It’s not immediately obvious how digital marketing works for professional services. Professional services are not typically e-commerce businesses; clients are not buying accounting, legal or engineering services like they’re buying everyday products. Digital marketing is valuable for selling your professional services. It should begin the online journey for your prospective client and lay the groundwork for digital business development – turning online interest into online leads. Here are three ways digital marketing should facilitate your online selling.
Social Media to Social Selling
The first key to unlocking the power of social media is to have a strategic social media plan, which includes a content strategy, to identify the areas of expertise you want to be found online for. Part of this strategy is choosing the right platform to reach your ideal clients. LinkedIn is an obvious one for business-to-business (B2B), but typically only for clients in industries who see the value in networking online. LinkedIn is vital for building relationships with referrers and influencers and for those ideal clients that are ‘hanging out’ on LinkedIn. If your ideal clients in other industries don’t engage with LinkedIn, other social media platforms may be more valuable. A large number of ideal clients may use Facebook for personal social networking, so don’t discount it as a business channel. With the right content, you can use it to drive traffic to your website where the target audience can engage further with your content.
The ability to target, connect and communicate directly with a larger 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.
“Social selling is about leveraging your social network to find the right prospects, build trusted relationships, and ultimately, achieve your sales goals.”
Actively building your online network, over and above the functionality in the standard LinkedIn, allows you to engage with potential new clients, referrers and influencers. You can use Sales Navigator to build a list of people you want to build a relationship with. Your content will be viewed by a larger number of potential clients and then you can choose to interact further. Social media, and particularly LinkedIn and Sales Navigator, has dramatically changed the way we begin business relationships. It is now acceptable for you to approach someone you don’t know and start building a professional relationship.
Search Engine to CRM
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is very different in the professional services world, but it is still useful, if you use it in the right way. The idea is to drive traffic to your website to engage with your educational content and thought leadership. 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. There are many tools available to create and test content for SEO. Then, once they visit your website, you need to provide relevant content, engage their interest, and move them through the sales funnel.
Once you have attracted potential clients to your website, the idea is to legally track and measure useful information (data), then ultimately capture contact details and permission to send valuable information to them. You want to be recording website traffic and trends, through website analytics, as well as the interaction, activity and identifying information for individual users who interact with your website. There are various systems that will do this. An inbound digital marketing system 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’ (a contact form to fill in before the prospect can download the document), your system will capture their email address. Relevant content can be sent via email, keeping the prospect aware and interested in your expertise, moving them even further through the sales funnel.
The next element in this strategy is about Client/Prospect Relationship Management. Many firms don’t have their CRM systems optimised for their client relationships, let alone prospects. There are a number of very good CRM systems, which are designed for professional services, that now link to your inbound marketing system. A number of CRMs integrate with Sales Navigator, allowing you to link client and prospect data between LinkedIn and your CRM.
Profile Building to Building Relationships
When your professional services business is all about expertise, how do you make sure clients purchase your expertise? It’s about being visible. 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. You want to be known, and highly regarded, for your particular area of expertise. This is about openly sharing your knowledge, so your target audience become familiar with you and what you know. They’ll start to assess if this expertise is valuable to them. You don’t need to be known to everyone; you just need to be known as an expert in your chosen target market. By using well-positioned content, including thought leadership in your area of expertise, digital marketing can help you ‘cut through’ and become recognised as a subject matter expert.
Building a trusted relationship is still a crucial element in the selling and delivery of professional services. The RAIN Group, in their e-book Your Guide to Insight Selling Success, say that:
“Relationship building, the personal side, is still critical to earning trust and winning sales. What has changed is the way buyers form relationships with sellers.”
The RAIN Group have extensively researched the professional services selling-buying relationship. They have found that clients of professional services still need their professional service provider to build a genuine relationship based on trust. In the buying process, successful sellers establish themselves as trustworthy sources of value, so buyers open up to an exchange of information and ideas. If the buyer likes and trusts you, they’re more likely to take your advice and this continues throughout your business relationship.
Once you’ve initiated and developed new relationships, digital marketing can also help you maintain them. Clients can keep up to date with important news items and relevant information. Relationships with referral sources can also be maintained. You can interact with their posts and activity and they can follow your content, which helps them know how you can help them or their clients. Digital marketing can be utilised to help you maintain stronger relationships.
Most professional services firms have investigated digital marketing and the various options for their firm. Some firms have begun building a digital marketing strategy. Many firms are doing the bare minimum. When I meet with firms, I find that a great deal are disillusioned with the digital marketing activities they have been implementing. Digital agencies typically don’t understand the buying process of professional services, so, regardless of knowing their stuff, they aren’t really giving the right advice to these firms. Digital marketing does have a place, but it needs to be seen as only the first step in the strategy. It can begin the relationship, but many more things need to happen to build and nurture the relationship into a qualified lead.
Reach out if you’d like to discuss any of these ideas further.