Not quite sure how to “sell” your services?
Are you trying to create a strategic marketing plan to differentiate your services from those of your competitors?
For most companies – notably smaller, entrepreneurial businesses – this may seem to be a task easier said than done. But fear not! You’ve come to the right place. As an outsourced marketing firm specializing in B2B business, we regularly work with many types of professional services firms (not to mention we are a professional services company ourselves!).
Our years of experience with businesses from a wide variety of service sectors – ranging from consulting agencies and technology service providers to commercial property managers, sales teams, caterers, and more – has taught us so much about marketing in the professional services world. So we’ve pieced together this resource to share some of our helpful insights! But professional services marketing… gee, that’s pretty broad, don’t you think? Yet that’s just it. There is no exact science to selling a service. It all depends on your individual business, your prospects and clients, and the ways you and your staff build and maintain relationships with your target audience.
Thus, professional services marketing is more of an art. Like creating a spectacular painting over a period of time, it’s a process. It requires patience. And it’s difficult for others to realize the full value of your work until after it’s finally completed. However, that’s not to say there is no method to the madness! This blog is designed to help those marketers working in the expansive professional services industry build and customize strategies that yield actual business results.
You’ll learn all the best ways services firms can “productize” their services, optimize their websites, create and promote awesome content, leverage thought leadership, and make the most of relationship marketing – in order to generate those A-list, sales-ready leads. Sound like a plan? Okay! Let’s begin by introducing you to the distinct challenges that come along with marketing a service.
5 Steps for Marketing Your Professional Service
What makes marketing professional services different?
Marketing a professional service versus marketing a product – what changes? Though similar inbound marketing principles will still apply to strategies for both types of business, marketing a service entails greater complexity. Here’s why:
Intangibility – Services – unlike products – cannot be seen, touched, held, etc. Buyers only know the true value of your service after they receive it (often with full effects taking place weeks or months later). When people make these purchases, they are essentially buying into trust and ideas, requiring professional services firms to market not only the service itself but the people, knowledge, and skills behind it.
A Longer Buying Cycle – A B2B firm’s sales cycle is generally longer and more complicated than a B2C company, as the perceived buying risk is typically much higher. Add marketing an intangible service into the mix, and the funnel is further extended. Therefore, crafting specific marketing components for each stage of your unique sales cycle can make all the difference. Your initial goal may even be to start with a small win – and then continue to upsell and cross-sell as you impress your clients again and again.
Transactions vs. Relationships – Purchasing a product is characterized by a simple transaction, whereas investing in B2B services always requires some form of relationship. Moreover, you can’t walk around trying on services; consequently, buyers often determine which brand will be the best fit for their business based on a series of personalized interactions – and relationship marketing plays a substantial role.
An Ongoing Process – As sellers of professional services, know that you are constantly marketing. Every touchpoint you have with a prospect or current customer throughout an engagement matters and supports the value you bring, particularly after the initial sale. Even if a mistake is made, a defunct product can be returned and usually has fewer negative repercussions than a badly managed or poorly executed service. Therefore, delivering on what you promise is all the more critical.
Education – Understanding your customers’ pain points and what makes their businesses tick is a key preliminary step to selling your services. Your company must be the answer potential customers are looking for. So it’s important to educate your audience via easily accessible channels, providing informative responses to common industry questions – as well as solutions to problems your prospects frequently encounter. Your website and blog are great places to start!
Bragging Rights – Your client needs to fully understand the benefits you bring to the table, why only you can do it, and why the client isn’t able to do it as effectively on their own. Be prepared to brag a little bit – confidence is key. How have you resolved issues like your prospects’ before? How have you positioned yourself in the market relative to your competitors? Sometimes it’s okay to talk the talk when you can walk the walk.
Part I. Productizing Your Services
Services… you can’t see them, you can’t touch them, and you can’t take them out of the box for demonstration. Yet all of this is what you must do to sell them. For the business person, the intangible nature of services provides a formidable sales and marketing challenge – how do you differentiate yourself quickly and easily? For the prospect, services present a buying risk – they never really know what they are buying until after the service is delivered. This risk often prompts buyers to do the one thing that will protect them: negotiate the price. So what’s a business owner to do? The answer is to productize… or package your service, so it’s communicated like a product.
By productizing your services, you are making them easier to buy. It creates a distinct advantage over other service providers and enhances your overall service profitability. Whether you have a service business or sell services as part of a product offering, think like a product manager and watch your sales effort plummet as your profits soar. Check out these four specific ways to package and market your professional services:1. Turn your service into a product.
