Has professional services marketing changed forever?

Written by Jeremy Knight  |  14, October, 2014  |  0 Comments  Subscribe

professional services marketingIt’s not so long ago that most professional services work was won through referrals. Not just from client recommendations, but also from hours of networking invested over the years, building relationships with introducers and intermediaries.

Referrals still work of course but, for most firms, fewer clients are won in this way today. In fact, tougher regulation in various sectors has made referral for new business almost impossible. Tighter controls recently imposed on the legal sector are testament to that.

Maybe therefore your firm is not growing at the same rate as it used to.

The truth is, the 21st Century has seen client behaviour change across the board as the Internet and social web have fundamentally altered the way clients’ research, find, and buy those services offered by the legal, consultancy and accountancy sectors. Clients, consumers, customers, whatever you prefer to call them are now in control and for any firm to survive in an increasingly competitive market, it must change the way it attracts new business.

The changing face of professional services marketing

Now clients research solutions to their problems online, long before they make any offline contact with a professional firm, and it’s not just a small proportion of people doing this:

  • Google say there are two million searches for legal terms in the UK every day.
  • Almost half of the mass affluent audience in the UK that are active on social platforms said they’d engage with financial services firms who had a social media presence.

It’s not enough anymore to simply rely on being available in the real world when needed. If your firm is not found during online research then you simply won’t be found at all.

B2B buyers are also following suit. Research compiled by the Corporate Executive Board say most will get more than 60% of the way through making a purchasing decision before they will speak to anyone in a sales role. And when they are ready to speak, it will be on their terms, and they’ll already be very well informed.

Modern clients will ignore interruptive advertising campaigns or premature sales calls. They’ve become adept at screening unsolicited interventions and are now looking for helpful information specific to their problem.

This change in client behaviour is not a fad, it’s not going to fade away, and firms that fail to respond and adapt will ultimately pay the price.

Marketing professional services beyond the referral

Let's revert to the traditional referral and networking model for a moment.

In terms of trust, it had much to recommend it -- referrals came from known sources that inevitably transmitted their confidence in your firm to the contacts they referred. You were feeding affirmations to someone who had already warmed to your theme.

But look at how truncated that approach was in terms of reach. It limited your influence to those who knew your business already and the people to whom these initiates then chose to introduce you. That’s where it stopped. It was a network, for sure, but it did not actively expose your business to new interest from unknown quarters.

The Internet knows little of those closed networks or controlled introductions and can help you connect with people who need your services, but to whom you have never spoken. Online, as long as your firm can be found, you can start a conversation with a prospect client wherever they are, and however they found you.

But this is where the niggling absence of a referral, so core to the ‘old’ model, needs consideration. Something has to convince them that you are a safe pair of hands, not just a firm that knows how to get found on the web.

In this environment, that trustworthiness comes from high quality, easy to find and freely available informative and educational content on your website.

Make no mistake; this is an exhaustive brief

You really need to cover all the bases to succeed.

A prospective client beginning their search around a specific need may be seeking to better understand the law as it pertains to a particular circumstance, or perhaps discover how current thinking is impacting due diligence in a certain area.

But someone further into their research will likely have a different set of interests and needs, more aligned around finding a robust solution. And you, as a professional, need to have content available at each stage of their engagement, and around each of the areas in your firm that you want to be found for.

The point is this: whether it's white papers and videos or webinars and case studies, these informative pieces will translate the trusted referral of the ‘old’ model into the reputable inbound idiom of the Internet age, no matter where a new client may be in their research.

And, you get to dispense this helpful advice 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to any customer, wherever they are, and at their convenience, with little or no disruption to your day-to-day business.

In many ways what you need to do to reach modern clients is no different to what you’ve been doing for many years before. You’re still showing prospective clients why you’re the right firm for them, you’re now just doing it in a different network, online, and with content that attracts new business through intelligent and informative information.

In this way inbound marketing allows you to help prospects at each stage of their research and deliberations, ultimately making yourself indispensable, engendering the confidence to cleave to your advice, steering them ineluctably towards the wisdom of beginning a formal conversation with you.

To find out more about how you can do that; download our guide to the inbound marketing methodology.

The Inside Track on Inbound Marketing for Professional Services

Topics: Inbound Marketing, Strategy, Professional Services

Jeremy Knight

Written by Jeremy Knight

Jeremy spent 20 years as a B2B publisher, creating publications targeting the private equity and fast growth business sectors before launching Equinet Media in 2009.