Originally published in April 2018, this updated end-to-end account of everything you need to know to be successful with digital marketing offers a primer on all critical areas of the topic along with connections to related resources
For a lot of firms, digital marketing is an uncomfortable topic. Partners get excited when it’s time to talk about generating new insights and big ideas for thought leadership. They’re highly engaged when talking about their client work and how they might take those solutions to other new accounts. But their eyes glaze over when it’s time to talk about search, social, email marketing, website conversions, and marketing automation.
It’s not that they don’t care. It’s simply that they’re not sure where to start. While they may have experienced some personal successes (i.e., an article gaining a lot of readership on Forbes or LinkedIn), they can’t always fit those successes into the broader context of the business. You can use this articles to help them do just that.
A Framework for Digital Marketing
At a high-level, digital marketing can be broken down into four phases:
- Attract as many potential clients as you can to your website—the channel through which every new client that hires you in the foreseeable future will come through in one way or another.
- Convert them into leads for follow-on marketing and proactive selling.
- Nurture them towards a conversation for your senior partners.
- Measure your performance in order to adjust, refine, and improve along each of the prior three dimensions over time.
Depicted visually, it looks something like this:
The percentages depicted in the four bubbles at left represent where website traffic tends to originate for most professional services firms. The percentages indicated in the three bubbles at right describe the likelihood that a website visitor will make it to the next phase in their journey.
So, if 2-4% of visitors to your website become a lead, then 8-10% of those leads should eventually have a conversation about working with you. Subsequently, you should win between 30-50% of the opportunities that emerge from that effort. We’ll reference this framework and some of the data within it at various points in this article so take a closer look now.
Additional Resources on Digital Marketing at a High-Level:
- Your 3 Phase Model to Deliver New Clients
- Rethinking Digital Marketing in the Post-COVID Era
- From Traffic to Revenue: Your 6 Digital Marketing Objectives
#1 – Attracting Potential Clients to Your Website
If the people who will hire you will come through your website, then getting people there is key. However, the vast majority of people who visit your website will never hire you. Some of them are in no position to do so (they’re not potential clients). Others simply won’t see a need or a fit. Some will hire you (or a firm like yours) quite soon. And others might hire you (or a firm like yours) at some point in the distant future. All this to say, all traffic is not created equal. Your goal isn’t just to deliver more traffic. It’s really to deliver more of the right traffic — more clients who need your expertise (ideally soon).
To start, it’s important that you understand the makeup of your website’s traffic. Clearly, there are many ways potential clients arrive at your site. Some are more or less effective and harder or easier to influence. Here’s a closer look at the primary types of traffic.
To start, it’s important that you understand the make-up of your website’s traffic. In our experience, most professional services firms get the vast majority of their traffic from search (50-70%). This includes people searching for answers to questions (non-branded search) and people searching for your firm (branded search). Google can provide the biggest potential audience for your firm’s expertise so you want to do everything you can to get found online.
Search is also the one traffic source you have the most ability to influence. Google’s job as a search engine is to help people find answers to questions. It’s the product they have that brings people back again and again. It does this by finding and indexing useful content that helps people do just that. Therefore, what it values most is high quality content, published regularly.
The simplest thing you need to be doing to drive more traffic from search is producing a steady flow of useful content. As a benchmark, we advise our clients to produce at least 3,000 words of useful content per month. This is content that’s educational in nature, highly useful to your ideal potential clients, and organized in a way that’s easy for Google to understand.
Additional Resources on Search Traffic:
While organic search traffic tends to be some of your highest quality traffic, generating it takes time, patience, and diligence. By contrast, paid traffic lets you bring potential clients to your door almost immediately. You’re doing the work (and paying a fee) to get in front of people you believe can benefit from your expertise and have problems you can help solve. This can be especially important for firms that are just beginning to develop a strong content program and need to buy some traffic to get things rolling. But all firms can likely benefit from some proactive targeting as opposed to just allowing prospects to find them.
That said, paid traffic will produce a lower number of leads simply because you can’t afford to pay for all the traffic you need. Done right, however, the effort should yield high-quality prospects.
