It’s difficult for business owners and technical subject matter experts to not love the products and services they sell, particularly professionals and subject matter experts. However, one of the biggest mistakes of business owners and leaders of small and mid size firms make is to focus only on themselves and their products or services in their marketing strategy and in their communications and offers.
Yes, the products and services are the part of your offer, but they are only part of your offer and are not the total offer. Your offer must be based on customers and the wants and needs of the market, not on your own desire.
What you want, and what your current and potential customers want are not the same. Your marketing strategy needs to be based not on what you want, but what your customers do.
3 Questions That All Customers Ask Themselves When Considering a New Product, Service or Vendor
Whether or not they explicitly state it, every customer will ask themselves four key questions:
1. What’s In It For Me? (WIFM) Time and again customer research has shown that customers want to know what’s in it for them. Your product may have an altruistic purpose or social value, but first and foremost there must be something in it for the customer or the buyer. To start with the customer will want to know if this is for them. Your offer must then include the most important benefits that they will get when they buy your products and services. What problems do you solve for them? In what ways do you make life easier or better for the customer? Do you generate benefits or do you help them to reduce the pain? If they find something valuable or useful in your products and services, they will buy them.
2. What is my investment – my money, my time, and my effort? The second question that customers ask themselves is in regard to the investment that they must make to get the WIFM benefits from your products or services. This could be an investment of money, time, or effort, or some combination of the three. The customer needs to know the benefits they will receive in exchange for their investment.
3. Do I like this company? Even if your product or service provides strong benefits for the customer, and they know what their investment is going to be, they still need to answer whether or not they want to buy from you. Another way of saying this is, do they know you, do they like you, and do they trust you? The customer will be asking, “Does this company get me?” When they’re reading your copy, they’re asking questions about whether or not the company gets them. Do they use words that the customer uses? Do they get the customer’s problem? Do they speak the same language? Is the imagery of people they can associate with or they like? Etc.
Think about all three questions. Do some research with your customers and target segments. Find out what’s in it for them, what they perceive their investment to be, and how you can get them to like and trust you. That will give you some of the answers to include in your offer. Rework your messaging and your offer. Afterwards you will:
At Fixyr we believe that "one-size-fits-all" marketing is the enemy, that you need strategy before tactics, and that the best path to success is through a results-focused marketing plan built just for you.
The Prussian General Moltke famously said in 1871, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”
More recently in 2012, Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” I personally like the Mike Tyson quote better because of the wonderfully painful visual that it envokes.
At Fixyr we truly believe that you must have a marketing strategy and a plan to execute it. It’s important that you know and agree to where you’re going to focus to prevent you from getting distracted.
But we also know that things change. Forecasts can be off. Assumptions can be wrong. More often than not, marketing plans are overly optimistic in the results they expect to generate. When you put together your strategy and your plans for executing that strategy it was based on the market situation and the assumptions you had made at that time, and the current situation or the underlying assumptions may have changed.
Does this mean you should throw out your plans at the first sign of trouble? Absolutely not.
You should be willing to alter your plans, but always stay focused on your strategy. You should only alter your strategy under certain circumstances. At the same time, you should be flexible in your plans for how you achieve your strategy when it’s obvious that something isn’t working or business conditions have changed.
You need a system, a set of rules, that will help you identify when to adapt and adjust. Here’s a framework of three times to consider if you need to adjust:
Competitors are doing something different or something new – We are strong believers in monitoring competitive threats, but be careful about changing plans too quickly to copy or react to competitor activities. What do they know that you don’t? Do you know that what they’re doing is working? Even if it is working for them, do you know that it would it work in your situation or that you should do something different to react?
Underperforming marketing tactics – This is quite common, but is often more of an opportunity than a reason to change plans. Make sure you understand why a marketing tactic is not performing. The underlying reasons could be easy to fix, or they may be larger more systemic issues that won’t be fixed by changing tactics. Begin by trying to understand what’s going on. Do you have the data to understand which stage of the marketing tactic isn’t performing? Are you able to test different offers, different creatives and/or media? Quite often a series of modifications or improvements to your activities will help to improve performance dramatically.
