Professional service firms do a terrible job of facilitating the buying process. Firms repeatedly misunderstand calls-to-action and regularly misuse or overlook conversions. In fact, of the 85 firms we analyzed for our website benchmarking handbook, I contend all of them get it wrong. Now, not everyone agrees with me on this topic, so I’m going to outline my thinking in more detail here.
For Starts, What is a Website Conversion?
On the web, a conversion is when a visitor to your site completes a desired activity. Depending on the site, a conversion can represent a variety of business outcomes. For product-based businesses it could be the completion of a quote request form or an actual sale. For other businesses, it may be a user signing up for a newsletter or making a telephone inquiry.
Regardless of what the desired activity is, conversions occur more frequently when they are delivered with a very simple and clear call-to-action directly on a site page. Since a prospective client could enter at any page of your site, every page should have a call-to-action. What that call-to-action is will largely depend on the content of the page and what you know (or infer) about your site visitor.
What do Conversions Look Like in Most Professional Services Firms?
If I asked the principal of any A/E or consulting firm why clients become clients, I’m willing to bet that 99 out of 100 could rattle off 5-6 really good reasons within 30 seconds. Now, if I asked those same principals HOW those same clients became clients, I’m willing to, also, bet that at least 70-80% would offer a bewildered look or maybe some kind of mumbled response about referrals.
Most professional firms, simply don’t take the time to fully dissect the process by which clients actually hire a firm. The result? Websites with very poor or ineffective calls-to-action. These are some of the most frequent poor calls-to-action we see on firm websites:
Frequently, the only way to connect with a firm is by physically leaving the page you’re on and going to a contact page somewhere else on the site. Unfortunately, the majority of site users simply don’t do this.
2. An RSS or Email Field
While these are simple and convenient for the site visitor, they offer virtually no insight to the firm. Generally, they report nothing back about the visitor other than maybe an email address. And, don’t create paths for the firm to learn more about the visitor and market to them over time. Since, they’re usually only found on a firm’s blog, they generally do nothing more than drip blog content to a recipient over time. Not a bad thing, but a firm has the potential to do more with that follow on marketing — such as offering up content from other areas of the site.
3. Individual Contact Information
A name, email link and a phone number — these usually exist next to a piece of research or valuable content. While this is a logical call-to-action from the firm’s point-of-view (after all, our goal is to win new clients, right?), it’s only relevant to the extreme minority of visitors that are actually ready to buy (turns out that number is less than 5%). The rest of our site visitors just ignore it, scan on by, and maybe exit our marketing model for good.
What Should Conversions Look Like in a Professional Services Firm?
The issue is that 96% of site visitors are not in buying mode at all. So, what are they doing on your site? They could be at any number of early stages in the buying process that eventually lead to an actual sale. They could have identified a pain of some kind and are looking for answers and advice on how to solve it. They could be looking to learn and explore new ways of thinking. They could just be looking for different perspectives on their business. In a sense, they’re sort of learning, exploring and window shopping all at the same time:
- Who are these people?
- What do they know?
- Can they help me? How?
They’re not interested in talking to you yet so they don’t have any reason to call you or even email you. So, what do you do with these researchers and explorers? You should be mapping three types of calls-to-action to your site based on how people move through the buying process:
Your first goal is to convert faceless site visitors into real, identifiable people you can start to build a relationship with. Ultimately, we’re just asking visitors to “raise their hand,” so to speak. This generally starts with a simple sign up form positioned against the useful, educatonal content on your site (you do have that, right?) — for instance, “sign up to get more useful content, like this, in your inbox.”
Your second goal is to infer something about what challenges your prospect might face and where they are in the buying process. More specifically, you’d like to start guiding people through the buying process while separating those who are just learning and exploring from those who are actively evaluating partners to solve a challenge they face. Effective calls-to-action to help you do this would be ones that connect users with content that facilitates that process. Examples might include offers for needs assessments, useful case studies, pricing information, or content on how a client engagement in your firm actually starts.
Your final goal is, of course, to connect the 4% of visitors in buying mode to actual business development people and knowledge experts that can initiate a relationship. This can be done with a contact form, a phone number or an email address — probably, the one call-to-action you already have and most want.
You’ll Need to Change Your Marketing Model to Align
I recognize that I’m advocating for a different way of thinking about what your site does and how it interacts with your potential and existing clients. Ultimately, what I’m really suggesting is to make it a priority to connect with buyers earlier in the buying process than you have previously. But, you need to be prepared for the repercussions of this strategy:
- Assuming your site is built on a platform of high value, educational content, your site will go from driving a handful of late stage inquiries to converting a larger percentage of early-stage buyers through a form.
- You’ll need to know what to do with these new found relationships. They’re not “sales-ready,” so to speak, so you should be prepared to deliver ongoing communications via email newsletters and other follow-on content (webinars or events, perhaps).
- Finally, you’re going to need to drastically improve your understanding of analytics and data. As your database grows you’re going to find yourself much more interested in things like lead scoring, progressive profiling, and marketing automation – topics you may be entirely unaware of right now.
Conversions Should Be Central to Your Web Strategy
If none of this persuades you to rethink your conversion strategy, let me offer a very simple reason to do so. In the immortal words of Warren Buffett, your goal as a business owner or manager is to act contrarian to the prevailing opinion. If Mark O’Brien is right, and I’m confident that he is, the vast majority of firms are preoccupied with “going for the kill” — that is, they’re only connecting with late stage buyers.
If yours is the one firm flying against the wind. If it’s the one firm that places an emphasis on educating and informing potential clients. If it’s the one firm that masters how to connect with buyers earlier in the buying process and guide them forward. It will also be the one firm that garners the most bookings and profit from the strategy.