If there’s one mistake we see being made more than any other by professional service companies online, it’s that they leap into their channel activity without a clear strategy. Consequently success is measured either in terms of sheer activity & output, or at best vanity metrics, with almost no alignment to the real commercial objectives of the firm.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Here are 5 actions you can take before launching that channel activity, that will ensure all this hard work results in real commercial outcomes:
1. Set your ambition levels to “Audacious”
As unhelpfully vague as this will sound, if there is one thing that will determine the success of your marketing more than anything else, it is your ambition. This has always been true but with every brand now acting as its own publishing house, there has never been more noise to compete with. The good news is that almost all of it is entirely mediocre and instantly forgettable, so if you spearhead your marketing with something truly remarkable, then it will almost certainly cut through.
Of course a “big idea” can come from anywhere, but let’s illustrate the principle with an example – For one tech based client targeting the local government sector, we ran a Freedom of Information Request and asked every council in the country a series of questions designed to establish a picture of their transformation journey, such as “Are you currently employing any robotics technologies?”.
Once we had compiled all the data we then created a league table, with the councils furthest along their transformation journey at the top, and those showing the least progress (or who hadn’t responded) at the bottom. After all, failure to adopt new technology means reduced efficiency, poorer service levels and greater cost to their local citizens.
We not only used this league table as a source of unique data for targeted press releases, but also as a direct BD tool as the sales team would make outbound calls to the relevant decision makers within these councils and use it as a means of opening up new business conversations.
The next stage to the campaign (which was sadly derailed by the pandemic) was to run a Dragons’ Den style event in which we were going to invite CIOs from these councils to present their transformation ideas for the future, with £100k of robotics solution going to the winner.
When you set your targets this high, people can’t help but take notice.
2. Leverage influencers
Influencer marketing has defined the consumer space for the last decade, but in the world of professional services it remains a largely untouched goldmine of opportunity. Of course, those that wield influence in professional service markets are unlikely to be found on TikTok or Instagram, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful. They are the type of people you’d expect to find speaking at industry events or chairing discussion groups. Perhaps they are deep subject matter experts or high level executives of large brands or disruptive startups.
Wherever they come from, the common theme is that they are in possession of incredible insight and credibility
– the two things every piece of professional service content needs if it’s to publish content that resonates with its audience. The added benefit is that these people will often have large audiences themselves and it’s unlikely they’ve reached their current lofty heights by undervaluing the role of good self promotion, so as long as they are able to buy into your brand and the change you’re trying to make (they will see through bullshit in a heartbeat!) then you can expect them to play a key role in the distribution of the content. They may even represent a direct BD opportunity in themselves, so the more you can align this marketing activity with your sales strategy, the greater the value for the company as a whole.
3. Partner with a non-profit organisation
As companies are seeking to become more purpose driven, there is a need to demonstrate that there is real substance behind their messaging. Traditional CSR strategies that are entirely peripheral to the operations of the company are arguably no longer sufficient. Companies need to be placing these initiatives at the core of their commercial strategy, which means finding a non-profit that shares significant overlap in vision and values, even if their proposition is profoundly different.
This is principally about doing good and demonstrating authenticity in your brand, but there’s also real business value to be found. After all, there are certain things that charities are able to do that businesses can’t. For example, we have a close relationship with a charity called the Turing Trust, an organisation run by the family of Alan Turing who take old IT kit from businesses and individuals, refurbish it, add lots of cool educational software and send it to schools in rural Africa. It’s a seriously brilliant charity making an incredible impact, and we’re proud to be able to support them in that journey. However, there are also sources of value they are able to bring to the table in terms of credibility and story telling, both of which can act as powerful door openers. We have just started a podcast series with James, Alan Turing’s nephew, but our long term aspiration is to run regular events at Bletchley Park for senior business executives.
First and foremost this is about making a positive difference, but the marketing and commercial benefits for both parties are very real.
