If you're a B2B (business-to-business) firm, having a strong Centers of Influence (COI or just Influencer, aka Referral) program is a proven long-term strategy to help you succeed.
What we're not talking about here is hiring Instagram celebrities to promote your brand. 1) that's ridiculously expensive, and 2) probably not appropriate for most B2B firms.
What we are referring to is other professionals and trusted advisors that also work with your customers. By tapping into your Center of Influence (COI's, also just Influencers) you can build a strong, supportive network of synergistic businesses that will send each other referrals.
You may be doing this already. Many successful businesses, salespeople, and entrepreneurs do so naturally. If you're not, get started, and if you are, think about formalizing your approach and watch your results accelerate.
Putting together a B2B influencer marketing strategy is a multi-step process. It's similar to creating other customer marketing or lead generation programs, but the objectives are different.
The first step to creating a strategy is to define your goals. What do you want to achieve through your Center of Influence? Some common goals:
MORE INFORMATION: Your Center of Influence strategy can also be a strong contributor to becoming a recognized expert. Read more about it here: 7-Steps to Becoming a Recognized Expert
It's also important to think about how you can provide value back to your influencer. What information can you provide them that will be helpful to them when they are dealing with the customer? Think beyond just generating leads. The more value you can add to the relatioship with the influencer, the more likely they are to see you as a trusted contact that they will want to come back to over and over.
Next, think about who your customers' influencers might be. If you are dealing with business owners and entrepreneurs consider other professionals they deal with.
Use local search listings, LinkedIn, Chambers of Commerce, BNI networking groups, Business Improvement Associations, and other similar sources to find out who your target influencers are.
Within mid-size or larger firms, look for different entry points. Often a Managing Partner or President is not the individual that's dealing with customers. Find the ones that are.
Enter this list into your CRM tool so that you can begin to track and measure results. A CRM is also a good tool to remind you that you need to reach out or follow-up with individuals on your list.
You’ll then want to contact the influencers and connect with them individually, one at a time. It's important that they see you as an equal, and not as someone that is trying to sell something to them. This is very important.
What might this process look like?
Once you've begun to deepen the relatioship and have started to work together, you're not done. Now’s the time to measure and track results. That way you can see what’s working and what’s not with your Center of Influence network and marketing strategy. And, you can make changes for next time. If you get results, if you start to see referrals being sent your way, and if you are successful in generating additional business, be sure to show recognition to your Influencer and be sure to look for ways to reciprocate.
Repeat the above steps with other influencers that you've identified. As you can see, this process will take an investment in time on your part in order to make it work. But it will work, and it will provide you with a strong foundation. Your Center of Influence / COI / Sphere of Influence / Influencer Network / Referral Sources will contribute to building a strong awareness of your firm, and help your business to grow and thrive.
Are you looking for more information on how you can build your Centers of Influence strategy? Here are some helpful resources that we've curated 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 completed your strategy and planning. While strategy is critical to success, strategy without execution is just theory. Now it's time to execute and optimize to drive your marketing results to the next level. This is where "the rubber hits the road".
You should map out a year’s worth of projects, campaigns and processes and break each month into a theme, and each project into weekly action steps. Each action should be assigned to a single person to be responsible for completing.
On a monthly basis make sure that you remain on track. On a quarterly basis, review your progress and revisit what's working and what isn't. Determine if you need to make any course adjustments.
Track performance of key marketing metrics, including:
Once your system is in place, make your processes repeatable. Standardizing these processes and turning them into templates will help your team execute effectively and efficiently every time, no matter who’s driving the work. Save time, reduce effort, and reduce mistakes or rework by ensuring that the right steps and checks are performed in the right order.
Optimization is the difference between a marketing program that is effective, and one that is outstanding. To truly drive performance track results from you marketing activities through each step of your campaigns. Starting at the weakest performing point, begin to test and monitor different creatives and different approaches. Monitor results, and stop weak performers, and continually optimize the winners. Repeat this process regularly.
It can be very easy to let your plans to execute and optimize fall to the side. You have a critcal client deliverable that requires all hands on deck, a flu epidemic leaves half your staff bedridden or something else comes along and you just don't get to the marketing. This is where you need to ensure that you've built the discipline within your firm to execute, to monitor results, to adjust plans and optimize. Turn execution into a habit, and make it a continous part of your business operations.
TIP: Implementing an ongoing system for marketing execution can be time and resource consuming. We provide everything from coaching to guide you through the process and make sure you stay on track to fully managed marketing execution programs where we take care of all of the elements of implementation for you. Get started on the path to success
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.
Customers want to deal with someone that can help them. Bottom line. If you want to be that someone and win their business first you'll need to win their trust.
And how do you win their trust? You start by demonstrating your authority and expertise. This gives you credibility.
