouts. Other times, you might distribute recorded video on platforms like YouTube.
Professional services are ultimately all about people, and video is an exceptional way to showcase your people. In addition to communication and tutorials, some common uses for video include:
- Firm overviews
- Overviews of your service areas
- Video case studies
- Video blogging
- A "meet the team" video
10) Develop a signature piece of content
When you produce an authoritative work on a topic in your industry, it is a major source of credibility for your firm.You are demonstrating what is the most important criteria potential clients look for in a new firm...expertise. Think of it as a short cut to the short list.
The most widely recognized and effective form of signature content is a book about your specialty. In fact, writing such a book is one of the characteristics that distinguishes the fastest-rising Visible Experts from the rest.
But a book is not the only possible approach. Other forms of signature content might include a major research study that is relevant to your audience or a significant best practices guide The key is that it has to be truly noteworthy In other words, you must offer resources so valuable to your potential clients that they make your reputation.
The ten most effective marketing techniques are a diverse group of online and offline strategies. Each technique is most effective when it is working in concert with the others.
Effective search engine optimization might help draw relevant audiences to a video of a speech delivered by one of your Visible Experts - all hosted on your lead-generating website, where a targeted offer helps convert visitors into leads.
When you use a diverse array of thoughtful marketing techniques, and they build on one another, they allow you to take your reputation to the next level. With commitment and the right techniques, professional services marketing success is within reach.