ASK ANY OF your clients why they appointed you. Chances are you will hear words like understanding, trust, compatibility, rapport. The words you probably will not hear are the ones related to your marketing efforts - advertising, website, public relations, press release, newsletters, or seminars. In professional services, clients buy individuals. People buy people. This doesn’t mean that marketing is not important. Quite the contrary, it has a very important role. But this role needs to be clearly defined. Marketing is not about selling your service; it’s about motivating the clients to want to meet with you. Once you are able to meet with the client, then you can start gathering information about their needs and wants – the first step in the selling process. In the Promoting stage of the pipeline there are two types of prospects that you should be targeting: those that you have not had the opportunity to sit down with and those that you have met but where an opportunity doesn’t exist – the need isn’t there, they’re satisfied with their existing vendors, the budget hasn’t been finalised, etc… Your goal for the former is to get the first meeting. For the latter, it’s to make sure they are thinking about you when a change or need occurs.
In professional services, marketing can take a number of forms. At the bottom of the ‘nearness to client’ pyramid, is corporate marketing. These activities build the image of your firm and create a general awareness. Advertising, public relations, sponsorships... These activities are passive. They may be seen by a decision maker, you may even get a client to contact you because of them – but this is rare. It’s possible, but not probable.
The second layer is capability marketing which tells others what you do. It starts to demonstrate your professionalism and may even begin to differentiate you from the other service providers in the market. These can be either active or passive depending on how they are used. Email campaigns, public speaking, product information, service brochures, websites, social media – all are an important part of the marketing mix, however, used in isolation they are not enough to motivate a client to want to meet with you.
The activities which are closest to the client in terms of the pyramid are called contact marketing. They can include case studies, newsletters, luncheon seminars, discussion groups, articles in trade journals and proprietary research. Regardless of the activity, they are focused efforts designed to demonstrate the ‘added value’ your company can create and how you can do it better than the competition. By design, they are active in nature, but that’s assuming there is a clear and planned follow-up strategy.
Most professional services companies have a general understanding of marketing. But in practice, they’re not used to their fullest potential, primarily because they are used in isolation. More needs to be done. Think back to the core aim of marketing – to motivate the prospective client to want to meet with you. Marketing activities are wasted if they are ad hoc and done ‘when time allows’. What is needed is a series of planned marketing activities which are linked together over time, create value for the person you’re targeting, and starts to build an image of trust. If done well, the results will be the start of a relationship where the prospect is motivated and wants to meet with you to see how you can help their business.
Marketing activities achieve a high return when they are combined in a ‘campaign’ which includes sustained inputs in the right balance. Here are some tips for a campaign designed to ‘motivate a prospective client to want to meet with you’:
- Target a specific senior manager - someone who has the power or at least the influence to appoint you as their supplier. If you’re not sure of the most appropriate person to contact, target two or more people within a company.
- Don’t just send brochures or overtly promotional material. Consider sending an interesting case study, market report, an article from a trade magazine, book, seminar invites, etc…Before you send anything, ask yourself: “will this potentially be of genuine value and interest to him/her?”
- Ensure every piece of marketing material is specifically tailored to the person. Sending a bulk-email to your prospects may save you time, but doesn’t create a perception of trust.
- Each follow-up should be no longer than three to four weeks after the previous one.
- At some point state that you will be calling on a specific day (within one week) to arrange a face-to-face meeting.
- Make the call! Don’t waste the effort that has gone in up to this point.
- Even if you don’t get the meeting, keep promoting – you may just want to contact them at longer intervals.
David Maister believes that impressions and perceptions are created by small actions that are meaningful for their symbolism. For professional services, this means a sustained marketing campaign where you are in regular contact with your prospective client. Each contact creates value. Each time you create value, you are building trust.
There are some cases where one email and a phone call may get you the first client meeting. But this is rare. People are busy. They don’t have the time or energy to meet with everyone that calls. Think of all the great opportunities you are missing if you ‘close the book’ on a client that says they’re not interested. If you’ve spent time researching and qualifying the prospects, there should be a reason why you think they would be a great client. Keep promoting to them.
Selling professional services takes time. Use this time to your advantage. Start building trust. Plan and implement a campaign for each prospective client. Your marketing activities at this stage should have one goal and it's not to sell – it’s to get the first meeting with the prospective client. Once you’re in the meeting then you can start selling. In the end, they’re buying you.
TIPS TO WIN
Market Your Research Many professional services firms have lots of research which is of high quality and has real value. Unfortunately, it is shared mainly with existing clients and not used as a proactive marketing tool. Research is a great way to differentiate yourself from the competition. Create press release around it, organise a lunch to introduce the results to the market, send it to potential clients. You may find that a potential client will take the initiative of seeking a meeting with you just to learn more about your findings. Use it as a way of building interest. But remember, it is useless if not followed up to find out if it has been received and if it has real value to the recipient.
Getting a Referral Most of us feel intimidated to ask an existing client for a referral. Yet done in a professional manner, it can provide a great source of new prospects. Before asking for a referral, you must first go beyond your scope of work - demonstrate a desire to help, send them information of value, maybe even refer a client to them. Give before you receive. Also, timing is critical – make sure they’re satisfied with your service. Ask if there are other groups in their organisation that you should meet with. Ask if they have any friends or colleagues in other companies that would be interested in learning more about your services. If done in a tactful manner, the results can be great. If you’ve demonstrated that you can create value and are trustworthy, then they may even develop a sense of pride in referring you.
Don’t Ask Here’s the situation. You’ve identified a prospect. You’ve sent them an email. A few days go by and you call. After introducing yourself, the first question you ask is: “did you receive the email I sent you”. Sounds like a friendly way of starting the conversation. It may be, but don’t ask this question. There are three possible answers you can receive: 1), “yes” – in which case you will proceed with what you intend to say. 2) “yes, but I haven’t had a chance to read it” – in which case you may be asked to call back after they’ve had a chance to read it. 3) “no, I haven’t received it” - you will probably be asked to resend it and call again. Two of the three possible answers are bad news. Instead, try recapping the main point of the letter working on the assumption that it had been received and read it (albeit briefly).