This post outlines the 6 key things any new professional services marketer should be focused on, and provides links to relevant topical reading for each.
In some ways, marketing a professional services firm is unlike any other marketing endeavor. Even a seasoned B2B marketer can find themselves more than a bit befuddled after taking the CMO post at a professional services firm. The very thing you’ve been asked to market feels like a complex, shifting target. No one in the firm is ever entirely in agreement as to what your firm actually does and who it does it for. Every client engagement is different simply because it can be. Therefore, it costs next to nothing to customize one solution from the next.
At their core, consultants and other subject matter experts see themselves as problem solvers. They love dissecting a new client problem and assembling a solution like a puzzle. By contrast, they hate codifying that problem and solution into a methodology that can be packaged and reapplied for commercial success. And, of course, that’s your job. So, you’re always a bit at odds with the partners themselves.
Maybe you’ve just been promoted to the Director of Marketing role in your firm or maybe you’re a seasoned B2B marketer who’s fairly new to professional services. Regardless of what brought you to this moment, you may find yourself stuck with the same question, “Now what?” This article lays out a sequence of 6 things I believe any new marketing leader in a professional services firm should have on her or his mind:
- Point of View
- Brand Platform
- Thought Leadership
- Marketing Automation
#1 – Positioning
Over the years, I’ve found that too many firms are little more than a collection of solutions in search of a problem. So, the first task at-hand is to come to agreement on where the firm will choose to compete. This starts with making a sound and effective positioning decision. There are a couple of ways to think about positioning. You can position your firm vertically (by focusing on an industry or a handful of industries). Or, you can position your firm horizontally (by focusing on a handful of services or disciplines that can cut across industries). In the end, you’ll likely do a little bit of both (we do these 3-4 things for clients in these 2-3 industries).
Ultimately, your goal in positioning your firm is to reduce the competitive playing field. If you believe that clients have 1000s of substitutes for what you do, then there’s a good chance you have a positioning problem. Your goal should be to narrow your vision on the marketplace such that your clients have at most a few hundred substitutes for what you do. If a client, chooses to stop working with you it should take them months to find an adequate replacement, not days.
Additional resources on positioning:
- Blog: 7 Ways to Determine if Your Positioning Works
- Blog: 3 Ways to Position Your Firm
- Blog: Firm Positioning: Bring More Depth. Less Breadth.
#2 – Point-of-View
Once you’ve developed clarity on where your firm will compete, you need to establish a governing point-of-view on how you do what you do. Your POV will create a layer on top of your positioning that will enable you to attract potential clients that buy into your belief system. In a sense, you can think of it as psychographic segmentation within your area of focus.
Your POV emanates from how you view the world. What is it that most clients get wrong when trying to solve the problems you’re often hired to solve? What is the conventional wisdom in the market on how something should be done? What is the better way you’ve uncovered through your client work or original research? Here are some examples:
- CEB: This firm’s research on the mindsets and behaviors of the most successful B2B salespeople, codified in the book The Challenger Sale, has turned conventional wisdom on relational selling upside down, and provided a new way forward for building and training B2B sales teams.
- TBM: While most consulting firms will tell you strategy is the backbone of everything operations consulting firm TBM (a Rattleback client) brings a unique and compelling POV around speed. Organizations that move faster, innovate faster, and as a result they “win every time.”
- Navalent: While most consulting firms will work on one aspect of a company’s performance, Navalent (also a Rattleback client) has found that the only way to affect real transformational change in a company is to work on 3 critical domains simultaneously (a company’s leaders, its leadership teams and its organizational structure).
Depending on the breadth of your firm’s positioning, your POV may cut across all your markets and services or you may end up having different POVs in different areas. This all depends a bit on the size of your firm and the diversity of places in which you choose to compete.
Additional resources on developing your POV:
#3 – Brand Platform
In our experience a firm’s positioning and its POV make up 2/3 of a complete brand strategy. They form the essence of how you will present your firm to the market — who you serve, what you do, and your unique view on how it should be done. The next critical step in marketing your firm, is articulating these things in a clear and compelling way that draws from the unique culture and personality of your firm. Essentially, you’re looking to translate the thinking you’ve developed into a clear and distinct market-facing message. That message is both verbal and visual. At Rattleback, we like to call this the brand platform. It’s the face you present to the world.
