What do consulting firms with the best performing websites do differently? This blog poses 3 opinions in advance of our upcoming topical research study with AMCF.
Management consulting firms have been marketing with thought leadership for over 50 years. And, it’s worked tremendously well. So much so, that’s it’s the most proven approach to client acquisition in the industry. But, over the last 5-6 years it’s gotten a bit more difficult. The landscape of thought leadership has gotten increasingly noisy. While the tried and true model — publishing a book, developing ancillary articles for industry trade journals, and cultivating industry speaking opportunities — is still working, it’s just not working quite as well as it used to.
Client Buying Behavior Is Changing
Increasingly, Google has become clients’ first stop for answers to their most pressing business questions — answers they’ll find in a firm’s thought leadership. Rather than going direct to the source, they go to Google and ask for directions. And, when there’s nothing pressing on their minds, they’re more likely to scan social feeds to determine what to read rather than go directly to a publishing site. Even Forbes acknowledged in 2012 that clients were more likely to scan social feeds for insights on what to read than they were to go directly to their site. Echoing this, a number of the largest consulting firms in the industry have shared with me that the predominant source of their site traffic comes in through thought leadership pages rather than their homepages.
The Firm’s Website Has Become an Increasingly Vital Publishing Tool
This natural shift in buying behavior has made the firm’s website its most critical marketing asset. While seeking placement of thought leadership articles in leading business journals like HBR and Sloan Business Review or industry trade journals should remain one of your highest priority marketing initiatives, your website is becoming a comparably important publishing medium in its own right. To really get the most from your thought leadership — to generate the volume and quality of leads and project opportunities you want — you have to get every last detail of the web experience right.
What Do Consulting Firms With The Best Performing Websites Do Differently?
Naturally, we have our opinions. And, now we’re hoping to back them with data. This spring, we’re partnering with AMCF to conduct a research study in the hopes of answering this very question. The State of Thought Leadership Websites will explore some of the critical features of firms’ websites relative to their most critical business outcome — lead generation. The survey runs now through 4/24 and we’ll present the results on 6/16 concurrently with the annual AMCF + Bloom Group Thought Leadership Study in New York City. In the meantime, here are my three driving hypotheses for the research:
#1 — Firms That Intelligently Integrate Thought Leadership Into Their Corporate Website Generate More Leads
For some time, I’ve written about the merits of integrating thought leadership directly into the firm’s corporate website (rather than on a separate subdomain). While there are certainly outliers to every case, I tend to believe that thought leadership performs most effectively when you connect it directly to a firm’s expertise which is most effectively demonstrated in the corporate website. The ability to connect a firm’s perspective on an issue with its tangible expertise related to it, is a critical point of the buyer’s journey — it moves the potential client from topically researching a problem to actively exploring your solution.
But, ultimately for a client to really explore that solution with your firm, the site needs to go one step further. It needs to demonstrate to the client that your perspective is not only indicative of your expertise, but also that you have the experience to back it up. This requires demonstrating that you have both the experienced people capable of delivering the work and showcasing tangible proof of that experience via past project successes. I call these the 3 P’s — perspective (thought leadership), people (bios) and projects (past experience). And, all the sites we design our built with this in mind. We use dynamic technology to intelligently connect these elements together. We don’t rely on the user to explore those sections on their own. We present the next logical step in the buying sequence directly on the page.
#2 — Firms That Gate Very Little Content Generate More Leads
Whether or not to place thought leadership content behind a form can be a testy and heated conversation. There is a large and vocal community advocating for all content “to be free” — never to gate anything. And, for good reason. People have increasingly become skeptical of gates; fearing that sharing any information will generate a barrage of unwanted sales calls. While there’s no doubt that people are increasingly less willing to share their personal information in exchange for a piece of content they’ve not yet read, our experience has shown us that a modest selection of intelligently placed gates can actually improve lead generation. My hypothesis on this topic is that the firms who gate no thought leadership whatsoever actually generate less leads than firms who gate a small percentage. I base this opinion on our experience here at Rattleback. We gate a very small percentage of our content; specifically, we gate our recorded webinars and eBooks, which represent less than 5% of our total content. Yet, of all the marketable leads generated by our website in 2014, over 75% were generated by that high-value, gated content.
#3 — Firms That Use Interactive Content Generate More Engagement With Their Sites
In the grand story of thought leadership marketing, interactive content is barely an author’s footnote at this point in time. The ability to share research data such that users can filter it based on their own interests or compare it with their own is a relatively new thing (at least in the 50-year history of thought leadership). As such, it’s my hypothesis that firms making meaningful investments in this type of data visualization are generating more engagement overall with their thought leadership websites. Simply put, they’re getting more relative traffic than their counterparts who are not investing in this approach.