Throughout the professional services marketplace, buyers are changing. Just as consumers have come to rely on online searches to educate themselves before buying products and services, so too have the businesses that buy from professional services firms.
These potential clients need to solve business problems, and are looking for firms with the specific expertise required to do so. To find answers, they search online, talk with peers and attend webinars and conferences.
What does this change mean for professional services marketers? Simply put, our B2B marketing strategies need to reflect the new preferences and behaviors of today’s professional services buyer.
As you reconsider your firm’s strategies, here are brief descriptions of the ten most promising strategies. Some of these involve utilizing new technology, while others are more of a fresh take on traditional marketing techniques. Each of them, however, has been proven to generate results, and is worth considering.
1. Boost your expertise visibility
You may sell a variety of services — but your expertise is the central product your clients. Expertise is their top selection criterion, and in three out of every four cases, it’s what drives their firm’s final selection of a new provider. The challenge is, expertise is essentially invisible. It can’t be seen, touched, or measured directly — instead, a potential client must experience it.
Why do certain experts become highly visible in their fields over the course of their career, but not others? In research conducted by my firm, we have learned how prospects learn about and evaluate providers’ expertise — and about the specific B2B marketing strategies and tactics they use to dramatically accelerate the visibility of their expertise.
2. Specialize in a niche
Ever since professional services firms appeared on the market, there have been specialists and generalists. But until recently, practical limitations — such as geographic location and marketing reach — have limited the amount of business that specialist firms can attract.
But that reality is changing, fast. New communication technologies and formats (such as free video) and the widespread acceptance of remote working (by individuals as well as entire firms) have changed the playing field. Niche specialization has clearly gained the clear upper hand — and indications are that it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future.
3. Take a 360˚ approach to marketing
One of the most essential B2B marketing strategies is try to be everywhere your potential clients are looking for help. But where clients are looking is continuing to change. More and more frequently, they are looking online — so that’s where your firm needs to be, as well.
Through our research, we’ve found that those firms that use a mixture of both online and traditional offline techniques grow significantly faster, and are more profitable, than firms that use only traditional marketing strategies. So, while traditional marketing should still be part of your marketing mix, believing that “our clients just don’t go online that much” could actually be dangerous to your firm’s health.
4. Consider bundling your products or services
At the end of the day, clients need solutions to their challenges. Sometimes the best solution is one that combines software and services. Increasingly, professional services firms are finding that by offering a product/service combination, they can provide increased value to their clients.
Of course, software is just one example. You could just as easily choose to bundle your services with hardware or training. The key is to think of such packaging an integrated solution — one that saves the client time and money, or delivers another important benefit.
5. Develop a strategic sub-brand
It’s not uncommon for a professional services firm to identify a new market segment that it could serve easily and profitably — except for one not-so-small problem. Serving that market could dilute your brand positioning, making even long-time clients feel confused about who you are.
Fortunately, for an increasing number of firms, an effective solution is to develop a separate brand devoted to the new market segment. Often, such new brands have some relationship to the parent brand, hence the term sub-brand. Long a common practice in other industries, this technique is now gaining more traction among professional services firms.
6. Create new business models
Almost every day, technological advances are opening the door for new business models. In fact, new technology, or new applications of existing technology, continues to reshape entire industries. From retailing and music to Uber, Airbnb and Amazon, companies are redefining themselves and their markets.
But you don’t need to be Jeff Bezos to introduce similar innovations for your firm. For example, you could use artificial intelligence solutions to drive dramatic changes in the cost and availability of your services. Alternative pricing is another area in which you can experiment, and that’s just one example. The key is to try to think like your client in terms of the value you provide.
7. Automate aspects of your marketing
Here too, technology is dramatically changing B2B marketing strategies. Firms can now access a rapidly growing array of tools that can automate major parts of the marketing process. Until recently, one of the biggest marketing challenges for professional services firms has been to balance the need for billability with the need for business development.
Marketing automation addresses that challenge. With effective planning and preparation, you can automate many aspects of the lead generation and nurturing process. That truly changes everything — including the evolution of marketing from an individual event to a team sport.
It’s not rocket science, but one of the most effective strategies is to concentrate on what you really do well. For many firms, marketing does not fall in that category. While many other market sectors have been deeply involved in outsourcing for some time, professional services firms have generally been behind the curve. In fact, some firms are still getting used to the idea that they need to market at all!
These factors make outsourcing an interesting alternative. For firms that lack a well-established marketing function, outsourcing the marketing function can be relatively easy. Another point worth considering is that modern B2B marketing strategies demand a wide range of specialized skills, meaning that outsourcing to a sophisticated marketing agency can deliver strategic and competitive advantages.
9. Hyper-target your advertising
Historically, professional services firms have not regarded advertising as very effective. Clients in many B2B markets are notoriously difficult to target, and traditional ads are not an effective way to convey the expertise clients are looking for. But once again, all that is changing.
Today, firms can use online advertising to target specific companies in well-defined niches, or even certain positions within those companies. This advertising medium also makes it easy for prospects to link to downloadable content that demonstrates your expertise. The ability to hyper-target ads is creating room for strategies that would have been impractical, or even impossible, only a few years ago.
10. Create and share signature content
Signature content is content that is unique to your firm, and that potential clients view as having high value. Some examples include focused industry surveys, or rankings of companies in your target industries. Some firms have also built their market visibility around a best-selling book, while others have even published their own print magazines or journals.
More recently, we have seen increasing numbers of firms creating specialized series of signature content, such as podcasts or webinar series. Even in a time that blogs have become commonplace, some firms have gone above and beyond to make their blogs “must reads” for their prime targets.
The keys to using signature content as part of your B2B marketing strategies is to make sure that the content is truly valuable to your target audience.
These marketing strategies offer professional services firms much more than a chance to control their own destiny. Rather than waiting for lightning to strike, these strategies allow you to systematically create an environment in which you gain a true competitive advantage. At last, you will be able to win and serve clients that are a truly good fit for you — and that produce the greatest rewards. After all, isn’t that why your firm does marketing in the first place?