It doesn’t matter what products or services you offer, your prospects likely have lots of different options to choose from. Being able to differentiate yourself from your competitors, and position yourself as the person or business most suited to serve them is vital to your success.
The secret to getting noticed despite all the noise in the marketplace is to establish your authority. When you have authority, people will pay attention. When you are perceived as a subject matter expert, people will naturally want to work with you. They will seek you out.
Getting to that level is all about positioning. Using a few simple strategies, you can position yourself as the go-to expert for your customers. You can attract business to you. Instead of constantly hustling to find your next client, you can turn yourself into a client magnet and let them find you.
Here are 7-Steps to Becoming An Expert, to position yourself as an expert for your customers:
As with almost every other element of marketing, the more you can focus, the better the results you are likely to generate.
A well written article with valuable information is likely to be shared by the people who enjoyed it. This is how content goes viral – through peer-to-peer sharing. By writing regularly, you expose your brand and your business to new audiences on a consistent basis. As you publish and promote your content, you will gradually begin to position yourself as an expert on the topics that you focus on.
Make a list of the most popular publications, journals, websites and blogs in your industry and your community. These are the sites that your ideal clients are visiting regularly to obtain information about your topic. Contact those websites, and request to become a guest contributor. Most website owners are always looking for high quality content to publish on their website that will add value to their visitors.
Write an article exclusively for each website on your list, and include your bio with a link back to your website at the end of your article. This strategy, known as being a guest contributor, helps you get your message in front of new audiences online that may have never discovered you otherwise. You provide content to the media for free, and that content helps direct new visitors to your profile. It’s a win-win.
Challenged with writing?
Most people are terrified of speaking in public, so when they see someone do it they tend to immediately perceive that person as an expert and a leader. Plus, when you speak to a live audience, you have their undivided attention for the duration of your presentation. This affords you a unique opportunity to engage and connect with a large amount of people at the same time.
If you’ve never spoken in public before, a great starting point to develop your skills is your local Toastmasters Group. This is a non-threatening, positive environment in which people meet regularly to practice their speaking and communication skills. Once you build up some confidence, you can begin speaking at networking events, Meetup groups, seminars or conferences in your industry. If you speak regularly to groups of hundreds, or even thousands of people, you can establish yourself as an expert in your industry very quickly.
Most podcast hosts are always on the lookout for more guests to interview for their show. If you think that your story, message, or advice would add value to the audience of a specific podcast, then visit that podcast’s website and find their Contact Page. Send the host a brief message outlining your experience and area of expertise, and tell them you’d like to be considered as a potential guest for their show.
Many podcasts attract thousands, even tens of thousands of listeners on a regular basis. If you make it a routine to be a guest on other podcasts regularly, your name will gradually become known by thousands of highly targeted people from around the world. At the end of each interview, tell the listeners how they can get in touch with you if they want to learn more about what you do or how you can help them.
Have bios prepared in 1-paragraph and 1-page formats. You can either write these yourself or have someone write them for you, but make sure you have these prepared in advance.
The impact of professional photographs can't be understated. If you want to be seen as an authority or expert, your image needs to be professional. These can be either studio sessions, or in your place of work, or ideally both. Spend the money on this once and you will be able to use these photos repeatedly for years.
Your LinkedIn profile is a great place to showcase your expertise, professional experience, and achievements. Used properly, it can be an incredibly powerful networking and positioning tool.
Here are a few tips to optimize your LinkedIn profile:
A great way to become known in your industry is to engage in conversations that are happening on popular news sites, online forums, blogs and social media groups in your industry.
Another advantage of adding value to the conversations that are happening online is that the owners of those blogs or social media groups will likely notice. Building relationships with other influencers in your industry is never a bad idea, because it opens the door for potential collaborations or partnerships in the future. Commenting regularly on their platforms can help build that relationship.
Content curation on it's own won't position you as an expert, but it's an excellent way to supplement your efforts.
What is content curation? Simply put, you'll be finding articles, posts, videos on your subject matter expertise that have been published by others, and you will share them to your website, newsletter, social media feeds, or email distribution list, along with a short description about why it's relevant to your audience or customers, or what they should take away from it.
MORE INFORMATION: Head over to our guide on How to Make Social Media Work For Your Business for more useful tips on utilizing social media to your advantage.
You can become a go-to expert for your customers and build awareness of yourself and your firm, but don't expect it to happen overnight. Build a managable and realistic plan. Think of the journey as a marathon not a sprint. You want to start small & build momentum.
Even if you implement just a few of these strategies properly, you can expect to build awareness, establish credibility, and ultimately attract a considerable amount of new business.
TIP: We've helped hundreds of professionals and businesses use this model to become famous experts. We can coach you through this process. Head over to Coaching and schedule your appointment.
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