Your brand platform consists of all the visual tools you use to tell your story (your firm’s corporate logo and the look-and-feel of your communications). It also includes your corporate messaging (a clear 2-sentence description describing who you serve, what you do and the benefits a client earns as a result of a business relationship with you). And, it includes individual practice and service-level messaging (clear descriptions of the problems your clients face and the solutions you’ve designed to help them solve them).
Additional resources on branding:
#4 – Thought Leadership
Ultimately, marketing your firm is about educating potential clients on issues you know how to solve or opportunities you can help them realize. A steady flow of high quality thought leadership is your best lever for creating awareness, demonstrating relevance, and generating leads. Because of that, it’s tempting to jump past the first 3 steps and right into content development. But, in our experience, if you haven’t really thought through the three big issues that precede this, your investments in thought leadership won’t be very successful.
Yet, doing it right is quite hard. And, with the rapid explosion of content, cutting through the noise has become harder than ever. For thought leadership to work you need to establish a clear strategy for the topics you’d like to own in the marketplace. Then, work from there to build a deep body of work around each one. This means backing up your firm’s unique POV with substantive research (both quantitative research and best practices case story interviews). And, taking it to market in a multi-dimensional way (self publishing on your own website and publishing in reputable external media). And, doing it with consistency and regularity so you can increase the likelihood of being found online.
Additional resources related to thought leadership strategy, development and promotion:
- Blog: 7 Steps to Develop Your Content Marketing Strategy
- Blog: Why Self-Publishing is a Critical Part of Your Thought Leadership Marketing Mix
- Blog: Why External Publishing is a Critical Part of Your Thought Leadership Marketing Mix
#5 – Website
A professional service firm’s website is its most critical marketing asset. Ultimately, it’s the vessel that brings everything together. It’s the carrier for your unique brand story (the compelling presentation of your firm’s positioning and unique POV in the marketplace). And, it’s the central resource for all your firm’s thought leadership — all content you self-publish should exist here and all content you publish elsewhere should be pointed to from here.
On top of all that, your website has a unique ability to do things no other marketing tool in your arsenal can. To start, your steady flow of original thought leadership will help you attract potential clients to your firm via search. From there, when designed and managed correctly, your site has the unique ability to nudge clients through their buying process. You can literally guide clients from learning about the issues you solve, to vetting your firm’s ability to solve them, and ultimately into a dialogue with your principals or business development experts.
Additional resources related to building and managing a world class professional services website:
- Training ($): Website Best Practices Module
- Blog: 6 Best Practices for Your Website’s User Flow
- Blog: Assigning CTAs to Your Website’s User Flow
#6 – Marketing Automation
Generally, the best firms only need a handful of high quality new clients in a given year to be successful. But, who are they? And, how will you find them? Even a small firm with an aggressive thought leadership agenda has the ability to attract 50k-100k+ unique visitors per year to their site. How do you find the handful of high quality clients you’re looking for from that noise? Sure, some of them will reach right out to you. They’ll initiate a conversation. But, others might just sit in the background. Casually reading all your firm’s smart thinking. Many of those folks would benefit from a nudge.
Ultimately, marketing automation is the tool that can help you identify high potential prospects from your sea of website visitors. It’s the tool we use to help our clients pick out the handful of prospective clients they’d like to proactively pursue from a business development perspective. It’s the tool we use to make sure the small amount of time partners have for business development is focused on the right potential clients. And, it’s the tool we use to figure out what’s working, what’s not, and whether we’re getting any ROI from our efforts.
Additional resources related to marketing automation:
- Blog: An Introduction to Marketing Automation
- Webinar: An Introduction to Marketing Automation
- Training ($): Marketing Technology
While this blog is far from a “how to market a professional services firm check list,” I hope it gives you some structure by which to start your endeavour. If you’re new to this role, I encourage you to browse some of the referenced content on these topics. If we can be of any assistance, give us a call.