Most professional services firms lean much too heavily on their “experience” in their marketing efforts. Don’t get me wrong, experience counts. The problem is in how and why it’s leveraged. The tendency in firms is to use “experience” as a proxy for “expertise.” The two concepts are not one in the same and are not completely interchangeable. At the core of this problem is the mistaken assumption that “experience” implies “expertise” – this is not the case and this mistake can have the effect of clouding firm marketing efforts for years.
The Tale of Two Professionals
Imagine you were at a business function and found yourself engaged in a conversation with two IT consultants. Both are high level consultants with many years of experience leading the implementation of ERP systems for large corporations. For whatever reason, you’re quite interested in this topic and are curious what each has to say. The first consultant shares with you an exhaustive list of every company he’s ever consulted, the type of ERP systems he has recommended, the costs of those investments and the fees his firm charged for the work in each engagement. The second consultant talks about the changes in the ERP landscape over the past few years, the effects of cloud computing, suggests traps to avoid when investing in ERP systems, and shares some high level best practices from what she’s learned consulting in this area of technology for quite some time.
Now, stop and ask yourself these questions:
- Which consultant is more interesting?
- Which consultant do you trust more?
- Which consultant do you actually believe has more experience?
If you’re like me, you’d answer consultant #2 on all three counts. The interesting thing here is that the first consultant spent a lot of time telling you his experience, and in the process made that experience less believable and less credible. Simultaneously, the second consultant demonstrated her expertise, and in so doing proved definitively that she has experience on this topic. The total effect is simple – she’s more interesting, more trusting and more likely to be perceived as more experienced and as expert even though the two may be of perfectly equal knowledge and ability.
“Experience” is Documented. “Expertise” is Demonstrated.
The “experience” of your firm is what you’ve done. The “expertise” of your firm is what you know how to do. “Expertise” is what you have to say, and it creates meaningful and interesting conversations early in the prospect’s buying process. “Experience” is what you’ve done in the past, and it creates reassurance late in the buying process that you know how to do the things you say you do. “Expertise” is demonstrated through useful, relevant content. “Experience” is documented through case studies.
The Impact: Misallocating Marketing Resources and Lost Opportunities
Generally, the problem in marketing is that most firms spend almost all their energy and marketing resources showcasing their experience when their expertise is what’s interesting to a prospect. When I look across the collective websites of professional services firms from across the types of firms with which we generally partner – primarily A/E firms and IT consulting firms – at least 90% of firms do an adequate job of showcasing their experience in the form of project profiles and case studies. That said, at best 10% are doing an effective job of showing real, meaningful, valuable expertise that is useful to their prospective clients.
This misallocation of resources has a meaningful impact on the yield from the firm’s marketing investments.
- Prospects seek experts that can help them solve fundamental business problems and to engage them in dialogue. Many prospects pass right by firms that aren’t demonstrating useful, relevant expertise. Thus, a firm’s lack of demonstrable expertise has a real impact on the amount of high value opportunities created by its marketing efforts for its business development team.
- Just because your firm has done it before doesn’t necessarily mean that you will know how to do it again. Prospects often can and do see past that. Are the people with the expertise the prospect values still working in your firm? A firm’s lack of demonstrable expertise has a second impact on the firm’s marketing yield – a lower relative close rate for the opportunities it identifies within its regular business development activities.
In upcoming posts, I’ll dig more deeply into how to demonstrate firm expertise through content.