Tinder for Business

Tinder for Business

In a highly relationship-driven B2B business, in today’s business environment, your marketing channels, particularly your online channels, need to act like ‘Tinder’ for your business. A relationship-driven business, where there are significant financial and reputational risks, relies on trusted business relationships. The day-to-day process of building and nurturing business relationships is vital to the delivery of your business’s services or products. You are continually developing and cultivating relationships with existing clients, referrers and influencers, and prospective new clients.

Traditionally, business relationships built organically – someone you knew well introduced you to someone they knew well. Relationship-building today is different. Rapid advancements in technology have changed the way relationships are built and maintained. A potential client can now learn so much about you before they meet you in person. They also expect to be able to work easily with you online. Meeting and working with you needs to be easy, but also secure. Also, in the current business environment, post-GFC, the client relationship has changed in other ways. Clients now have different expectations. Sophisticated clients expect professionals to be more responsive to them and have a better understanding of the commercial pressures they face.

Relationships with influencers and referrers have also changed. People ‘meet’ online and then are more discerning about who they will meet in person to spend some of their precious time. They need a more compelling reason beyond just ‘let’s have a chat, I think we can help each other’.

So, relationship-driven marketing needs to work hard for you and your business, creating opportunities and helping to convert those opportunities into valuable, satisfying work. Strategic relationship-driven marketing can be your ‘Tinder for business’ by:

1. Raising Your Profile.

Just like entering any new relationship, you’ve got to sell yourself. Whether it’s your own personal brand, as a Visible Expert®, or your business’s brand, you need to establish trust and credibility. This doesn’t happen as organically as it used to. Multiple online channels mean that the market is far more competitive, and clients are now savvier and more informed. Marketing can help you increase your profile by using well-positioned content, including thought leadership in your area of expertise. It can help you ‘cut through’ and become recognised as an expert that people will seek advice from. A good marketer can help you identify your target audience and develop relevant content that will resonate with that audience. A cleverly designed and clearly articulated content strategy can focus your efforts in the most valuable areas. Social media is just one channel you will use to publish your content, but a well-structured social media strategy, that aligns with your business strategy, can become an extremely valuable relationship building tactic. Done strategically, you can begin to have two-way conversations with prospective clients and influencers and gain extremely valuable information in the process.

2. Researching the Market.

A strategic marketing (and relationship-building) plan should always begin with comprehensive market research. Market research can help you identify opportunities in the market, or you may already know your most valuable client niche, based on existing client work, but want to gain a deeper understanding of that market or markets. Marketing technology and modern market research techniques can help you develop a deeper understanding of your target market/s.

Market research consists of primary research, where you’re conducting one-on-one interviews and focus groups. Secondary research is usually conducted online and can include industry research and may include surveys to multiple prospective or existing clients. It depends on the questions you need to answer. Primary research allows you to gain an in-depth understanding of needs, attitudes, and future plans. Secondary research helps you evaluate overall markets and identify trends. Surveys can help you bridge the gap between the two.

3. Targeting Your Ideal Relationships.

Once you know who you want to be talking to, in terms of your ideal client and your ideal referrers, you can then use social media and inbound digital marketing to build a list of people you want to build a relationship with. This is where social media, and particularly LinkedIn, has dramatically changed the way we begin business relationships. It is now acceptable for someone that you don’t know to start interacting with you online.

Even if you don’t feel that it’s appropriate, or you aren’t comfortable, to reach out directly to someone online, you can still begin to build your online network and there are multiple ways to do this. Whether you’re inviting people to connect or attracting people to your website and encouraging them to fill in a short contact form, in exchange for valuable and relevant content, building your online business network is now crucial to the development of your business.

4. Engaging Prospects.

Building your online network, allows you to start engaging with potential new clients and potential new referrers and influencers. After capturing contact information, you can begin to encourage them to meet you in person. Traditional networking events and technical seminars are a fantastic next step. Webinars are also a great way to further develop the relationship. If they are interested in your content, and have a need to hear more about a particular issue they’re having, inviting them to an event could be a great way for them to experience what it would be like to work with you.

