For many of us, a shift to hybrid working since the pandemic has reduced the opportunities to meet face-to-face and we are now far more dependent on digital technologies and online meetings: a marked change from the traditional ways in which our consulting relationships were first forged.
Over the past year, we, at Garwood Solutions, have hosted a range of senior leaders from the professional services sector to discuss their perspectives on key challenges, and opportunities for innovation and growth. The resulting conversations have been insightful, wide-ranging and practical and it has been hugely encouraging, and re-energising to return to the physical table with others in the sector.
Over the coming months, we’ll be releasing a series of blogs, each of which will explore the outputs of these meetings.
Most recently, we met to discuss digital marketing and how professional services firms can maximise the benefit.
Few would argue that, as a direct result of hybrid working, the way that professional services firms communicate with current and prospective clients has changed, and that those changes are here to stay. (If you would like to see some fresh data on current working patterns, look no further than these recent ONS figures).
Our guests were all of the view that marketing for professional services firms had to change and it was a priority and we need to find a new norm. In particular, our guests were interested in understanding:
Each of our guests had deployed some level of digital marketing and reported varying degrees of success. We explored how digital marketing had benefited their organisations, and set out to distil the advice they would offer to firms starting their digital marketing journey.
Here are some of the points and conclusions from our discussions, together with some of the advice shared by a digital marketing service provider specialising in professional services marketing.
How to build a brand that benefits your business
Regular, well-executed, digital marketing can be a relatively cost-effective way to build your brand and showcase your expertise in the professional services sector.
We discussed two rationales for building your brand digitally:
Prospective clients – In 2023 the digital footprint of the firm is just as important as the presence you have in a physical meeting room. When prospective clients research you as part of a procurement process, a regularly updated informative blog, and active social media channels, will strengthen credibility and reassure potential new clients that you are subject experts.
Prospective New Hires – Your online reputation is also a crucial tool in the battle for talent. The best consultants at all levels, from graduates to senior leaders, have plenty of opportunities and can afford to be selective. If they regularly see a consultancy showcasing its content online, and that content gives a good understanding of a positive culture and the benefits of the environment, the firm in question is already one step ahead in the race to attract the best talent.
Harnessing the right data to create leads
Digital marketing generates data. But as a niche professional services provider, the key is to harness and understand data that supports new business development. Writing a blog or post that is viewed by lots of people is a good start in terms of building brand awareness, but that information only really tells you that you’ve hit upon a subject people are interested in. Creating content that generates solid leads is where you can create tangible value and ultimately ROI.
We discussed two key approaches to this:
Gated Content – One option is to create gated content, which requires people to provide useful information, such as their email addresses before they can access it. Popular blogs or much-visited posts can be expanded into a more substantial eBook, with people in your target audience exchanging their contact information in exchange for a copy.
Newsletters – Another effective lead generation tool is a regular email newsletter. Not only does this enable you to build up your marketing list, but you can also monitor who regularly opens content and contact them with more targeted messaging. Interested parties can then be forwarded to your sales team to contact for potential business development opportunities.
However, neither of these approaches will be effective unless you’re harnessing the data generated from them. One attendee at the meeting outlined their company’s approach to tracking digital engagement (who’s opened what, who’s reading what, etc) to provide channels for supplementary dialogue. This can be as simple as acknowledging that someone has read a blog or a newsletter and asking them if they require any further information. It’s about turning a one-way dialogue (you to them) into a two-way dialogue (you to them and them to you).
Providing bespoke solutions to pressing challenges
For companies that produce and sell products, personalisation has been the digital holy grail for some time. How can they meet the specific needs of their individual customers?
This is a mindset that professional services should apply to their marketing. What really cuts through with potential clients is solutions to issues holding them back today. Generic messaging about the excellence of your service won’t set your firm apart from the competition, because it fails to differentiate you from them.
We discussed how digital platforms provide a space where you can respond quickly to the changing needs of your clients and apply your expertise to the challenges keeping senior leaders awake at night. For example, an article, webinar or ebook that addresses a specific pain point, will demonstrate your understanding of their sector and your ability to deliver practical solutions.
This kind of bespoke content can then be directed at potential clients through your own marketing lists and social media presence, or through targeted paid search and social media advertising that can narrow down your audience by sector and job title.
Investing time and resources into these three steps will help you start conversations, but for them to open doors in the real world, the processes and people must be aligned. Connecting online may be the core responsibility of your Sales & Marketing or business development team. Still, it’s likely that the relationships we seek are smaller in number and higher in value than those in other sectors.
To some extent, the creation of the connections lies within the remit of everyone on the team – and once those connections have been established, the key is to have the right people and systems in place to capture and develop them. Our guests discussed their varied approaches to harvesting the data generated through digital marketing, identifying actionable insight and then, coordinating those actions.
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