4. Productise your proposition
Marketing is often viewed as communications, but it is so much more than that and as a marketer you should get used to poking your nose into every function of the business, particularly those areas that have the most direct impact on the customer experience. Unless you’re selling a commodity (in which case, that’s a problem you need to solve!) then the single greatest determinant of customer value will almost certainly be the product itself, even when it’s actually a service. In fact, particularly when it’s a service! Productising service offerings has been one of the major trends in B2B over the last 5 years and for good reason. Turning a nebulous service proposition into a tagible product not only helps the customer make sense of what it is they’re buying, but it all also help you to separate revenue from hours and create a more scalable and profitable business.
For example, for the last 6 years we have worked with a very particular methodology We’ve always believed it adds tremendous value to our client campaigns, but as long as it remained in abstract form that was almost impossible to articulate. 12 months ago we began the exciting process of transforming that from an offline process largely in our heads, to a digital platform. Immediately it turned the service into a tangible and easy to understand product, thereby making the sales process so much more straightforward as it replaced ambiguity with clarity.
5. Redefine your customer experience
Of course the product is only one part of the customer experience. From the moment they make contact with your business, their journey begins, and so do your opportunities to make a distinct and remarkable impression. A useful exercise is to identify half a dozen key steps in this journey (sometimes referred to as “magic moments”) and ensure that you absolutely nail these, time and time again. For a professional service organisation that could be client visits into the office, or Kick Off meetings for new projects, but by creating a world class experience across these magic moments you will build a culture of excellence that filters into everything else that you do.
For Boss, these magic moments begin the second an enquiry is submitted. We have a broad range of ultimate guides packed with influencer insight from our 700+ thought leader interviews, and we send these out in accordance with the specific sector the prospect is operating in. The objective is to be ludicrously helpful while demonstrating our own expertise and insight. Our next magic moment occurs when they visit the office, as we seek to make a big impression via personalised refreshments, fab decor and a highly creative yet strategic environment. The most important magic moment of all though, of course, comes in the form of the thing they actually came to us for, as productised via the dashboard. By creating a series of big impressions on the clients, we hope to not only develop long term, profitable relationships for both parties, but also to fuel our referral strategy, knowing that if we get this right then our financial stability and growth will all but take care of themselves.
6. Don’t rule out offline channels
It often surprises professional service firms when I, owner of a digital agency, make this point, but it shouldn’t.
We’re in the business of making our clients money, and in a world where everyone is thinking digital first, it can pay big dividends to go to the other end of the spectrum. Traditional channels, be they letter writing, radio, tube advertising or events, are increasingly quiet channels, as all the noise is being taken online. To be heard on LinkedIn or Facebook you have to shout louder than millions of competing voices, to be heard via a direct mail you probably only have to shout louder than half a dozen. And if you get the copy right, your message could well be the most meaningful and impactful piece of communication that person receives all week!
7. Learn from the consumer space
There are many things that professional service companies do brilliantly. Historically, one of those has not been the generation of big, creative marketing ideas.
That is changing, as firms better understand the pivotal role of brand and story telling, and consequently the sector is attracting greater creative talent, but the hard fact is that 95% of world class marketing continues to occur in the consumer space.
This is why as a B2B agency we insist on keeping one foot in that world. In fact at any time, 20-30% of our work is conducted in consumer markets. Because, to be frank, if we stepped away from those markets entirely I’d worry that we’d become really bloody unimaginative. Working across a range of consumer sectors forces us to compete with the most creative brands in the world, and we then filter those lessons and principles through to the work we do within B2B and professional services.
You can do this too. If you’re an accounting firm, for example, don’t just look at other accounting firms for ideas, but ask yourself what consumer brands are targeting a similar audience, and how are they gaining traction? What stories are they telling? What influencers are they engaging with? What channels are they prioritising?
By comparing yourself to the most creatively ambitious brands on the planet, you will ensure you’re always setting your own bar uncomfortably high, which is exactly where it needs to be.