Marketing professional services has challenges that differentiate it from product-centric marketing. But they do share certain commonalities. The way prospects engage in the decision process is very similar. This is true whether they are buying a widget, engaging a consulting firm, or hiring counsel.
To risk oversimplification, the prospective client will:
- begin with awareness of a need
- seek information
- consider alternatives
- buy, and
- make post purchase evaluations.
Product v Service Marketing
Engaging Prospective Buyers at the Crucial "Awareness" Phase
Client challenges (and their solutions) are not as self-evident in complex services-based businesses. Sellers of widgets manufacture products to accommodate a known need with a known solution. Beverage companies know there is a large market of people who get thirsty (need), so they manufacture an assortment of beverages (solution).
Except for bespoke products, or customizations for large clients, manufacturers engage markets, not individual consumers. The consumers are the market of course. But the vendor looks at averages to capture market share. The client in this instance is a hypothetical construct: an en masse "buyers' persona," if you will. A distillation of market analysis, incomplete information, and experience.
The professional services provider also reads the market, but they must engage the individual client. How will you engage at that crucial first “awareness” phase of the buyer’s journey when you can have the most impact? The first step taken in an advisory capacity is to assess client’s challenges and excavate root cause(s). To establish the real vs. perceived challenges and craft a specific solution. The advisor needs to be much closer to the client than the vendor or manufacturer. S/he requires in-depth interactions with the client to craft a proper solution. The RFP process often breaks this necessary interaction, but that is a topic for another post. (Dilbert™ perfectly sums up the RFP issue here.)
The professional service provider lives on the client's side of the market dynamic. Each individual client. Advisors cannot deal in averages and rely on market constructs alone. They deal with specifics. Audit reports, legal advice, technology implementations, and medical diagnoses are not delivered on the average of all clients in the respective market. They take in account the individual circumstances leveraging experience. As Jack Welch famously articulated a fundamental 6-sigma concept: No individual (company or person) experiences an average.
An interesting conundrum arises.
The typical decision process puts interactions with potential service providers dead last. By the time a potential service provider gets an audience, the prospective client has:
- identified a challenge (often misidentified)
- sought information and self-educated primarily using google often misdirected and misleading)
- narrowed possible alternatives, and then
- issued an RFP.
All based on potentially bad data or none (see Dilbert™ above).
This creates a challenging market dynamic for the professional services provider. Using the buyer's decision process in marketing content can help overcome these challenges. Conforming your content to the way buyers engage, will increase positive outcomes. In other words, a content-based marketing and sales enablement framework is appropriate.
This is true if you call your efforts rainmaking or sales. Call your prospects customers or clients. Or your sales force Business Development Managers, Sales Reps, Engineers, or Partners. Exploring these concepts, and applying them, are touchstones in a Content Logic consulting engagement.
The Way Forward
Increasing the client base and cross-selling professional services often relies on accretive growth. Relationship development (not unwisely) is front and center. But what happens when you run out of college roommates, friends, and existing clients? Word-of-mouth is awesome, but it does have limitations when moving into new markets or launching new services.
And what are relationships built upon? Friendship? Collegiality? Only in part. You must be a trusted friend or colleague. And in this context, "trusted" means trusted to do an expert job. The stakes are too high, and reputations are on the line.
In this context, how do you develop trust with someone you've never met? Someone just beginning their "Buyer's Journey?" How do you find each other? How do you engage at that crucial first phase when you can have the most impact and frame the debate? This is especially difficult for new market entrants.
Thought leadership within the framework of content-based marketing is the way.
It is not enough to deliver expertise. It must be well-placed to be well received. In other words, the content must align to the phases of the buyer's journey if it is to be relevant and effective. Furthermore, it must be appealing to wide audience. CFOs, COOs, CTOs, purchasing departments, legal. It is not only your direct client who has a stake.
You must write with more than professional expertise. You must write with marketing expertise too.
This is content logic.
Write what matters.