Turning a service into a physical product allows you to create a passive revenue stream, reach a larger audience and demonstrate your expertise. Frequently called (Service Name) in a Box or (Service Name) Toolkit, you create tip sheets, templates, worksheets, and supporting education pieces that share your expertise at a fraction of the cost of having you consult directly with clients. It’s important to consider the value of what you are delivering; it must be substantial and compelling. There is so much free information available online that your tool needs to help someone take a major step forward. Perhaps it comes with “free” consulting or access to a forum where people can share ideas and challenges.
Examples: downloadable resources for “Writing a Business Plan,” “Creating a PR Program,” or “Developing Your Marketing Strategy.”
This technique works for a service that includes several options and sells at varying price
points. Make it simple for someone to buy by offering service packages that meet the different
price requirements. Sometimes you’ll see these presented as Gold, Silver, and Bronze levels
that provide clients with price and service options – but please, be more creative with your
Examples: customer support services for software/hardware products; consulting services for large businesses vs. smaller firms, inbound marketing services that include blog articles or social media posts, etc.
Another advantage to packaging these services offering levels is that you can publish the price
points on your website and use that information as a qualification tool. This will weed out the
tire kickers that are looking for “everything for nothing.” Two crucial points: These options
cannot affect the quality of a service, nor can you offer different prices for the same
service. These levels must represent differences in the actual deliverables and the total value.
When your offerings start to look like commodities, reposition them by creating a new
service. This approach may involve taking several services and combining them into one
offering, or it may combine your services with one delivered by a partner to create a more
robust, valuable offering.
Examples: for software companies, an upgrade service that helps clients take advantage of
new product releases; for writers, a newsletter package that serves as a complete turnkey; for
architects, project management services.
When it seems impossible to package what you deliver, differentiate your company and increase your perceived value by packaging the actual presentation of your services. Start by naming the process, then document each step, create a detailed project plan, identify decision points, formalize your deliverables from each step and compile it into a branded package. This shows prospects you know what you’re doing, and you follow a logical approach. It increases the perception that you are established, professional and capable.
Examples: for a Web firm, an end-to-end design, and development process; for a software company, the implementation, and rollout process.
The common thread running through these ideas is the need to present all of the value you deliver. Don’t assume that your customers understand everything you do for them. You need to pull out every piece of value you provide throughout a project and directly present that to the client. Not only will you create a clear differentiation from your competition, but you’ll also give your prospect all the information he or she needs to decide to buy from you.
In the Trenches! “Virtual, Inc. is positioned in a little-known yet crowded professional service field. We are a premium brand, often running up against much smaller and less expensive competitors, and must differentiate ourselves based on knowledge and service value rather than compete on price. To better package our services, we have created service bundles and distinctive branding around those individual services most commonly used by our client organizations. We have also established base prices for the service bundles and can scale pricing easily based on the scope of services required by each client.”
– Bruce Rogers, CEO at Virtual, Inc
Part II. Developing a Keyword Strategy
Search engine optimization – the proverbial puzzle every marketer is endlessly trying to solve. Just when you think you’ve got your SEO strategy down pat, the rules of the game change yet again. Nevertheless, optimizing your website for search is critical if you hope to have any chance of generating new leads via organic search. So what’s the first step? Developing a keyword strategy!
Professional services SMBs, particularly those in niche fields, can quickly climb the SERPs ladder if they can capitalize on the right keywords. This section will teach you how to conduct keyword research – and how to effectively implement your keyword strategy into your website content.
What are keywords?
A keyword is a word or phrase used to describe your business and/or your professional service(s). When an internet user types a query into a search engine, they include keywords they hope to match with relevant information. As business owners and marketers, we strategically place these terms throughout our site pages, services descriptions, blog posts, digital ads, and other marketing campaign components to attract visitors to our websites via organic search.
There are two main types of keywords:
- Branded keywords: keywords that contain the target website’s brand or company name (or a variation, such as a domain name or a misspelled version)
- Non-branded keywords: keywords that do not contain the target website’s brand or company name (examples include industry themes and topics, common prospect and customer questions, specific service terminology, etc.)
Why is SEO important for professional services marketing?
One aspect of services marketing that many B2B professionals do not place enough emphasis on is search engine optimization (SEO). By thoroughly optimizing your website for organic search, you have a much higher chance of showing up in the search engine results pages when a user performs a search related to your industry or service category.
Particularly for smaller B2B companies in the professional services industry, capitalizing on non-branded keyword search terms provides an excellent opportunity to rank well in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). While larger big-name services firms can rely on branded keywords, ranking for non-branded keywords is valuable to SMBs because it enables a website to obtain new visitors who are not already familiar with that company. To be frank, SEO is an important marketing technique for all businesses marketing their services and products online.