5. Making the Best First Impression.

Most psychologists agree you have seven seconds to make a first impression. In a business meeting, or at a networking event, you want your prospective client or business associate to immediately feel that you are authentic, trustworthy, credible, easy to work with, and reliable. A marketing professional can help you develop your positioning statement, which you will be able to build into presentations and conversations naturally, the more you practice.

6. Sealing the Deal.

Selling is a skill. You can learn to sell and, if it’s not something you or your team are naturally comfortable doing, you should definitely consider sales training. There are organisations that specialise in sales training for B2B and professional services. If the sales process is a gap in your marketing and business development strategy, consider a sales program from a company such as The RAIN Group.

7. Managing Your Relationships.

Once you’ve initiated and developed new relationships, just like the relationships in your personal life, they take work to maintain. If you have a team of people working with clients, using a Client Relationship Management (CRM) system to keep track of interactions is extremely valuable. Relationships with referral sources should also be tracked and managed using a CRM.

Your relationships may not be as strong as you think they are. If they aren’t well managed and you aren’t connecting as often as you need to, because you are busy looking after everything else in your world, they won’t be secure. The ultimate business relationship is a symbiotic relationship, i.e. one that is mutually beneficial. Systems like a CRM, or even just Outlook, can be utilised to help you maintain stronger relationships.

In the current business environment, business transactions and business relationships are changing. The way we approach the relationship-building and maintaining process needs to change to keep pace with the modern business relationship ‘scene’.

The relationship still matters – Why you’re not going to be replaced by a robot

The relationship still matters – Why you’re not going to be replaced by a robot

The professional service relationship, between the client and the practitioner, is a special one. Whether it’s a client’s financial freedom, their family’s livelihood, or their professional reputation, the stakes are high. The client needs to implicitly trust the professional service provider. This trust is built over time and can’t be easily replicated, and the human face-to-face interaction is not likely to be replaced any time soon.

Building a trusted relationship is still a crucial element in the selling and delivery of professional services. A critical element of trust is reliability. In Hinge Marketing’s e-book Inside the Buyer’s Brain:

“The number one reason buyers gave for continuing the relationship was that their professional services provider actually did what they said they would do. In short, they delivered on their promise.”

You may say reliability will be improved by automation, and I think that is true, but human delivery of the promised service will always be required. There may some aspects of a service that can be outsourced, numbers that can be crunched by a computer, or even decisions made with the help of artificial intelligence, but there is always going to be a need for face-to-face interaction to build the necessary trust in the relationship. Research conducted at the Beijing Normal University, and published in The Journal of Neuroscience, found that “face-to-face communication, particularly dialog, has special neural features that other types of communication do not have” and that something called “neural synchronization” occurs between the people in the face-to-face conversation.

“The current study showed that, compared with other types of communication, face-to-face communication is characterized by a significant neural synchronization between partners based primarily on multimodal sensory information integration and turn-taking behaviour during dynamic communication. These findings suggest that face-to-face communication has important neural features that other types of communication lack, and also that people should take more time to communicate face-to-face.”

In her book Trusted: The Human Approach to Building Outstanding Client Relationships in a Digitised World, Lyn Bromley talks about the five building blocks to building trusted relationships.
These five areas are:

  1. Mindset: You can manage your mindset to be more confident, positive and set you up to be more successful.
  2. Communication: Active listening and knowing when to allow the other person to talk about their goals and objectives, issues and concerns, is one of the most valuable skills you can learn.
  3. Interaction: Dedication, energy, and thought are needed to create strong, lasting business relationships. Interactions with colleagues and partners are as important as those with clients and prospects.
  4. Behaviour: In professional services, behaviour is one of the most important differentiators of a business.
  5. Professional image: How we dress not only affects how others perceive us, but also how we perceive ourselves.

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, insight 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 apt to take your advice and this continues throughout your business relationship. It increases your business value, along with the frequency and depth of your business interactions. According to the RAIN Group, the world has changed. The rhythm has changed. The order in which we do things has changed. But what hasn’t changed is the need to build strong personal connections with buyers (prospective clients) and clients.

This innate human need to build strong personal connections, particularly in a highly trust-based professional services relationship, is the reason why you won’t be replaced by a robot. Well, not until AI technology becomes so advanced that it can create ‘neural synchronization’ between a client and a robot. Some of the services you provide will be automated and performed by a computer, probably sooner than you think, but your abilities to build trust and a genuine human connection will not easily be replicated by a machine.