Assumptions have changed – This is the most common situation when considering changing plans. Are the assumptions that you used to develop you original strategy and plan still valid? If not, what has changed, and what should you change about your plans?
New opportunities – Does this new opportunity help me to achieve my strategy better, faster, or cheaper than what I have planned? If so, what would it take to pursue and implement this new opportunity, and – this is the most important part – what will I remove from my plans to make space and free up time and resources to implement or pursue this new opportunity? Have you sufficiently thought through the new opportunity? As a general rule of thumb, wait 3 months. If it’s still a good idea 3 months later, it’s worth changing your plans.
Before dropping or changing plans, make sure you understand why you’re changing, what you would differently, and what you will stop doing as a result.
And always keep an eye towards your strategy. There are many paths to get there, but make sure you don’t go off in the wrong direction.
At Fixyr we believe that “one-size-fits-all” marketing is the enemy, that strategy should always come before tactics, and that the best path to success is through a results-focused marketing plan built just for you.
Sales is different for Professional Services practices than it is for other types of B2B firms. How so?
Nowhere else is it more important or evident that your customer wants to do business with a real person, that is someone they trust.
While the stages of the Marketing Hourglass are still the same – Know=> Like => Trust => Try => Buy – how you approach them will be slightly different for Professional Services than for other types of firms.
Let’s look at how to get started.
As a professional services practice, your approach to business development will be very different. You don’t sell, you educate and assist the business. You don’t “Sell”, you provide solutions to the customers problems.
Before you get started on your business development, you’ll need to make sure that you have the right tools in place. Somethings that you’ll need are:
The first stage of the Marketing Hourglass is Know. This is creating awareness of your firm, and familiarity with your services offered. There are 3 ways you will generate new prospects.
What is your objective in the area of developing relationships with new clients? How many do you want to attract? What industries do they represent? Do you have a sales pipeline?
What is your objective related to how often and with whom you will proactively develop relationships with?
Every professional should be active in his/her industry association (Professional bodies, Financial Planning Association or Bar Associations) as well as at least one industry-based association attracting prospective clients or referral sources. What is your objective in this area?
It can take a considerable amount of time to go from Know through Like and Trust until a business is ready to Buy. Be patient and nurture your leads for future business.
Define an objective related to incorporating market research into your practice before meeting with a new prospective client or referral source.
It’s important to understand that there isn’t a single formula to Nurturing Prospects. Keep in mind that the objective is to move the prospect through the Like and Trust stages. You must ensure that you establish Rapport with the prospect, and that you build Trust until such time as the prospect is ready to take the relationship further. Your nurture process will likely use a combination of the following, staggered over time.
What does trial look like for a professional services firm? The Try stage of the Marketing Hourglass could take the form of:
Depending on the type of customer you are dealing with, when they are ready to move to the Buy stage of the Marketing Hourglass it could be as simple as you submitting an Engagement Letter to the customer that outlines the scope of work, your committments, pricing proposal, and business terms.
If you are responding to an RFP (Request For Proposal) be prepared. RFP’s can be very time consuming, and if managed properly, may lead to lower close rates. What objective do you have in the area of increasing your ability to efficiently respond to requests for information about your services?
Business development can easily go off the rails. You need to implement a system to keep it on track.
If you implement a business development program for your professional services firm, you can expect to generate more leads, nurture more leads through the Marketing Hourglass, and ultimately convert more leads to customers.
You’ve heard it before. It’s cheaper to keep your current customers than it is to find new customers. It’s true for many businesses, especially in the services business where the cost to generate a lead and nurture a relationship always seem to be increasing in cost.
Marketing to your current customers, or to customers after the sale is the bottom half of the Marketing Hourglass. Turn those customers into Repeat buyers, and to sources of Postive Reviews and Referrals for your business.
If you've never considered marketing to current customers after the sale, now is a good time to build a cohesive strategy for customer retention.
Let's look at how to get started.
The activities a business uses to increase the number of repeat customers and to increase the profitability of each existing customer.
Customer retention strategies enable you to both provide and benefit from more value from your existing customer base. You want to ensure the customers you worked so hard to acquire stay with you and continue to get value from your products and services, and the relationship with your firm.
