Raise your hand if you’ve read a decent number of professional services posts that provide vague tips about connecting with your prospects on a personal level. These posts may then go on to speak to the importance of emotionally connecting with leads and hitting on their paint points. Sound familiar?
Sure, appealing to human emotion, acknowledging pain points and making connections all have their place in marketing. No matter how complicated the sales cycle is or how much the deal is worth, people typically want to do business with people who’ve demonstrated they “get it” – not to mention who they like. But is “emotion” enough to make a professional services firm successful? At PMG, we’re big proponents of relationship marketing for B2B firms. But tapping into your prospects’ feelings isn’t exactly earth-shattering strategic advice.
So, if we set aside the woolly notion of “emotional marketing,” what tactics really work? Let’s put away the tissue boxes and discuss five tried and true marketing maneuvers from which all professional services firms can benefit.
1. Specialization, Not Emotionalization (yes, that’s a real word!)
I promise I won’t belabor the emotional marketing point much further. More and more B2B firms are using content marketing to connect with their prospective clients. In fact, The Content Marketing Institute found that the top priority for B2B marketers in 2017 is creating engaging content (72%). To put that statistic in perspective, your content must work THAT much harder to compare to the content your competitors are already creating. Given the limited resources of many service firms, this trend can feel overwhelming. When competition is fierce, this is where content specialization is critical.
Your company’s subject matter experts are no doubt equipped to educate your audience about many topics. But if your content strategy is widely varied, it can be challenging to improve your rankings in search results. By specializing in a few core topics, your business will start to be seen as a go-to resource for specific areas of your business. To stand out among the crowd, “average” content won’t cut it. Home in on the subjects you can own.
Deciding to specialize in certain areas is only the first step. How do you decide what those topics are? My recommendation is a two-part approach:
- Complete thorough keyword research to find topics with medium to low competition and a healthy number of searches, and…
- Highlight what makes you unique from your competitors. Keyword research could be an entire post itself, but check out the blog, How to Create & Implement a Keyword Strategy That Actually Works! for more information.
In the Harvard Business Review article, Effective Marketing for Professional Services, Paul Bloom writes,
“One useful approach is to conduct research on the attributes clients or patients think make a particular professional service different from and more attractive than competitors’. The practitioner can then seek to establish itself as a possessor of the desired attributes. It should develop and communicate a distinctive personality or image for itself, which appeals to both its professionals and the people it wants to serve.
Professional service firms can emphasize three attributes or personality features to set themselves apart: “gray hair” (more experience, specialization, credibility, and contacts), more brains (better solutions to problems), and superior procedures. To emphasize superior procedures, professionals report finding it useful to possess and promote such service features as:
- Personal involvement in cases or projects by high-level professionals.
- Easy access to services.
- On-time completion of work.
- The use of state-of-the-art support equipment like computers, communications systems, and testing devices.
- Easy-to-understand reports, presentations, and invoices (i.e., “We talk your language”).
- Frequent follow-up contacts to ensure satisfaction.”
Use your content to express your uniqueness as a company. Topics should always be helpful and educational, as opposed to promotion-heavy, but they should also speak to your credibility. By building a following around a specialty, you can carve out a niche market in a competitive space.
2. It’s Time to Talk about Your Content Marketing Tool
In the same 2016 survey, CMI found that 24% of B2B businesses struggle to understand or choose technology that they need to assist with their marketing efforts. Here at PMG, we’ve used it all. Everything from big systems like HubSpot and Marketo, to mid-sized tools like SharpSpring, to the worst-case scenario… a cobbling of three or four tools.
A quick review of our website will tell you our personal preference for technology (we’re also a HubSpot Platinum Certified Agency Partner). But we realize paying for HubSpot is an expenditure that can be challenging to present to stakeholders in addition to your marketing budget. However, having the right technology in place is going to be what will make or break your strategy’s viability. The added time and complications resulting from utilizing a subpar tool can drastically impact your ability to execute on planned marketing initiatives.
Make your life simple… find a tool that meets the challenges you know you have right now, and the ones you could have in the future. Most business owners and marketers are familiar with the core elements of a good CMS – social scheduling, email functionality, etc. But to keep your program cohesive and easy to manage, it’s wise to invest in a tool that includes these features as well:
- Comprehensive analytics
- Optimization resources
- Contact management system
- Automated workflows or “if/then” branching logic
- Easily accessible training resources
- Competitive analysis data
- Landing page management
- Customizable forms & design elements
No matter what tool your team chooses, be sure it’s user-friendly. Toggling between multiple tools may seem cost effective at first, but you’ll likely feel differently once you factor in all the time you waste transitioning between these systems, as well as the lack of connectivity between your marketing activities.
And finally, it’s important to consider technical support. Does your tool have a minimum spend to access live support? Is support only available Monday through Friday? Support resources are easily set aside when price is the primary decision factor, but if you opt for the most inexpensive platform, you may find your team spending extra time on each marketing task or project to resolve issues that pop up along the way.
3. Referral Marketing > Emotional Marketing
Referrals are the greatest source of new leads for the professional services businesses I work with, and I suspect if you’re marketing a professional services firm, you’ve also found this to be true. The marketing strategy you create should seek to build on your existing relationships to increase your referral rate. But for many businesses, asking for an introduction is a daunting task.
