I call it digital business development. It’s connected to digital marketing and the two capabilities work together. In a relationship-driven business, like your professional service firm, it might seem like online marketing or selling doesn’t apply. Actually, in an ever-increasing online world, selling professional services online is not only possible, but becoming more and more necessary to build your client base.
These are my top three digital business development strategies for professional services.
1. Social Selling
The ability to target and communicate directly with a large number of your ideal clients is now possible due to the development of LinkedIn’s business development platform, Sales Navigator. LinkedIn Sales Navigator is a powerful tool for building prospect lists and following and interacting with leads. Actively building your online network, over and above the functionality in the standard LinkedIn, allows you to engage with potential new clients and potential new referrers and influencers.
Once you know who you want to be talking to, in terms of your ideal client and your ideal referrers, you can use Sales Navigator to build a list of people you want to build a relationship with. This is where online tools, and particularly LinkedIn, have dramatically changed the way we begin business relationships. It is now acceptable for you to approach someone you don’t know, in a respectful and ‘non-salesy’ way, and start to interact with them.
2. Integrating with Digital Marketing
Whether it’s your own personal brand, as a visible expert, or your firm’s brand, you need to establish trust and credibility to sell your services. By using well-positioned content, including thought leadership in your area of expertise, social media can help you ‘cut through’ and become recognised as a subject matter expert. A cleverly designed and clearly articulated content strategy, utilising social media, can focus your efforts in the most valuable areas. Social media is very cost-effective, and your content can be more direct and more authentic. It’s also a great opportunity to involve your team members to help develop the content.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is very different in the professional services world, compared to consumer marketing, but it is still valuable, as long as you receive the right advice. The idea is to drive traffic to your website to engage with the educational content and thought leadership you have available there. If it’s not through direct links on your social media channels, then it’s through search engine searches. Contrary to popular belief, people do search for information relating to your services. Depending on your services, it may be unlikely that someone is searching for the exact service you provide. They’re more likely to be aware of an issue they have and are trying to find answers. They will still ask people they know, but they may also search for topics relating to their issue online. So, you do need to be using relevant keywords. You need to use, and test, the best keywords for search engines like Google to find your content. There are various tools available to create and test content for SEO. Then, once visitors are on your site, you need to be able to provide relevant content for wherever they are in the buying cycle, engage their interest, and move them through the sales funnel. Your website needs to be designed to do this. It’s not expensive.
3. Lead Nurturing
Once you have attracted people to your website, the idea is to track and measure as much information as possible. You want to be recording website traffic and trends, through website analytics, as well as the interaction, activity and identifying information for every individual user who interacts with your website. There are various systems that will do this, either inside your current Content Management System (CMS), or as an add-on. An inbound digital marketing system, such as HubSpot, will capture the relevant information and make automated decisions, based on the criteria you set. It can then trigger a number of different automated activities, to nurture the lead.
If you provide valuable gated content, such as a piece of thought leadership that is particularly relevant to a particular audience and you provide a ‘gate’ (i.e. a contact form to fill in before the prospect can download the document), your system should then capture their email address. The system can then send them relevant emails. Emails and content can be sent in a predefined sequence, keeping the prospect aware and interested in your expertise, moving them even further through the sales funnel.
This personalisation, through the use of personas (i.e. profiles of typical buyers of your services), is crucial. Most major email marketing services make it easy to segment and personalise content based on this information. According to Campaign Monitor, emails with personalised subject lines (e.g. including the recipient’s first name), are 26 percent more likely to be opened.
You can, and should, turn your online activities into real and valuable leads. Digital marketing can drive traffic to your website and capture actionable leads. Digital business development, with the help of tools like Sales Navigator, can allow you to target and interact directly with potential clients and referrers. With the right strategy and the best tools, you can sell your professional services online. Your firm may be left behind if you do not begin to build this channel into your traditional marketing and business development strategy.