How to get employee activism working for you

How to get employee activism working for you

Progressive firms have recognised the importance of employee engagement for some time now. An engaged employee will act in a way that furthers your firm’s interests. We know that firms with high employee engagement levels have better financial performance.

What is employee activism?

Employee activism is a step beyond employee engagement. If employees are engaged, and they make their engagement visible, they are employee activists. They will praise your firm offline and, far more visibly these days, praise the firm online. Your engaged employees will now interact with your brand on social media and write about their experiences in their blogs.

In the same way that social media interaction from clients can make or break your brand, what your employees are saying about you online can sometimes be even more powerful. Clients and potential clients will assign a lot of credibility to an employee’s ‘inside information’. Weber Shandwick, in partnership with KRC Research, released Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism.

“This survey of 2,300 employees worldwide reveals a rising social movement ignited by the digital and social media era: employee activism. Employee activists are more than just engaged employees. They make their engagement visible, defend their employers from criticism and act as advocates, both online and off.”

The survey found a sizeable segment of employees – 21%, (i.e. employee activists) – who are all taking positive actions, from 12 possible actions, including “Recommended employer to others as a place to work”, “Encouraged others to buy company’s products or services”, “Voted for employer in a poll or contest”, or “Made positive comments about employer where others could see or read them”. For a workforce of 5,000, this means that approximately 1,000 employees are enthusiastically letting others know they stand behind their employer.

What drives employee activism?

The survey found that leadership is the number one driver of employee activism.

“Significantly, we learned that leadership is most important for influencing employee activism, but not to the exclusion of other organizational activities and characteristics. What this means is that leadership plays a critical role in driving employee support, from making the company an employer of choice to building a reputation of trustworthiness and demonstrating that it listens and responds to employees.”

Internal communication was the second highest driver of employee activism, followed by HR/Employee development, and corporate social responsibility. Unfortunately, the survey also found that employers severely underperformed on these drivers.

The power of social media in employee activism was also measured by the survey. There is a direct correlation between ‘socially-encouraging employers’ and employee activism. Employers who encourage the use of social media by employees have a higher level of employee activism.

“Although social media is not included in the driver analysis, its force can’t be ignored. Our survey found that one-third of employers – 33% – encourage their employees to use social media to share news and information about the organization. This sounds risky, but this social encouragement has an outsized impact on employer advocacy among employees. For example, employees with socially-encouraging employers are significantly more likely to help boost sales than employees whose employers aren’t socially encouraging (72% vs. 48%, respectively).”

What do you need to do?

  1. Focus on building employee engagement.

The key to a positive corporate culture is trust. Employees need to trust the leadership team and, equally, leaders need to trust employees to do the best job they can do. Employees need enough space to determine the best way to complete a task within a reasonable amount of time. The default position should be trust first, unless someone does something to lose that trust. Employees shouldn’t have to earn trust. If they are qualified, and satisfied all of the recruitment criteria, they should be allowed to get on with doing the job they were hired to do.

Ultimately, your engaged employees will deliver exceptional service to your clients, which, in turn, creates brand engagement and brand loyalty, so it’s worth spending time and money on developing and implementing employee engagement strategies and initiatives. A formal employee engagement program can create brand engagement and lead to increased firm performance.

  1. Encourage your team to use social media.

Instead of implementing policies to try to prevent team members from using social media at work, more and more firms are incorporating their employees’ social media enthusiasm into their marketing.

When your team is on social media anyway, it’s only a short step to encourage and engage employees in social media marketing and create new social media ambassadors for your firm.

As your employees promote your firm, values, and culture on their own social media accounts, make sure they are empowered to maintain their individual voices. Genuine posts are more important than marketing speak. Encourage them to be honest and portray the firm in a positive light as they add their own spin to a post or topic.

  1. Measure employee engagement and monitor sentiment online.

When conducting staff satisfaction surveys, or employee engagement surveys, companies often don’t ask the right questions. Surveys should be asking meaningful questions linked to drivers of engagement. They should be measuring the employee’s level of trust in management, satisfaction with their job role, and things like connection to the vision of the organisation. Surveys should be conducted frequently – annually, quarterly, or even monthly, and can be large annual surveys, covering everything, or quick snapshots in particular areas of focus. The outcomes should be quickly publicised within the organisation and areas of improvement acted upon as soon as possible, or investigated further.