But a referral email can be as simple as a dinner invite to a trusted client. Below is a simple customizable email to make the referral “ask” a little less painful.
It’s been a while since we last spoke, and I thought you may be interested in our latest complimentary resource, [insert offer name].
I’m also contacting you to ask a favor. I am looking to expand my network and ultimately work with a few individuals who are serious about strengthening their [insert detail]. Here are three ways to do just that:
- Get Social: Simply follow [business name] on social media and like or share our content. It’s a quick and valuable way to show your support.
- Pass It On: When you receive our quarterly newsletters, event information or blog articles via email, we invite you to forward them to a friend who would appreciate the information.
- Let Us Take You to Lunch – Or Breakfast, Or Dinner! If you have a colleague, family member, or friend who is a good fit for our services, allow me to take you both out for a no-pressure lunch. If this piques your interest, simply reply to this email and we will set the day, time and place that works for you.
My door is always open if you want advice on [insert detail].
Name & Contact Information”
Another great way to naturally build your referral program is by inviting your clients to participate in your content creation. Guest blogging presents a natural opportunity for both parties to showcase the content they’ve created to a similar target audience.
This concept also works for speaking at events. If you have clients or contacts in complimentary industries, host an event together! Even if the two industries don’t perfectly mesh (a financial services firm and a law firm, for example), you can still find ways to make the event work seamlessly. Just remember that the primary focus should be to provide value; let promoting your business take a backseat to the educational content.
By including your clients and partners in your blog, offers, and events, you’re creating an opportunity to meet the people your contacts know. Make it even easier for your partners by writing and suggesting social posts for their channels, and if applicable, creating content for their website in return. If you’re still looking for inspiration, take a look at these emails below. Many of these templates are for ecommerce firms, but the design and tone can certainly be emulated in a B2B professional services campaign.
- Webflow – You Need a New Website in 2015
- Airbnb – Share Your Love of Travel
- Treehouse – Share the Love
4. It’s My Professional Services Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To
If you’re not actively pursuing an event strategy, you’re giving away prospects to your competitors. Know that 81% of B2B firms utilize in-person events as a part of their marketing strategy. AND, of all marketing tactics deployed, it has the highest effectiveness rating. CMI also noted that in-person events have had the highest effectiveness rating for the last six years. Additionally, effectiveness has increased from 69% in 2015 to 75% in 2016.
Events can go beyond catered dinners or a discussion series in your office (although both are proven strategies). Tradeshows and conferences present opportunities to reach a large audience and lend credibility to your employees. Identifying conference speaking opportunities is also going to help you build credibility as a trusted partner. Note: Speaking applications generally close anywhere from six months to a year before the event date. So start on your presentation and pitch now, and you’ll be ready in time for late 2017 and 2018 events.
If you do decide to participate at an event, whether it be as a participant or a speaker, consider taking a little of the event marketing into your own hands. Provide your own take on the event promotion with your tips and tricks for making the most of the event, or partnering with other speakers to create related content. Or you could even create a map of your favorite dinner locations near the conference! There are an endless number of opportunities to “hack” a conference’s marketing and offer your original spin.
Marketing agencies have utilized this tactic for years – especially with HubSpot’s yearly INBOUND conference. Pre and post event blog articles, event guides, local hotspots, sponsored happy hours, and a heavy dose of social media marketing is all a part of many agencies’ strategies to garner more attention while at the event.
Here are a few traditional event email examples:
- Emma – These Two Speakers Were So Good
- Circles – Hangout Passes Are Here
- Emma – Don’t Sleep in Your Car
5. One Word... Free
For this recommendation, I’m borrowing from the idea of a “freemium” offering many tech companies utilize. We’ve all seen teaser products, free trials and complimentary basic versions from SaaS organizations. Companies from Hootsuite to HubSpot offer free versions of their products. So, why shouldn’t professional services firms?
I know what you’re going to say… “But Alexis, how can we give something away in a business that is largely based on relationship building?”
Yet this is a challenge most professional services firms should be able to surmount with a little creativity. For a financial services firm, this may be a free retirement review. For an accountant, this could be a complimentary pre-tax assessment. For dentists, this may be an offer for a free whitening treatment with the purchase of the cleaning. Sometimes, educational content may not be enough without a compelling offer to drive people further down the funnel. It’s all about giving a taste of the full value you can provide!
A free offering is also perfect for a referral campaign. Your clients and partners may be more comfortable sharing your content with the promise of a no-pressure complimentary service. As Sandra Bullock famously once said, “I'll do anything for free stuff.”
Speaking of Free Stuff…
If you’re struggling to make sense of your marketing plan, you’re not alone! We’ve published several great posts to get you started. Take a look at the content below:
- The Do’s and Don’ts of Professional Services Marketing
- How To Market Services – Treat Them Like a Product
- Customer Story: How Management Mentors Rocks HubSpot Marketing
And if you're still looking for more, check out our comprehensive eBook available for download: Professional Services Marketing: The Art of Making Your Services Sell Easier.
As always, don’t hesitate to contact me if you need any additional information (or more free ideas!)