Referral: the act of directing someone to a different place or person for information, help, or action, often to a person or group with more knowledge or power (Cambridge Dictionaries Online).
Referrals have traditionally been used to garner business for professional services firms. Trust and good relationships are created and built upon through hours of networking and recommendations from current clients. And this approach remains a highly valuable way of acquiring work.
However, while word-of-mouth is still an effective tool, it is no longer enough on its own and, in the current climate, fewer clients are being won using this technique. In short, traditional marketing methods are no longer as impactful as they once were, as the Internet has fundamentally changed the way people research and buy from professional services companies - and, indeed, businesses across all industries.
So perhaps you’re finding that you are reaching fewer people and are beginning to wonder how you can make more connections again.
Now, prospective buyers seek out information about a company online before committing to doing business with them. Like the referral system, trust and genuine relationships lie at the heart of this new model – but it is powered by content and marketing automation rather than conversations and handshakes.
Let’s take a look at what this means for your organisation and how you can adapt, to successfully thrive in this changing environment.
The role of referrals in professional services marketing
Trust underpins the traditional referral model. People choose your firm because they have been told by others that you will provide the high-quality service they expect and that will be best-suited to their needs. Therefore, they have already been convinced that you are a good choice. You have gained their confidence – you simply have to strengthen their belief in you further.
It seems difficult to fault this approach because it makes sense and works well in practice. However, it also curbs your potential reach, as your network is limited to your current clients and who they know; you are not exposing your business to new interest from previously untapped quarters. Additionally, it is a time-consuming endeavour, as networking successfully requires many hours of investment, often outside of your day-to-day working hours.
But what if you could expand your marketing efforts to a wider audience? What if you could get the same calibre of well-qualified clients without meeting them? And what if you could see and measure the results?
How an inbound marketing approach takes the referral online
Instead of proving your knowledge and credentials to prospective customers through interpersonal interactions, you can use content. This approach is usually referred to as inbound marketing, or content marketing. Educative and valuable content, such as blog posts, eBooks, podcasts, and the like, can be leveraged to attract the right people to your website and prove to them why you are the firm who can solve their problems and ease their pain.
Your content needs to help people at each stage of the buyer's journey, thereby engendering trust in your organisation and, hopefully, resulting in them doing business with you. For example, someone who is just beginning to research a topic, which your firm may be able to help with, is looking for content that will help them to understand the subject better and know what action to take next. But a person who has converted to a lead will have different needs. For instance, they might want to know how exactly your organisation can help them and what differentiates you from your competitors.
In order to create the best possible content for your target audience, you need to create accurate buyer personas that reflect the main concerns and aspirations of the people you most want to do business with and who are the right fit for your organisation. You can read our post about the importance of buyer personas to your inbound and content marketing here.
And you can use marketing automation to segment and focus your marketing efforts where and when they are required, to achieve better results. There are marketing software packages available that enable you to publish and distribute your content so that it attracts visitors to your website; that use targeted content offers to encourage those leads to convert to leads; and then use automation to deliver appropriately timed interactions/communications to nurture those leads towards customers.
These solutions also provide you with the tools to analyse the impact of your content at each stage of the buyer's journey. Using these results, you can hone and improve your marketing efforts further. And, in doing so, look to further strengthen trust and improve relationships with your prospects and clients.
Professional services marketing has changed in recent years. While the traditional approach of winning new business through referrals still holds weight, the changing behaviour of buyers means that it is necessary for firms to reassess how they seek out new clients. Creating valuable content will allow you to reach more of the right people and grow and develop your business.
Although the new face of professional services marketing may seem less personal, it is centred on creating trust and building long-lasting relationships with people - just as real-life networking is. But it has the added benefit of enabling you to connect with a larger audience and of continually adapting to meet their needs and solve their problems.
For more information about how professional services marketing has evolved and how you can thrive in this new marketing environment, why not download our eBook below.