To get these results, it’s important to be clear on who you want to target and what types of things they are searching for. Then, be willing and able to invest resources and time in running, assessing, and refining campaigns (through LinkedIn and Google, for example) that allow you to get in front of the the right people at the right time.
Additional Resources on Paid Traffic:
- How To Utilize Paid Promotion to Activate Your Thought Leadership
- Lead Generation for Professional Services Firms in 5 Steps
Direct traffic represents a mix of people typing your company’s web address directly into a browser, people who access your website via a bookmark, and traffic that Google can’t actually classify. When an existing client refers your firm to a new potential client, there’s a reasonable chance that this person shows up as direct traffic. There’s not a whole lot you can do online to drive more direct traffic to your site. Much of what you can do is driven offline via traditional brand building activities (speaking, advertising, and networking).
These are people that arrive at your site via other places on the web. Anyone who visited your site after clicking on a link in that article you published on Forbes would show up as referral traffic. The best thing you can do to proactively influence referral traffic is to strategically place back links to your site within articles you publish externally (after delicately requesting permission to do so from the site’s editor). Incidentally, this will drastically help your firm grow its search traffic as well.
Additional Resources on Referral Traffic:
Social, Email, and other Traffic
While some firms put a lot of energy into social media, the reality is that it usually drives a very small percentage of total site traffic (usually <5%). The bigger opportunity for most firms is to drive traffic via email marketing. In our experience, email marketing has the ability to represent up to 10-15% of a firm’s total website traffic. Often, email is the real backbone of your digital marketing effort because it’s the tool you use to establish a relationship with a potential client before the conversation. While a client might first find your firm via search, they’re not likely to initiate a conversation in their first visit to your site. It’s the constant drum beat of useful content, delivered via email, that you’ll use to earn their trust over time and invite them into a conversation when the time is right (more on that later).
Additional Resources on Social, Email, and Other Traffic:
- Email Marketing – Dying or Thriving?
- Achieving Your Desired Email Open and Click-Through Rates
- Opportunities for Marketing Your Professional Services Firm on LinkedIn
#2 – Converting Website visitors Into Leads
So, you’re putting the hard work in. You’re publishing regularly. You’re seeing your firm rise in topical search results. And, you’re seeing modest growth in total site traffic. Now what? The next big hurdle in your digital marketing effort is generating leads by converting the traffic to your site. Yes, it feels good to see more people reading your firm’s thought leadership. But, it’s only rewarding when it starts to lead to commercial activity.
In our experience, a firm should convert 2-4% of its total website traffic into leads. A lead is anyone who has entered your marketing model that might be able to hire you today, tomorrow, or in the future. A lead will fall into one of these four buckets:
- Someone you’ve identified as a potential buyer of your services.
- Someone who has registered for a webinar or downloaded an eBook or a white paper.
- Someone who has subscribed to your email newsletter.
- Someone who has directly asked to speak with you about your services.
Most firms have a lot of leads in bucket #1. They don’t have nearly enough leads in buckets #2 and #3. And, they put too much focus on getting a lot more leads into bucket #4 (even though this really should be a small subset by design). This is, of course, understandable. You’d really like clients to come in and buy right now. But, it’s not really logical. Nor, is it in step with how clients actually hire firms. They rarely jump directly from reading an insightful article right into a conversation with a senior partner.
Generally speaking, your goal should be to grow buckets #2 and #3. Start by building a receptive, willing audience that’s reading your firm’s useful insight. Over time, with some additional follow-on work, a reasonable subset will initiate a conversation about your services.
The most important thing you can do to increase conversions is to plan, design and manage your website around how clients actually hire firms. This requires:
- Taking control of how clients move through your site by engineering around a clearly defined vision for how you’d like clients to migrate through the four stages of their buying process.
- Establishing effective calls-to-action for each critical point along that journey to consistently keep potential clients moving in the right direction.
- Inviting clients into a marketing relationship early and often — via well placed subscription forms alongside your free and accessible thought leadership along with selectively gating your more high-value content — to help build your database of marketable leads.
