Partner to Partner: Marketing Your Professional Services Firm in 2016

November 17, 2015 •

Partner to Partner: Marketing Your Professional Services Firm in 2016

I’ve read and then revisited the book Managing the Professional Service Firm by David Maister four or five times. It captures the seemingly simple, yet sometimes complicated, nature of running a professional services firm better than any other book of its kind. I revisit it when dealing with important client service, operations, human capital, and leadership issues.

I never go back to it for marketing guidance, however.

Sure, maybe that has to do with being a “marketing guy” and feeling like I know more about the subject than David Maister. But the marketing guidance is also outdated, and much of it just doesn’t apply to marketing a professional services firm in 2016.

If you are an owner of a services firm in need of marketing direction and you have made it your personal mission to create and execute the marketing plan for 2016, take heed. It is not as simple as it looks.

Our company delivers content-driven marketing solutions, and a large part of our client base is other services firms. As the partner at Right Source in charge of marketing our company and services, let me offer you some tips to help you cut through the planning clutter and point your focus toward the key issues for marketing services company in 2016 – partner to partner.

Content marketing is a necessity. Skimp on the plan or the quality of the content, though, and watch your investment tank.

First things first. For a professional services firm, it’s not just content marketing. It’s content-driven marketing. Here’s the difference. Content-driven marketing does not fall into a nice tidy budget bucket next to website, email marketing, direct mail, maybe even some (gasp!) print collateral.

Content-driven marketing is a broader marketing approach that relies on content to fuel every one of those budget buckets, and includes five critical pillars – content planning, content creation, content optimization, content distribution, and content reporting and analysis.

As you approach 2016, though, my assumption is that if you are running a high-growth professional services firm, you’re already doing content-driven marketing in some form or fashion. As a matter of fact, a 2015 survey reported that 86 percent of B2B respondents said they use content marketing.

Now consider this. Every minute of every day, 1,400 blog posts are created, 204,000,000 emails are delivered, and 72 hours of YouTube video is uploaded. Think you can stand out from the crowd without some planning? Think your run-of-the-mill, low-rent writer material is going to make a dent in that? Think again.

Planning before execution and quality over quantity, my friends. Build yourself a content marketing plan that is anchored by a top-notch firm and/or editorial team.

Stop thinking your website is the first, last, and everything of professional services marketing.

Your website may suck. Or maybe it doesn’t. What I know is that if you run a professional services firm, you are convinced your website needs a facelift sometime soon. Whether it doesn’t convey the right message, or the design is outdated, or the technology behind the site doesn’t allow for efficient management, you’re thinking about it. I know this to be true.

Here’s the thing, partner. You’re probably right about your website. Shit needs to change. But don’t be like the majority of professional services firms execs who turn their new websites into fire drills, set arbitrary deadlines, and piss off both their employees and their marketing firm in the process.

Read this before you even consider issuing the website edict for 2016.

You may not be ready for marketing automation. If you are, choose carefully.

At least once a week we get a call from the guy or gal who has been seduced by the promise of marketing automation, only to be defeated by the realization that the software does not set itself up, does not run itself, and does not produce the content necessary to fuel the marketing engine.

While your professional services cronies will likely tell you to get on the marketing automation train in 2016, consider whether now is the right time to dive in with our eBook, “Make the Marketing Automation Decision: A 5-Question Guide.

Professional services buyers have changed, and will continue to change.

Still operating under the assumption that referrals, references, and a decent website will grow your services business? We’re entering 2016, not 2001. And while your relationship with the 65-year-old managing partner of your law-firm client is still critical, eventually it will be the 40-year-old junior partner who will be making the buying decisions. And he or she will be making those decisions based on a dramatically different set of criteria.

The Internet is chock full of professional services buyers, and most of the time, you won’t even know they are evaluating you. They’re wandering around your website, they’re searching the Internet, they’re consuming your content — and most of the time they’re doing these things before they even decide to talk to you or your business development team.

When you build your marketing plan for 2016, interview your customers and then use what you learned to create buyer personas. Learn about how they evaluate a company like yours in all phases of the sales cycle. Learn about the types of content they consume, and the types they ignore. Learn about which emails get deleted before they’re even read (hint: a lot), and which ones manage to stick in the inbox.

The promise of tracking marketing ROI exceeds the reality. Deal with it.

The trackability of marketing results, borne from the Internet and the subsequent marketing software boom, is both blessing and curse. The blessing is that we can track everything, making marketing and marketers far more valuable. The curse is that in an attempt to track everything, the inability of a company to track the ROI of a program or set of programs often results in decision-making paralysis.

The most important step in your quest to solve this ROI puzzle is to decide to invest in the measurement of only the business outcomes that truly matter. That may be marketing-qualified leads. That may be media mentions. That may be a metric you make up. Just don’t waste your time measuring and reporting things that don’t really allow you to evaluate your programs and make future investment decisions.

Your company markets, sells, and delivers services. The stuff you create is highly unlikely to become the next viral sensation, so instead you need to focus on nailing your strategy, building a plan to accommodate that strategy, and then focusing your execution on only the things that will move the needle.

To learn more about how to tackle your 2016 content-driven marketing plan, download our eBook, “Build Your Content Marketing Plan: A 10-Step Guide.” Want some expert help with your 2016 plan? Feel free to reach out.

About the Author

As managing partner and chief strategy officer for Right Source, Mike Sweeney is responsible for all content marketing initiatives, including growing the company’s content marketing practice, guiding all client content marketing strategy, and recruiting and growing a team of modern marketers. Mike received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Notre Dame. You can find Mike on Twitter and Google+, connect with him on LinkedIn, or read his other posts.

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