In general, the higher the value of each sale or the frequency of purchase, the more the effort you should spend on customer retention marketing. Ideally, you are able to increase both.
Customer Value = Average Sale x Purchase Frequency
Once you compare your CPA (Cost Per Acquisition) for new customers with the value of your current customers, it should become apparent how much you should be investing in your customers to retain them.
Why you should care about existing customers.
Now that we've confirmed the value of retaining your customers, what strategies and tactics can you employ to do so?
This goes without saying, but an unsatisfied customer is unlikely to purchase from you again.
Schedule regular touch points with the customer in your CRM or marketing database. Use a variety of mediums from telephone calls, in person visits (if appropriate), emails, and traditional mailings. Depending on the value of the customer, invest in hosting opportunities, or send them company-branded promotional items.
Probe your customers needs and find ways to expose them to your other products and services. A long-term customer should be aware of the range of products and services you provide. Depending on your business, consider bundling products and services together (that make sense for the customer).
Add the customer to an email or newsletter distribution so that they regularly see your firms name, and information about your industry and services. Follow the customers' businesses on social media, and encourage them to do so with you in return.
This can vary from industry to industry, but a significant way to deepen the relationship with the customer is to provide value added beyond the products and services you sell. This could be related to your recognized expertise, or information from your industry or suppliers.
When it comes time for renewal, there should be no effort for the customer to do so. You've already confirmed with them the value of your services and the relationship you have with them, and so there is no effort for the customer to consider whether or not they should renew with you, or even to consider a competitor.
Ask the customer for permission to feature their business in a case study. Most customers will feel flattered by the gesture, and very few will mind the additional exposure for their business.
A satisfied customer is much more likely to send you referals. Look for ways to make it easy for them to do so. Come straight out and ask them, or give them loyalty or repeat purchase discounts if they do so.
TIP: Your customer referrals can also be a strong contributor to your strategy to become a recognized expert. Read more about it here: 7-Steps to Becoming a Recognized Expert
Even if you implement just a few of these strategies properly, you can expect to deepen relationships with your customers, increase their retention rates, and ultimately make them more profitable for your business.
Every successful B2B business needs to have a strong online presence. Today this means more than just having a website and an email address. Your prospects and customers today have 24/7 access to the internet at their fingertips through the myraid of smartphones, tablets, laptops, and IoT connected devices.
Before you jump into the components of your Total Online Presence, you want to make sure that you've laid the foundation and set the direction that you want to go in.
Think through the following
Keep a copy of your Marketing Hourglass handy as you work through each of the following steps.
There are a variety of tools and technologies which you can consider, but a modern marketing program usually includes:
Pick the themes for your content strategy.
I find it helpful to create a theme for each month that all of your content can revolve around. Each theme I use has a substantial topic related to my audience’s industry/pain points and represents an important keyword search term.
Provide valuable information and use content upgrades to convert the readers of this information into leads. Try to personalize and add emotional components to your content as much as possible to really establish a connection with a reader. The more they feel that connection, the more likely they’ll be to convert into leads and eventually customers.
Also, keep in mind that you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel with your content. You can share relevant content from other sites on your social platforms to provide value to your audience. You can also repurpose content you already have, so, for example, if you have a podcast episode, transcribe it and turn it into a written blog post.
No one will argue whether or not your practice needs a website, but your need website needs to do the following: tell people who you are, tell them what you do, give them confidence and build trust in why they should do business with you.
When it comes to content revisions, it always surprises me when people don’t think to start with their website as the content hub. The role of your website is to help you:
Oh yeah, and it needs to be optimized for use on mobile devices. While many professional services firms have websites, they tend to be older, brochure-ware type sites that were built a number of years back. They may still be viewable on a desktop browser (even if they look older and stale), but viewing them on a smartphone or tablet may be difficult or near impossible.
SEO, or search engine optimization, is how your content and website get found online. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) refers to the method used to increase a website’s position on search engine results pages (SERPs) on sites such as Google, or Bing. Developing an SEO strategy for your business can help draw traffic to your website.