“When seeking information online, 75% of internet users do not scroll past the first page”. – HubSpot
How do you create a keyword strategy? To attract your target prospects to your website, you need to know what they are searching for online. What questions are they asking? What words and phrases are they using in the search engines?
Conducting keyword research is a critical first step to determining how you will optimize your site content. Before you begin piecing together your keyword strategy, you should have a comprehensive understanding of:
- Your target buyer personas – Who are your ideal customers, and what are their pain points?
- The buying process – What questions do prospects ask at each stage of the sales funnel?
- Your competitors – Who is coming up more frequently when searching for your priority keywords?
- Industry terminology – What seed words are actually being used when searches are being performed?
It is best practice to include a healthy mix of keywords on your website. Ideally, you should select keywords characterized by a:
- High/medium monthly search volume
- Low/medium level of competition
How do you figure this out? You can use Google AdWords Keyword Planner Tool (free!) if you sign up with your Google account. Begin with an industry term or phrase that is commonly used and type it into the keyword toolbox. Google will provide you with the number of monthly searches (globally and locally) and the competition for this term (taking into account the number of people attempting to rank for this keyword).
If a particular term is too competitive, try a long-tail version. Long-tail keywords are lengthier keyword phrases (more specific to what you are selling) that visitors are more likely to use when they are closer to the point of purchase. For example, the keyword phrase “social media marketing” could be the broader head term for the long tail version “social media marketing for B2B companies.” Though long tail keywords sometimes yield a lower search volume, there will often be less competition for them – and therefore, less difficult to rank for them.
Optimizing your website
For every search conducted on Google, there are hundreds upon thousands of pages of online content. But this information is organized and prioritized according to Google’s continually evolving ranking algorithms. Therefore, you need to understand how Google ranks online content – as optimizing your content with the right keywords will help you get found organically and compete against the big guys!
One way Google ranks content is by scoring On-Page SEO. This refers to the way your web page is set up to be found for a particular keyword. If Google understands that your page is truly relevant to a specific topic, the page has a better chance of ranking. Check out these seven easy ways you can power up your On-Page SEO:
- Optimize your web page for only one target priority keyword.
- Include this priority keyword in the page title, the page URL, the page’s headline, and sparingly throughout the body copy.
- Include a short meta description (under 150 characters) accompanying the page’s headline on the search engine results pages.
- Optimize images by uploading an image with a short, descriptive file name and by changing the ALT text to include the keyword.
- When internally linking to this web page from other pages on your site, include the keyword in the anchor text.
- Avoid keyword stuffing. You should always write copy for the audience first and write for the search engines second. Google can penalize you for overusing the same keyword throughout a web page. Do not sacrifice readability for the sake of SEO.
- Ensure all of your web pages are linked back to your homepage.
Attracting Inbound Links
Google also ranks content according to Off-Page SEO, determined in part by your overall domain authority. One way you can increase your domain authority is by attracting inbound links – or links from other websites back to yours. The higher the authority score of the linking website, the more reliable your web content appears to Google. Google and other search engines view stale websites as less relevant, and therefore, these sites commonly rank low (or not at all) on results pages.
By regularly publishing content to provide fresh, new pages for Google to index, you have a much better chance of ranking when internet users conduct an organic search. In this way, smaller B2B services companies with fewer offerings (and fewer pages to continually update, as opposed to product-heavy B2C companies) truly benefit from hosting a business blog.
Methods for attracting inbound links through blogging include:
• Writing awesome content. Be remarkable!
• Creating evergreen blog content or content that will remain relevant long after it has been published.
• Focusing on value and utility.
• Publishing inspirational customer success stories to which others want to link content.
• Demonstrating you are an industry pioneer and thought leader.
• Consistently promoting content via social media.
• Offering and publicizing free resources.
Part III. Demonstrating Thought Leadership
When marketing your professional services, it’s vital that you “give to get.” Your business can reap big rewards when you are generous with the most important thing you have to offer- your expertise. Of course, you have to be paid for the delivery of your services. Still, if you can provide some free information, ideas, and insights to your prospects and clients, you will build trust and credibility – two critical contributors to the process of selling a service. By consistently presenting rich, value-add content to your audience, you demonstrate thought leadership and stand out among your industry competitors. Check out our following tips for doing just that!
It’s difficult to evaluate professional service providers when offerings are unclear, or websites are confusing. It should be a breeze engaging with your business before, during, and after the sale. Marketing your services involves creating a clear path during the buying process and throughout the engagement. When prospects or clients check out your website, make it as straightforward as possible to get the information they need when they need it.
