Customers are constantly evolving. They have access to new and different technology, and how they access and consume information changes regularly. What worked 10 years ago may not work today. The components of a successful marketing strategy and program should be customized to each practice, but based on our 20+ years of experience dealing with many firms, we recommend every professional services practice complete the following seven steps to get on the path to marketing success.
The 7 Steps to Marketing Success for Professional Services Practices
What's the best approach to marketing your professional services practice?
Unfortunately there's no one-size-fits-all approach.
Luckily, however, we've found through experience that there are 7 key components that are common across successful professional services practices. Professional services marketing is different than other forms of B2B, B2C or B2G marketing. A multi-faceted approach that combines the elements of market focus, specialization, awareness and trust building, customer and lead nurturing, networking, outbound prospecting, and methodical implementation will work best for most small and mid-size accounting practices. Focusing on just 1 or 2 of the Steps may also work, but it leaves too much to risk. Addressing each of the 7 Steps is the best approach to take. Here we've broken down each of the 7 Steps to Marketing Success for Professional Services Practices.
If you follow and implement these seven steps, you will be successful at professional services marketing. You will get better results, save time and effort, and you will grow your practice.
Step 1. Focus
At Fixyr we always say that Strategy comes before Tactics. But what exactly does that mean, and how do you not over-complicate it for a small practice?
At this stage it really comes down to two things, 1) which customer segments or target markets you will focus on, and 2) how you will differentiate yourself.
1. What Customer Segments or Target Markets will you focus on?
This very simple question is also one of the most important that you will make. You need to decide which market segments or customers you want to focus on.
What does an ideal customer look like to you?
Many businesses struggle with this fundamental question. Why limit who you want to attract as a customer? Isn't any paying customer a good customer? Unfortunately, we have limited time and resources within our businesses (regardless of how big the business is). We also know that all customers are not equal. Some customers are a better fit to your business based on their profiles, and your businesses' services and expertise.
A successful marketing strategy will focus your limited resources on the customers and market segments where you are likely to achieve the largest success for your efforts.
How can you go about determining a market or customer segment to focus on? There are a variety of different approaches (see Related Resources below for more ideas), but an overview of what this process could look like is as follows:
- Brainstorm a list of all customer and market segments. Consider business size (revenues, headcount), business types, industries, geographic locations, owner profiles, and technology platforms used.
- Assess each segment based on the following:
- Is the buyer accessible? Do they have the funding/budget to engage with your organization?
- Does the buyer have a very compelling reason to buy (CRTB)? and do you offer a viable solution to their needs?
- How much competition will you face? How difficult will it be to replace the encumbent?
- How large is the segment? How many businesses are there within the segment?
- Repeat Step 2 for each segment you identified in Step 1.
- After you have completed your initial analysis rank each segment.
- Select the target customer or market segment that offers the best potential for your firm.
- Final step: Validate your assumptions and thinking with more in-depth market research.
2. How will you differentiate yourself?
Again, a very simple question that is fundamental to everything else you need to answer. Many businesses will struggle with answering this question. How do you differentiate yourself when your competitors are offering similar services? Think about how you can stand out, and how you can create value for your customer.
Some of the ways that you can differentiate yourself:
- Branding - how you decide to go to market and the image you create
- Key partners/personnel
- Service quality
- Unique services offered, specialization
- Breadth or range of services offered
- How you provide the services (technology platforms used)
- Accessibility to key partners/experts in your practice
- Knowledge or experience with industry or similar types of businesses
- Relationship with customers
- Added value that you provide to the customer that other firms do not
- Cost-avoidance, time savings or some other ways in which you help your customer to avoid or minimize pain
After you have determined how you will differentiate your business, craft your Unique Value Proposition (UVP). Spend time on developing your UVP. Test it out with individuals and customers you know and gauge their feedback. Ideally, develop a quantifiable value proposition. That is, translate your point of differentiation into quantifiable information that can be shared with your target customers.
MORE INFORMATION: What is Marketing Strategy? Read our helpful guide on what marketing strategy is, what the essential elements are of a good marketing strategy, and why it's important for your business.
Step 2. Position Yourself and Your Firm as Subject Matter Experts
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.
Professional services practitioners and practices in particular should become recognized experts in the eyes of your customers.
Where to start?
- First identify which topics you would like to associate yourself with. These should fall within the overlap between what your target customers are interested in, and where your own interests and expertise lie. What are the key issues facing the industry and what position or point-of-view will you and your firm take?
- Build your bio. Include education, experience, the types of clients you've worked for, any articles or publications, professional associations, and speaking topics.
- Decide if you want to be a Writer or a Speaker. Plan tactics that are appropriate to reach the audience. Consider blog posts, speaking engagements and panel discussions, media interviews, podcast interviews, boards/associations that you should be involved with, and any research papers or reports that you will publish. Consider writing a book or ebook, or have it transcribed by a ghost-writer.
- Plan out the tactics over a 24-month period. Becoming a recognized subject-matter expert does not happen overnight. It takes time and patience.
Step 3. Retain and Grow Customer Relationships
At the core of your business or practice are your customers. Building a marketing strategy and sales programs are fruitless if you can't first take care of your current customers. At Fixyr we believe in the Marketing Hourglass model because we know that acquiring a customer is only the first step. Best practices firms focus on the bottom of the hourglass - the relationships and value from customers after the sale.
What do successful customer relationships look like?
- Successfully onboarding the customer,
- Ensuring that the customer is satisfied with the services delivered
- Have the customer generate a positive review,
- Repeat business,
- Provide additional services, and
- Ultimately generate referrals for you.