Additional Resources on Converting Site Traffic:
- The Optimal Service Page Layout
- Creating Bridges From Thought Leadership Into Your Practice
- Selectively Using Gates to Improve Lead Generation
#3 – Nurturing Leads into Conversations and Revenue
These days earning your way into the inbox is more challenging than ever. Clients are feeling overwhelmed by the volume of thought leadership coming at them and are becoming, understandably, more reticent to offer permission for you to market to them. But, if your content is good and your CTAs are thoughtful and well placed, generally 2-4% of the people who visit your site will invite you in.
Often, it’s the critical next step — nurturing — that separates success from failure. It’s what you do (and don’t do) with the trust you earned.
We’ll start with what you won’t do. You won’t immediately jump on the phone and make an unexpected and largely unwanted sales inquiry. You’re not a software company. You’re not under pressure from a VC to quickly monetize every person that has the courage to download your ebook.
What you will do is continue to deepen the trust. Here’s how:
Provide a steady diet of useful relevant content for the foreseeable future.
- Be clear about the type of content you’ll provide and when you’ll provide it.
- Provide options for people to receive what interests them most and how frequently they’d like to receive it.
- Do this all largely via email marketing.
Honor your commitment not to overtly sell them on your services (at least for a while).
- But make those services clearly available by making connections between your insights, services, people, and past client work.
- Do this by marketing in a clear 3:1 ratio that provides three pieces of freely available educational content in exchange for one piece of action-oriented (webinars) or sales-leaning messages (case stories or service offerings).
- Use your marketing automation system to follow clients’ digital behaviors.
- Rely on lead scoring to identify when they’re more or less engaged in your content.
- Use that data to surface a handful of high potential leads each month and pre-qualify those leads for potential fit with your firm.
- Occasionally make a targeted offer to connect one of those potential clients with senior people on your team.
Over time, we’ve found that when a firm follows this simple playbook, 8-10% of the leads you generate will enter into a conversation with your firm — either inbound or based on the highly targeted, gentle nudge I just described.
Additional Resources on Lead Nurturing:
- What Should We Do With the Leads We Generate?
- Lead Management 101 for Professional Services Firms
- Developing a Proper Lead Qualification Process
#4 – Measuring ROI
There’s a famous quote in advertising credited to 19th century Philadelphia retailer John Wanamaker, “Half of all my advertising works. The trouble is, I just don’t know which half.” Of all the promises of digital marketing, the biggest one is its ability to solve that problem — to measure the performance of your efforts.
Now, pure and specific measurement is quite hard. But directional measurement is quite simple. And that’s really all you need. It just takes:
- Two technologies: marketing automation (to track everything that happens leading into and on your website) and CRM ( to track what happens once a sales conversation occurs
- A little behind the scenes development to associate every lead you generate with a lead source and a campaign source (in your CRM): You can pass this information from your website to your other systems via a “hidden field” associated with your forms. When someone subscribes to your newsletter or registers for a webinar, this information will be populated along with the additional information they provided. Ultimately, the lead source will become where the lead first originated. And the campaign source will become the marketing activity that had the most influence leading up to the sale.
- Some process diligence from your business development team to enforce CRM use rigor within your team: Ideally, you’re tracking conversations and meetings as they occur. But at minimum if you’re tracking opportunities and where they are in the sales cycle, you’ll be able to make some connections between your marketing efforts and your business outcomes. Specifically, you’ll be able to identify:
- Which content topics garner the most interest.
- Which marketing activities yield the most leads.
- Which lead sources yield the most and highest quality opportunities.
- Which lead sources yield the most revenue.
- Which marketing campaigns contribute most to won business.
Additional Resources on Measurement and ROI:
- How to Create a Marketing and Business Development Dashboard
- Is Your Marketing Working? The 4 Essential Questions.
TAKE THE FIRST STEP
If you’ve hung with me this far, clearly, you have a lot to digest. But you can start by going back to the framework and seeing how our model compares to what’s actually happening in your firm. Do you know where your web traffic is coming from? How much you are converting on your site? And how successful your nurturing efforts are? If your numbers are off in any area (or if you’re unsure what your numbers are) then this is a good place to jump in. Use the recommended actions outlined above as a check list and dive deeper with the linked resources. Then start building your digital marketing expertise—and your list of qualified leads—one step at a time.