Establish your value proposition – What differentiating factors set you apart from your competitors? How do your company’s strengths and values solve customer problems? Who are you, and who do you aspire to be? Ask yourself these questions, and position yourself in the market by putting your clear and concise mission on display.
Publish customer case studies – This step is crucial when marketing a professional services business. Since people are purchasing your services based on trust and credibility, customer success stories become a necessary marketing component, serving as convincing references built right into your website.
Power up services pages – Make sure you describe the services you offer with enough detail so that visitors can understand the value and easily recognize you are an industry expert. It’s also a good idea to include a customer quote or testimonial on each of these pages, explaining how you’ve delivered great results for past clients.
Create a personalized buying experience – One blanket selling approach will not work with every buyer. Take the time to understand the different types of people who could use your services and create customized content for each segment. Your prospects and clients want to feel as if you are marketing just to them.
Offering Free Resources
These days, people have access to practically limitless free information on the Web. In fact, they expect it. So do not be afraid to give away some value before you make the sale. You do not want or need to give away your services for free, but it’s important you “give up” enough information so your audience can easily understand you are a top dog in your field. By providing access to a helpful white paper, an interesting stat sheet, or an awesome SlideShare presentation on your website, you are motivating interested prospects to learn more about your company.
These free resources should educate the prospect about a popular industry topic and typically follow a challenge & solution model. In whatever medium you choose, write about or discuss a relevant and common issue encountered by people working in the industry to which you are selling, and provide them with answers, insights, and how-to’s that help them resolve it.
Examples of some free resources your professional services firm can offer on its website:
• eBooks and white papers
• Slideshow presentations
• Videos and webinars
• Checklists and cheat sheets
• Templates and tool kits
• Samples of your work
Feel free to use your imagination – there are plenty of creative ways to demonstrate thought leadership. A free resource can be just as entertaining as it is informative! Perhaps most importantly, these offers can and, in most cases, should be gated behind a dedicated landing page on your website. These landing pages facilitate an exchange of information: your free offer for an interested lead’s contact information. You’ll find out more about this concept in the next chapter.
Hosting a Business Blog
Undoubtedly, regularly publishing helpful blog posts is the most efficient and straightforward way you can demonstrate thought leadership. By presenting readers with information about important industry topics and answering industry FAQs, you have a convenient way to showcase your expertise while simultaneously boosting your SEO strategy.
Check out these four reasons professional services companies should be blogging:
Blogging enables you to share your insights – Our own professional services clients generally have decades of experience in their field. And they can often see what’s coming or trending before other people can. These insights make great material for blog content!
Blogging builds trust – In professional services, clients aren’t just buying the service you offer. They’re buying you. They want to work with someone credible and with whom they can build a strong relationship. One way they can get to know you is through your blog.
Blogging drives traffic to your website – Small businesses don’t have time to continually update their websites. But by blogging on topics you know well (and want to be known for), you can usher visitors over to your website. And with consistent posting and focusing on your target keywords, you will keep your website fresh for the search engines.
Blogging helps you know what your customers want – Dig into your website’s data analytics!
Which blog posts get the most views and comments? This may indicate what your prospects want to see more (or less) of, helping you shape your next post or offer. When writing blog posts, an entry’s length can range from 250 words to 2,500 words. Find out what type of posts your audience is interested in and write for your readers.
Developing your company’s presence on social media
Demonstrating thought leadership via social media is about educating and engaging with your audience… not continuously touting your own company’s services. It’s important to find the right balance. Here are some cut-and-dry steps you can follow to create a more effective social presence.
Observe the trends – It’s critical for you to find out what’s hot on social media and what’s not. Your first step should be to choose 5-10 industry thought leaders to actively follow. Subscribe to their social media channels and regularly monitor the conversations they are having with their followers. Then try to pinpoint what makes these influencers interesting and successful! What are other people saying about them? Digging into what makes these social accounts tick will help you when building your own strategy. We recommend checking in on their social media channels 1-2 times per week.
Consider these questions when monitoring social accounts:
• Which topics generate the most buzz?
• Which topics are shared the most?
• Are these influencers responding to comments and social messaging? If so, what are they saying?
• Do these industry players link to specific sources or other influencers in their posts?
• How frequently do they publish posts? Do you find this timing effective?
• Which social channels appear to have the greatest impact?
• Can you apply any successful techniques to your own social media strategy?