Keep in mind that the goal of a search engine is to provide unbiased results that deliver information you are looking for as quickly and as accurately as possible. In order to do this, search engines are capable of identifying all relevant information online and ranking them in order of quality and relevance. There are hundreds of factors that are involved when search engines rank websites in an organic search. SEO is constantly evolving so that search engines like Google and Bing can provide the best, most relevant results. You don't need to be an expert, but it is something to keep in mind as part of your Total Online Presence.
Paid advertising can get expensive very quickly, but don't rule online advertising out for your professional services practice. Online advertising can be highly targeted based on keywords, search terms (programmatic), and geograpic locations, and can therefore be very cost effective. With remarketing, your practice can advertise to visitors that have come to your site or social media pages, keeping your firm top-of-mind and keeping the sales dialogue open.
The main social media sites for professional services businesses to be on (in order of importance) are:
LinkedIn - Bare minimum: Make sure you have a company page, and make sure all customer-facing staff have profiles that are linked to your company page. Good to have: Post regular updates on your company page. For individual profiles make sure you connect with your customers, prospects, and referral sources. Advanced: LinkedIn can be a great lead generation tool, depending on the type of customer you are targeting.
Facebook Business Pages Bare minimum: Setup a business page for your firm. List off your address, profile, website, and services offered.
Email marketing is vastly underutilized in accounting. It’s really quite easy to implement. All you need are three things:
If you have a CRM with robust email marketing capabilities, then you already have your list management tool. Some of the market leaders in the enterprise space include:
In the small and solo firm space, any of these vendors are more affordable and a few of them are free:
When you choose a vendor, be sure to choose based on email deliverability rates in addition to feature set and price.
Some firms will need to do some admin time to put together their client list, especially if they don’t have a CRM or have not collected emails. If you don’t already have a process to add new clients and prospects to your list management tool, it’s essential to put that process in place.
What will people learn about you and your business as the search around online, apart from your website? You want to make sure that your business turns up favourably in places that could generate new leads for you, or in ways that will help to add credibility to your business.
Often you can have your business listed for free. It can be time consuming, but every listing is another source of leads or helps prospects to determine your legitimacy.
Consider the following for your business, based on your area, your industry, and your customers:
List your business and make sure it can be found on search engines. The top two in Canada are: Google My Business and Bing Places for Business. Once you have business listings, make sure to encourage positive reviews.
Online reviews can make or break a business. Your goal is to generate as many positive reviews as possible. If you've been in business for awhile consider reaching out to existing and previous customers to get them to complete reviews for you. Often if you ask, they will. Also, put a regular program in place to reach out to new customers once you've provided them with your product or service.
Drive reviews for the following:
Your Online Presence will be the backbone to your marketing. It will help you to create awareness, be found, generate leads, help nurture those leads, build trust and credibility, and generate the sale. A strong Online Presence can help your business to stand out and to thrive.
"The overall purpose of strategic marketing planning, and its principal focus is the creation of sustainable competitive advantage."
- Malcolm McDonald
Your marketing strategy is not meant to be a one-time exercise that you complete, and then leave to sit on a shelf collecting dust. If that's what happens then you've just wasted a considerable amount of time and effort. The purpose of having a one is to guide your business over multiple years. It's meant to provide guidance for products and services, pricing, your annual marketing plans, and your tactical marketing campaigns and activities.
Your marketing strategy is your long term game plan. It's who you're going to focus on, how you're going to win business, and how you're going to attract customers. It's going to guide how you create your marketing plans.
A comprehensive marketing strategy will include your value proposition - your competitive advantage in the market. It will include who your target audience is, and the key elements of your brand. Your marketing strategy is a constant from where you create your marketing plans. Now and in the future.
Marketing strategy => marketing plan => campaign plans => execution => win!
Your long-term marketing strategy will develop a sustainable competitive advantage. Your marketing strategy is the foundation of all your future marketing plans.
What it does:
How it helps:
To build an effective strategy that’ll support future marketing plans, you need discipline, time, and focus.
The process may sound complicated, but it's not as difficult as you may think. Many businesses skip this vital step because they are either intimidated by the perceived effort, or they are unsure of what to do and how to do it.
If the above sounds complicated, we can guide your business through a methodical, step-by-step process that will put you on the path to success. FIXYR - Marketing Strategy Review