This article maps a client’s buying journey to a simple user flow you can use to turn traffic into leads and conversations.
The average professional service firm’s website derives 45-50% of its traffic from search. For firms committed to the ongoing production of high quality thought leadership, this percentage bumps up to 60-65%. So, whether your firm utilizes thought leadership marketing or not, chances are good that you’re delivering a healthy flow of potential clients to your website. But, do you know what you want to do with them once they’re there?
On the surface, it seems like the answer to this question is both obvious and simple — you want them to hire you. Or at least call you. But, of course, that’s the end game. Just as you wouldn’t propose marriage on a first date, a client isn’t going to read one article on your website and open the door to invite you inside. No. There’s a whole host of things they’ll need and want to do before they’re ready for that next step in their journey. Your job is to guide them through that journey in the most effective way possible. We call this journey a user flow.
A user flow is simply the desired path you hope a client will take through your website. When you plan a user flow, you’re defining at a high-level how you see a client leaning into a relationship with your firm. You can use a user flow to inform your site architecture, to prototype and design individual site pages, and to plan appropriate calls-to-action to guide potential clients through their journey. Ultimately, your user flow helps you turn traffic into leads and revenue.
The Client’s Journey > Your User Flow
I’m sure I’ve said or written this tens of times, but as I see it there are four main sections of your website. Each section directly relates to a macro question your client is trying to answer. Now, there are probably hundreds of sub-questions they might explore beneath those four macro questions. But, if you think about the client’s journey in these simple terms it becomes fairly easy to plan a user flow around it. The four sections and the four macro questions are these:
- Thought Leadership — How do I solve this problem?
- Expertise — How can your firm help me solve this problem?
- Case Studies — Has your firm solved this problem in the past? For who? How?
- People — Who, at your firm, might solve this problem for me in the future?
If you look at this list of questions, you can see that they cover most of the primary things a client would need to understand in order to hire you, or at least consider having a conversation with you. Also, you’ll notice that the questions shift from the client to your firm as they go deeper into their journey. But, usually, that doesn’t happen right away. A potential client may explore the thought leadership section of your site for weeks, months, or sometimes even years, before they start to ask the question, how can you help me?
The Standard User Flow for a Professional Firm’s Website
Without further adieu, here is the typical user flow we recommend for a professional firm’s website. It follows the journey outlined above, but adds a few critical steps as well. As previously stated, you’ll use this user flow to make architecture decisions, to prototype and design site pages and to plan calls-to-action. In this article we’ll focus primarily on architecture and design decisions you might make based on this user flow. In a later article, we’ll look more closely at calls-to-action.
1 – Thought Leadership
As we noted at the start of this article, if your firm is investing in high quality thought leadership 60 – 65% of the visitors to your site arrive via search (and, the majority of those are coming via Google). Now, chances are they’re not actually searching for your firm. What they’re searching for is an answer to a problem. Even marketers in the world’s largest firms with near-global brand awareness have confessed to me that the majority of their search traffic arrives via people searching for answers rather than searching for the firm itself. So, the entry point for most of your site visitors is going to be a thought leadership page — a research study, a blog, an article, a webinar, etc. In fact, I’m willing to bet if you’ve been at this for a little while, and your content is good, that 9 of the top 10 landing pages to your site will be pieces of thought leadership.
Assuming the visitor finds value in your thought leadership, the next step they usually take is to find their bearings. Who is this firm? What are they about? They may know of your firm. They may not. Either way, once they’ve become intrigued enough by your thought leadership to look beneath the hood, their next step is generally to visit the home page to learn more about the producer of the content they’re reading. They’ll do this through your site’s primary navigation (clicking on your logo) so you don’t necessarily need to plan for this step.
What you do need to plan is what they’ll find when they get there. What should be the most prominent element on your homepage? Most A/E firms place an image slider showing their latest, greatest projects. Most consulting firms place a slider that mixes a variety of content types such as recent published articles, services and news. Both of these are wrong.
Remember this person got to your homepage one of two ways — they either came from your thought leadership as part of the user flow outlined here or they came directly by typing in your URL. Either way, the most important thing they’re looking to do is get their bearings — Who is this firm? What do they do?
So, the first thing they should see is a simple 2-3 sentence practice statement that describes your firm’s positioning, your unique perspective on the markets you serve, and the benefits a client might yield from working with you. Your practice statement should guide visitors to your about page where they can learn further about what you believe, who you serve, and what you do. An example:
For this next step of the journey, a potential client is still trying to get their bearings. They’re trying to understand how your firm fits into the world. Do they understand who you are and what you do? Is yours a firm that could help them? If so, how? Your about page should package answers to all these questions into a neat and simple bow. It should expand on the 2-3 sentences presented on your homepage by going a layer deeper — putting more context around your perspective and positioning. It should provide a nod to your firm’s history and back story. And, it should lead me into learning more about what it is you do and how you can help — by directing people into your service/expertise pages.
4 – Services/Expertise
A client that’s made it this far has cleared a number of hurdles. They’ve found value in your firm’s thought leadership, they’ve internalized some of your core marketing messages and they’ve determined that your firm is at least sufficiently relevant to their unique situation that they’re willing to dig a little deeper.
A visitor to a Services or Expertise page is really looking to understand at a high-level what it is that you do, how you do it, and the benefits of hiring you. For Services/Expertise pages we recommend using a very simple delivery framework that we call Problem > Solution > Benefits > Proof.
Where most firms run astray is on the ends — they fail to provide clear problem statements that describe what the service was designed to solve. And, they fail to provide proof that their solution really works. At this stage, proof is best provided by a short testimonial or a link to a case story (the next step in the user flow) demonstrating how the service was provided to a real client. An example:
5 – Case Stories
Well written case stories close the loop on your firm’s thought leadership by demonstrating how you’ve actually solved the problems you write and speak about. They’re proof of your expertise. Most importantly, they help potential clients see themselves in your existing and past client relationships. For this reason, the best case stories are written not from the perspective of your firm, but from the perspective of the client.
While it makes sense to follow a simple Challenge > Solution > Outcomes model to frame your stories, make sure you dig beneath the surface challenges of a project and speak to the true underlying business challenges the client was seeking to solve. The best way to do this is to interview your clients after the fact and ask them to reflect on the journey they took with your firm. Be clear that you’re not asking for a testimonial (though you’d surely accept one), but rather you’re looking to tell the story of their journey. Build your story around one of two classic story archetypes. The final element to include in your case stories is access to the key people who led the work…
6 – People
The last step of the typical user flow are the people pages in your site. Often, it makes sense to provide hooks from both your service and case study pages directly into individual practice or market leader bios. A good bio should do more than just recant a resume. Ideally, it gives a glimpse into the personality, experience and beliefs of your key people. Generally, it also provides hooks back into your firm’s thought leadership and case studies by connecting visitors with a leader’s authored articles and critical project work (in our research, clients have repeatedly told us this bi-direcional relationship is important to them in evaluating and understanding a firm). And, of course, you should make it easy for someone to reach out and start a conversation via a contact form, telephone number or email address. An example:
Bringing it Together
One point of clarification to close the article — it’s unlikely that any client will ever move through this exact planned progression in a single site visit. It could take a client anywhere from a handful of visits to 100’s of them to make it through a progression of this sort. Also, it’s highly likely that when they do it won’t follow this simple linear progression as we’ve presented it. Regardless, the act of developing a user flow is the act of taking control of the client’s journey. It’s a critical step in turning traffic into leads and leads into revenue.
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