Interact with social influencers – By participating in the social media conversation, you have the chance to increase your social reach and present yourself as a reliable thought leader. If you feel you can offer credible feedback about a particular topic, go for it! After contributing some comments, it’s great to share these influencers’ content via social media with your own spin on the message. Did you find out something cool? Give credit where credit is due by tagging their handle. Do you have another perspective on this topic? Take a side and write your own blog post with a link back to theirs. And always remember to thank users for sharing your content!
Post third-party content – It’s best practice to follow the “60, 30, 10 Rule.” 60% of the content you post on social media should be helpful information from outside sources. 30% of your social posts should link back to your blog content. And the remaining 10% should be promotional posts – links to landing pages on your website, company announcements, etc.
In the Trenches! “Thought leadership is critically important, especially when introducing a new concept into the marketplace. We believe that sales outsourcing should be a critical component of the growth strategy for most rapidly growing technology companies. We must explain why it works, how it works and how to incorporate these services into a plan. People have substantial misconceptions about what sales outsourcing means and how it can be used to advantage. The more people that you can convert via thought leadership, the less evangelizing needs to be done when you get in front of potential clients.” – Greg Dunne, CEO at Mansfield Sales Partners
Part IV. Promoting Your Content
After funneling your expertise into valuable content accessible from your website, your next step is to actively promote that content. Services don’t market themselves, so it’s up to you to sound the horns and get the ball rolling! However, putting your brand on the map isn’t a free-for-all. It’s about choosing the right methods and channels and systematically reaching out to your audience. This section discusses effective lead generation and lead nurturing techniques, as well as how you can set up your website, your social media accounts, and email campaigns to optimally support all the content you’ve created to build trust and inspire interest.
A landing page is a web page on which a visitor “lands” after clicking a link to your website. Although there are several types of landing pages, the LPs you should be creating and utilizing to support your inbound marketing efforts are called lead generation landing pages. The major purpose of these landing pages is to convert a visitor into a lead by collecting the visitor’s contact information in exchange for a “lead generating” offer.
Whether you want people to subscribe to your newsletter, download an eBook or make a purchase, a unique landing page is where they do it. Use these pages to promote your great content! A lead gen landing page will contain a form along with a description of what the lead will receive in return for submitting his or her data. This valuable information will allow you to better market to and connect with the prospect at a subsequent time. Rules for building landing pages:
Eliminate distractions – Do not include the main navigation on your landing page or any other distractions that would possibly redirect the visitor to another page on your site. Remember, the goal here is a conversion!
Include a secondary offer – The only exception to the rule above would be to provide an alternative CTA on the landing page – just in case the prospect decides he is no longer interested in your first offer or he isn’t ready to download a piece of content catering to a specific stage in the sales funnel. A second CTA (for an offer of slightly less value) still increases the chance of a conversion
Optimize your forms for conversion – Only ask for the information you need. Consider your buyer personas and what information enables you to best segment your database. In addition, consider how changing the formatting could make the form appear shorter. For example, placing the “First Name” and “Last Name” form fields on the same line saves space.
Emphasize the benefit – The text on your Submit button should include words like receive, download, get, redeem, etc., which highlight your offer. Avoid phrasing that emphasizes what the visitor must give up (such as submit, enter, apply, etc.)
Follow up with a Thank You page – Redirecting your new leads to a Thank You page allows you to express your appreciation and gives you the chance to present them with additional direction and maintain their attention. Moreover, it’s a smart idea to send them an automated follow-up email with the resource attached.
Calls to Action
How do visitors typically land on a landing page? A related Call-to-Action! A Call-to-Action (or CTA) is an image or line of text that prompts your visitors, leads, and customers to take a specific desired action. Typically, a CTA will take the form of a button or icon. How that graphic looks is entirely up to you! Although your options are broad, great Calls-to-action do share some similar qualities worth noting.
A compelling CTA design will:
• Be clear and to the point.
• Appear to be “clickable.”
• Stand out against the background.
• Link to one specific landing page.
• Use copy that aligns with the prominent copy on the landing page.
• Motivate the reader.
To actively promote your content, be sure to include CTAs throughout your website – on your home page, on your services pages, in your free resources, and at the bottom of every blog post you publish! This way, you are giving your business every opportunity to generate new qualified leads.
Leveraging the Right Social Media Channels
Yes, we’re back to social media! Although it’s a handy method for promoting thought leadership, professional services companies should also use social media as a megaphone – to showcase both content and company culture. By sharing your offers, web content, and blog posts in various social media channels, you are much more likely to increase your company’s visibility. And by sharing the content of other social influencers, you are also likely to obtain more followers who will potentially reciprocate and link to your valuable content.
