Content Marketing for Professional Services Firms: Stop Pushing, Start Pulling

July 25, 2012 •

Develop unique expertise, advertise this expertise, win new clients, do great work, encourage referrals, hire top talent, expand into new areas.

For decades, this was the formula for growing a professional services firm.

While the general formula hasn’t changed much, the ingredients and organization of those ingredients has changed dramatically. Decision maker profiles have changed. Buying cycles have changed. Pricing models have changed. The way clients consume and refer services and service providers to others has changed.

This is not a one-time shift. Everything will continue to change.

The 99th percentile professional services marketers have already recognized content marketing as one of the most valuable contributors to the new growth formula, and it’s not coincidental that the fastest-growing companies on lists like the Inc. 500 have invested in content marketing strategies and execution.

Let’s take a look at the four growth-drivers for professional services firms, and the importance of content marketing to the success of each.

Retain and grow current clients: Put away the golf clubs

Executives or business development leaders at professional services firms used to conduct sales cycles with existing clients on the golf course, over a drink and a cigar, and maybe even a trip to the local arena for a hoops or hockey game in the company suite. The content, if you will, was a conversation that served to nurture the relationship.

According to the National Golf Foundation, since the year 2000 the number of golfers has been slowly declining. If there were a study identifying trends in entertaining clients over golf, drinks or sports, my guess is that we’d find a similar decline.

Decision makers don’t have the time anymore. They are being asked to do more with less at work, while also feeling the pressure to be actively involved in family life.

That doesn’t mean that the decision maker no longer likes you, Mr. Professional Services Executive. And, it doesn’t mean that they don’t need your information; as a matter of fact, they need more information in order to justify your fees and the possibility of investing in new services. This is your opportunity to educate and inform them via content marketing.

Acquire new clients: Teach me how to fish, and I may invite you into my boat

Anyone who is making a decision on hiring one professional services firm over another has the following in common: they don’t want to make the wrong decision and therefore look bad. No one ever got fired for buying IBM, goes the old information technology adage. When selecting a services firm, the average decision maker wants to reduce risk as much as possible, which is why the established players continue to get work, even if their service or offering is not on par with the competition’s.

Whether you’re the established player or the challenger, in order to acquire new clients you’re going to need more than a phone, a PowerPoint and a set of business cards. Buying cycles often move 50 – 60% towards a purchase before the decision maker even speaks to representatives of the services firms under consideration. These decision makers are poking around – visiting yours and your competitor’s website, looking at customer lists, reading blog posts and company reviews, examining data sheets….they are educating themselves, so they can make an informed decision.

If you support their education with useful and authentic content that diminishes their uncertainty about you and makes their decision to hire you easier . . . you’ll find yourself more often than not on your prospect’s short list when it is time to actually start selling.

Establish new services, new positioning: Be the first, be the best, or be different

Clients may like you and trust you, but when growing your firm via new service offerings, or even just repositioning your current offering, like and trust are countered by doubt and lack of familiarity.

The clients’ doubts come from having seen other services firms expand into new areas, and experiencing initial stumbles, or worse yet, complete failure. No one wants to be the guinea pig.

The clients’ lack of familiarity comes from having little knowledge of the service, little knowledge of how your firm will deliver the service, or little knowledge of how well your firm will deliver the service.

Delivering the right content, to the right person, at the right time can chip away at doubt, lack of familiarity, and a whole host of other challenges associated with launching new services . . . and even more importantly, can actively drive your client to seek you out for that new service.

Hire top talent: It’s still about the people

Professional services firms have been, and always will be, only as good as their talent. For growing firms, that means you’re in a war for talent, and that war has shifted online and gone social, with 92% of U.S. companies using social networks and media to find talent in 2012.

Recruiting via social media, however, isn’t just about “being there.” It requires a well-thought out content marketing strategy, or else you risk letting the social media tail wag the content marketing dog.

Content marketing is no longer optional for professional services firms. In order to grow via any and all of the methods listed above, you need content marketing. Or as the principal of one of our professional services clients said just the other day, “Publish or perish.”

If you choose to publish—and publish the right way—a good first step is to explore the valuable content marketing tips from Right Source and other industry experts in our free content marketing eBook:  How to Grow Your Business with Content Marketing.

 

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.

  • I think part of this shift is due to the fact that people are doing research in different ways.  The majority of people are looking for information online, specifically within the search engines and social media.  If you aren’t creating great content to be found there, the conversation isn’t going to move forward.  

    • That’s definitely a contributing factor, Nick. Buyers and influencers have often done 50-60% of their research before they even decide to talk to anyone in business development, so you better be answering questions and putting your best foot forward with your content, and it better be easy to find.

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