Describe the objectives you have regarding how you will ensure your clients are satisfied with the delivery of your services. Examples include:
- Client satisfaction surveys and interviews
- End of engagement surveys
- Focus groups
- Client satisfaction training for staff and professionals
- Implement web-based survey tools
- Canadian Business Guide to Market Research
Create an objective that defines your continued approach to serving your clients (new client intake, ongoing client service, rapport building with clients, keeping clients informed, communications via email, voicemail and returning telephone calls). Examples include:
- Customer intake
- Customer service training for staff and professionals
- Highlight customer services best practices
Define an objective you have related to providing more services to your existing clients, or better communicating how you can serve clients of the firm. Examples include:
- Identify clients with top cross marketing potential (grid)
- Train associates on cross-marketing
- Incentive program for cross marketing
- Compensation plan consulting to reward results
Reviews & Referrals
Ultimately, delivering great value and service to your customers is something that you want future, prospective customers to know about your business. Examples of how this could be utilized include:
- Online reviews - Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Alignable, Better Business Bureau, etc., either a 5-star rating, or ideally a rating with an attached description/review
- Customer case studies - A description of the customer, the problem they were facing, how your firm helped them, and ultimately what the results and success look like
- Customer testimonials - permission to use the customers' logo and/or photo along with a quote in your marketing materials or on your website
- Referrals - the customer provides referrals to other businesses that they think would benefit from working with you
MORE INFORMATION: Head over to our guide on how to Increase Profitability by Boosting Customer Retention for tips on how to increase retention, renewal rates, and cross-sells with existing customers.
Step 4. Create a Total Online Presence
A successful professional services firm, and any business today, 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. At any point in time they can look you up online. What will they find? You need to consider your Total Online Presence.
- Google's Zero Moment of Truth study - Although this is an older link, Google does a very good job of presenting the importance of having a rich online presence for any type of business
What are the components of a Total Online Presence for Professional Services Practices?
It will depend on your practice, including which markets you operate in. Consider the Marketing Hourglass, and which components you need at each stage. There are a variety of tools and technologies which you can consider, but a modern marketing program for a professional services practice usually includes:
- A Mobile-Optimized Website and/or Landing Pages - The website your cousin designed for you in 2008 is looking stale. Your website needs to look professional and today that means looking professional on smart phones and tablets.
- Search Engine Optimization - Helping you show up in online searches. MORE INFORMATION: Read our guide on The Local SEO Playbook
- Listings and Reviews - Being able to find your business on a map, and find reviews gives your business instant credibility
- Online Advertising - targeted messaging to your target markets to generate awareness and interest in your services and your firm
- Social Media - while social media can be a real time and resources suck, having a professional social media presence acts as a confirmation point when prospective customers look you up online
- Prospect and Customer database and Email marketing platform - Email remains the single most important channel for reaching
TIP: If you're looking for cloud-based marketing software to help you build a Total Online Presence, you'll find our curated list of recommendations helpful: Helpful Marketing Resources for Small Businesses and Startups
Step 5. Attract New Clients
Sales is different for Professional Services practices than it is for other types of B2B firms. 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.
Understanding the Marketing Hourglass concept, and being able to apply it and refer to it regulalry is one of the fundamental requirements to building a successful ongoing marketing program.
Know, the first stage of the Marketing Hourglass, is about creating awareness. Awareness of your firm, and the services you offer. You will generate prospects in three ways in this stage.
- Outreach - Outbound activity such as calls, direct mail, or email, i.e. you reach out to the prospect.
- Inbound - Prospects contact you because they have a problem and they see your content, or information about your firm. They find you online, through searches, advertising, or via content you've published.
- You are referred - Referrals could come from your Influencers, happy customers, or via networking contacts you've established.
Like and Trust
Once you've made contact with the prospect, it's important to establish rapport and build trust until such time as the prospect is ready to take the relationship further. This will include a combination of the following, structured to compliment each other.
- Face-to-face contact
- Email newsletters
- Sending out content that you've written, including articles and white papers, or helpful tips such as updates on public policies and programs that businesses like theirs can take advantage of
- Educational seminars
Once the prospect is comfortable with your firm, knows you, and trusts that you will provide a solution to their problem, you still need to get them to the commitment stage. This includes:
- Engagement letters
Step 6. Establish Referral and Influencer Networks
Referral Sources or Centres of Influence
Consider who your ideal customer is, and which other professionals they deal with - other accountants and specialists, bankers, financial brokers, lawyers, commercial insurance, commercial realtors. These are other advisors are excellent referral sources. They deal with customers like yours, and they could heavily influence how a prospective customer views you (favourably or not).
- Incoming/Outgoing referral tracking
- Proactive and mutually beneficial referral source development
- Maximize referral-based associations
- Training on referral source development
Step 7. Execute and Optimize
The basic premise behind the notion of a system is continuous operation. You can’t build a marketing strategy and hope to be done. Strategy before tactics, but execute well and continually optimize.
There are elements that you may build and use continuously, but the fact is that operating your marketing system must become habit.
- Plan - Build annual, quarterly, monthly, and weekly execution plans
- Review progress - Review execution monthly, and review performance monthly and quarterly
- Build repeatable processes
- Monitor results and adjust performance
By creating a marketing vision that is scheduled and calendared you create the framework that allows everyone in the organization to participate and see in very tangible ways the path that the organization, and perhaps more specifically the marketing system, is intended to take.
Being successful at professional services marketing isn't difficult, but it does take time and effort. The best results come from following a proven methodical process, and completing and implementing each step.
Fix your marketing. Follow a proven system and you will get results.