The following channels are great places to start when building a social media program for a professional services firm:
LinkedIn – For B2B companies, there is no better multi-purpose online business hub than LinkedIn. Launched in 2003 and getting stronger every day, there are more than 300 million active LinkedIn users worldwide. Not only does LinkedIn offer businesses a free Company Page and product and service-specific Showcase Pages, but it’s also an excellent tool for prospecting and conducting market research. We’ve also deployed LinkedIn Advertising as a direct means of generating leads for several professional services clients of ours. Depending on your business, you can obtain great targeted exposure for only a small investment. For a more in-depth look at LinkedIn for B2B companies, take a look at the guide: B2B Marketing: Maximizing Your LinkedIn Presence
Twitter – Twitter can work for any business. However, to properly take advantage of Twitter and build a following, you need to put in the time. If you are marketing a growing services company and you’re able to allocate resources to social media, you probably want to develop a presence on this channel. It’s a great way to discover new social influencers and thought leaders, share content, see what others are talking about, and drive traffic to your website.
Google My Business – Although not technically a social network, Google My Business remains essential for its heavy SEO weight. Every professional service business that has or wants a web presence needs an active Google My Business page.
Other channels like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc., may also be appropriate for your business. Consider your brand and how this could be reflected across platforms, and evaluate what you are willing to spend time on. Just be sure you customize your content and messaging based on the channel you are using.
Even when compared to social media, email marketing remains a significantly more effective way to acquire customers – nearly 40 times more than Facebook and Twitter combined (Source: McKinsey & Company). Why? Because 91 percent of all US consumers still check their inboxes daily. In the B2B professional services marketing world, the buying cycles are typically long and more complex, so nurturing leads via email is all the more important! Here are three great ways you can promote content via email:
Company Newsletters – A monthly or quarterly newsletter is a great way to keep in touch with prospects and customers, showcase client success stories, and make new and important announcements about your business. However, it’s also a great way to promote your top-performing blog posts and offers. What’s more, writing and including a featured article on a trending topic in your service industry further demonstrates your expertise.
Best of Blog Email – You mustn’t inundate your prospects’ inboxes with countless marketing messages. This depletes trust, not to mention it’s downright annoying. But sending an annual email promoting your best blog posts of the year will motivate readers who have missed out on previous posts. This technique may also help you sort out who is genuinely interested in your content, enabling you to segment your contact database better. Try using a catchy subject line like “Our Top 10 Blog Posts of the Year” to see who is opening and clicking through.
Lead nurturing campaigns – When someone downloads a piece of content from your website, the contact information that the converted lead provides should be automatically added to your database. This lead should then be funneled into an email lead nurturing campaign designed to help the prospect move along your sales funnel. A basic campaign typically comprises 3 emails (spread out over time), each presenting a CTA for an offer relevant to the initially downloaded content.
- Top of the funnel: Your prospect has converted into a lead, but it’s pretty unlikely they are ready to make a purchase. Your first step should be to further educate your lead with related information – and gauge his or her interest in your business. One way of doing this is to provide an additional free resource accompanied by relevant insights from your blog.
- Middle of the funnel: Continue building trust and demonstrating your thought leadership by pointing out how your business solves problems for companies similar to your lead’s company. In this second email, include access to a customer case study or two showcasing the great results you’ve achieved for your clients.
- Bottom of the funnel: Here’s where you serve up something with enough value to give your lead a formidable taste of the fantastic services you sell. Examples could include offering a free trial, an assessment or consultation, an interview, an introductory service you might provide, etc. Of course, be sure to specify in the email what qualities differentiate your business from other options your buyer might have.
Use your network! Particularly if your company serves businesses across a wide range of industries, encourage happy clients to refer you to other companies within their professional networks. In the services industry, you don’t have products that speak for themselves, and it’s less likely you’ll see numerous positive reviews popping up all over the internet. It’s important to make the most of the great relationships you have with your clients – and sometimes that simply means asking them to promote some of your content when and where appropriate. And once again (because this can’t be stressed enough), make those customer testimonials and success stories readily available on your website! Establishing credibility is crucial in the services industry, and proving that your clients are enjoying a real ROI from your services is the key.
In the Trenches! “Professional services… It’s a different animal. People who could be successful at selling technology and products think it can easily translate to marketing professional services. But in this field, you do have to be an advisor to your clients. Content is a way of being that advisor and counselor. And when developing that content, it’s important to ask ourselves, ‘What problems are our customers trying to solve?’ As opposed to paying too much attention to what our competitors are saying. That’s what we try to focus on.” – Paula Alsher, Vice President, Client Solutions at Implementation Management Associates
Part V. Cultivating Relationships
When purchasing professional services, buyers are essentially purchasing trust. More often than not, they do not know the full value of the services you provide until months after the sale, so a hefty chunk of your marketing efforts must be devoted to building and maintaining relationships. To cultivate leads, you need to actively engage with them through various channels, reaffirming you are the right choice at every stage of their buying cycle. With that said, making the intangible tangible doesn’t stop once you close a new customer either! Marketing a service is an ongoing process. This chapter examines the ways you can continually convey value to your customers, leaving them with the best impression time and time again.
We cannot emphasize this enough: forging strong relationships is a MUST when marketing your professional services business. From the first few visits prospects make to your company website through the work completed for them once they are customers, there are actions you can take to cultivate the connection between your business and theirs.
Make it personal – Contextual marketing, or personalizing your marketing efforts based on who your target buyers are, what they want, and what they need to do, leads to a 20+% increase in sales! Determine the points of friction on your website, and personalize content where decisions are being made, offering up resources and information based on what you know about your visitor.
Engage with your prospects – Build up relationships through your business blog and social media outlets. Respond to comments, follow social influencers from your industry, share third-party content, and recognize or reach out to users when they share yours.
Follow up – Whenever a prospect asks you a question, or you have an exploratory sales conversation with an interested lead, always follow up within 24 hours! An important piece of relationship marketing is proving you are reliable – and that you care about a potential customer’s new business.
Be the answer – When prospects check out your website, they are likely to ask themselves: “How have you solved a problem like mine?” Create a variety of content – blogs, eBooks, white papers, customer case studies, etc. – that describes common industry challenges and respective solutions. Answer the FAQs, and post these stories on your website!
Approach a project with a WE mentality – Once you sign on with a client, you become one unit. For all intents and purposes, you are the client. When you are starting up a new task, make sure the client understands that you empathize with their needs and are invested in their success as if it were your own. Because, in reality, your client’s success is what will drive your business forward.
Deliver on what you promise – In professional services, your word is that much more important. There is no tangible product customers can see or hold, so they put their faith in what you tell them. By completing quality work before the deadline, you keep your word and leave room to make adjustments and revisions to the project if necessary.
Be honest and kind – This should go without saying, but we’re going to say it anyway! Honesty is always the best policy. In your partnership, pay attention to the client’s ideas, but don’t be afraid to push back when necessary. Every client is different, so treat them as such. Trust your instincts, be transparent when communicating, and smile!
Communicate the Value of Your Services
Sometimes we provide value without even realizing it. It’s just how we do our jobs. For example, we’ve worked with a client who sells sound and video integration services. One of the things they inherently do is specify and purchase all equipment. This is an assumed part of what happens – all integrators do the same thing. But when we were putting together their proposal template, we made sure they pointed out this work and why it was important to the customer.
For example, “We take the time to evaluate the merits of each manufacturer’s products and specify the solution that works best in your environment. We then handle the purchasing of all the equipment to ensure you receive the right product and warranties.” Is this any different from what anyone else does? Nope. Does anyone else communicate the value of this work? Nope.
But you are doing the work anyway… so why not let your customer know? When you use this technique during the sales process, you begin to differentiate yourself from the competition by clearly explaining all the value you give throughout the process. And since the competition is not communicating all the value they deliver, your client or prospect’s perception will be that you offer greater value.
If during the course of providing services to the client you decide to go above and beyond, for whatever reason, make sure you include this information in your month-end report as a zero dollar line item on the invoice or in whatever manner you communicate to the client regularly.
Kicking Off with New Clients
As we’ve stated, marketing your professional services is an ongoing process. Once you have lift off with a new client, it’s important to provide value at every touchpoint you have with them. What’s the key? Stellar communication! No matter how great your proven reputation or results are, nothing can take its place. Follow these five client communication best practices to start your new business relationships off on the right foot!
Build a Solid Foundation – Take the time to get to know each other. Although a rapport is typically established before your client finalizes the decision to invest in you, it’s critical to stay on the same page once you’re working together. Start with a kick-off call to create a short-term plan, delegate homework assignments to both parties, and follow up within 48 hours to deliver an early progress update.
Establish a System – How and when will you communicate? Determine the frequency and methods that work for both parties. Weekly email updates? Bi-weekly phone conferences? Monthly in-person meetings? Hash this out before diving into projects so your new clients know what they can expect from you (and vice versa). As a general rule of thumb, always respond to your client’s questions or feedback within 24 hours. And, of course, stay on top of your deadlines – though it never hurts to be early with deliverables!
Shh… Listen! – Though your client is paying you for your expertise, always remember you are a partner, not a dictator. Listen to your client’s ideas. It’s your job to make your new client understand that you are invested in their success. Some like to be involved in the process more than others. So adjust your communication strategy after getting in tune with the client’s specific wants and needs.
Avoid Assumptions – More often than not, your new client will not understand the ins and outs of your service. Don’t assume they know the process – or any industry jargon you might nonchalantly toss around. Throughout a new project, communicate with your client every step of the way. Provide context for each task, explaining your approach, thought process, and reasoning for “why you did this” and “why you didn’t do that.”
Write It Down – Particularly when starting with new clients, it’s essential to keep records, share meeting minutes, and recap significant conversations. During phone conferences, it’s good practice to take notes and send the client a summary via email afterward. Include the date and names of the people involved. A written reference to work being completed makes new clients feel at ease and demonstrates your reliability.
Delighting Your Current Clients
In order to create a lasting positive impression with your clients, you need to delight them. Ultimately, you want your current clients to become evangelists who promote your services on your behalf. In addition, by making your customers really happy, you are allowing yourself to cross-sell and upsell your services. After all, it typically takes more money to acquire a new customer than to retain an older one. Yes, meeting deadlines, communicating effectively, and delivering the goods are vital to your success. But sometimes, the ways you can really wow your clients are manifested in the little things. Here’s what we mean:
Regularly publish a newsletter – Keep your clients (as well as your prospects) in the loop on a monthly or quarterly basis, providing them with company news and fresh industry insights. What’s more, use this platform to recognize their awards and accomplishments or any notable projects they’ve recently completed.
Subscribe to what your clients subscribe to – Maintain your working knowledge of their industry by reading relevant blogs, learning about trends and changes in their field, and setting up Google alerts for their industry with their company name and target keywords. And of course, feel free to send them any pertinent information or links in which they would be interested!
Repost client content in social media – First of all, make sure you are following all of your clients on social media. If their material applies to your audience (or even if you’d like to simply share a message like “Check out our client’s awesome content on _____!), now and then, tweet and share your client’s blog posts, social content, offers and promotions to amplify their online visibility.
Ask for a testimonial – Whether it be a quote, a case study, or a review of some kind, your favorite clients are likely to be flattered if you reach out to them for a testimonial. Post these on your website so similar prospects can see the results you’ve delivered for your customers.
Create new ties – If you know someone who might be interested in your client’s services, let them know! When appropriate, do a little networking on your customer’s behalf. They are likely to appreciate when you orchestrate introductions in a professional manner.
Always say “thank you!” – Most importantly, always thank your clients when they give you their time and energy. However, it doesn’t always need to be through an email. Think about how you feel when someone spends that extra time to send you a letter. It’s nice, right? A hand-written note goes a LONG way, reinforcing that important personal connection.
In the Trenches! “At Travizon, we believe in developing productive and enduring client partnerships – going beyond onetime projects and providing value to our clients on a consistent, ongoing basis. We make it a point to think of our clients as more than just “clients” by getting to know our key contacts’ likes, dislikes, preferences for how to do business, issues, and concerns. We identify with our clients as people first... and this is paramount in our approach. We also believe in being a trusted, useful resource by hosting client forums and providing ongoing communications on industry trends, new supplier entrants, and technology enhancements.” – Anita Salvatore, Executive VP, Global Account Services at Travizon
Congratulations! You’re now one step closer to becoming the Picasso of services marketing! To quickly recap, we reiterate the five most important takeaways from this blog:
- Find ways to productize your services. Whether it be recording a webinar, compiling a toolkit, or creating an eBook, offer resources that make your services appear more tangible to your prospects and customers.
- Using the tools we outlined, be sure to do your keyword research. It’s most effective to optimize your website content with keywords characterized by a high/medium search volume and low/medium competition level.
- It’s vital for professional services firms to demonstrate thought leadership. Don’t be afraid to give away some value for free during the sales process to build trust and credibility with your target audience.
- Amplify! Amplify! Amplify! Build landing pages to promote your resources (and simultaneously acquire new leads) and utilize the right social media channels to support your content marketing strategy.
- Forge solid bonds and genuine relationships with your customers – and go above and beyond to delight them. Your happy customers are your best friends. Not only can you gain additional business from them, but they are likely to participate in those essential case studies and provide excellent references and testimonials that help attract new business.
We hope you use these tips and insights to rock the professional services world and rake in all those fantastic leads. Please let us know if you have questions. Our team is always glad to help!