To measure levels of employee activism online, you can measure social media sentiment. Some social media management tools offer algorithms or filters to make it easy to gauge sentiment. With social listening tools, sentiment analysis features will measure and report on the tone or sentiment of your social mentions. Some tools feature a level of detail to allow you to determine if they are employees.

Employees are already using social media platforms to express their opinions of you as an employer, regardless of your social media policy, so wouldn’t you rather they were positive comments about you and your firm’s culture? Creating a team of employee activists can have an even greater effect on your brand than your external marketing, so spending time and money to better engage your employees can be more cost effective than some external branding activities.

What’s in a name? – Who is Nike and why is it relevant for professional services?

What’s in a name? – Who is Nike and why is it relevant for professional services?

In Greek mythology, Nike was the goddess of speed, strength and victory. Also known as the Winged Goddess, Nike is most often pictured as having beautiful large wings. She flew around battlefields rewarding the victors with glory and fame, symbolised by a wreath of laurel leaves. She was worshipped because it was believed she could make humans immortal and was able to grant them the strength and speed needed to be victorious in any task they undertook.

Headquartered in Oregon, the company Nike has been the world leader in sports equipment and apparel since 1978 and is estimated to employ over 44,000 workers around the world. As of 2017, the Nike brand is valued at $29.6 billion. The name Nike was chosen by company founders because of the goddess’s attributes of speed and victory. The ‘Swoosh’ symbol logo that appears on all Nike products was designed in 1971 by Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student at the time. Carolyn designed the logo with the wings of Nike in mind. The logo is not only meant to represent motion, but to also represent the wings of the goddess Nike. The logo has become one of the most well-known images of all time. The logo is not only iconic, but carries a great deal of meaning.

What does this have to do with professional services?

Professional services firms have traditionally been named after the founding partners of the firm. Originally, this naming convention was a means of acknowledging the training and certifications of the practitioners, and legitimising the services offered by these certified individuals. Also, firms thrived on the personal reputations of the principals and relied on word-of-mouth for new business. If your new business was entirely based on your professional reputation, it makes sense that your name was inseparable from your brand.

Beyond the necessity of this practice, professional services practitioners saw the addition of their own name to the corporate moniker as a sign of having ‘made it’. The formation of firms and merging of multiple firms meant partnership names needed to describe multiple professional reputations. This resulted in the tradition of the Deloitte, Haskins & Sells type brands. Of course this firm is now officially Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd, but is branded simply Deloitte. The status associated with a firm’s masthead meant that when practices merged, so did their names. Alternatively, the acronym route has been equally popular with the likes of KPMG and PWC etc.

Firms now have the flexibility to choose just about any name for their practice. In an increasingly digital and competitive world, the traditional naming convention is no longer advantageous. Traditional firm names are certainly unique, and some even famous, but, for the vast majority, this no longer spells distinction and no longer assists with positioning.

The apprehension toward letting go of the classic ‘my-name-is-on-the-door’ mentality is most likely in the belief that the brand equity, and the success attained, will all go out the window when you let go of the name. However, successful firms these days involve many more than the one or two people who happen to run the place. If the future of professional service firms lies with the talent they attract, then a more inclusive and future-proof identity for the firm is a necessity.

1.     The firm’s name needs to mean something to employees.

The name needs to have meaning for all staff members, not just the founding partners. For an engaged workforce, meaning is crucial. Employees want to know that what they’re doing day to day has meaning and purpose and provides something meaningful for clients. I haven’t worked at Nike, but I’m certain Nike staff members know the story of their name and logo and why this matters to their customers.

2.     The firm’s name needs to mean something to clients and potential clients.

Now, more than ever, brand positioning for a professional services firm is vital for strategic growth. Firms need to differentiate themselves from other firms or risk becoming commoditised. The story of Nike the Greek goddess of victory is not likely to be known by the majority of the customers of Nike, but because the original meaning of the name and the ingenious slogan “Just do it” are both now synonymous with the brand, it has surpassed its initial significance for customers.

3.     Your name can be a powerful positioning statement.

If you’re rebranding, or forming a new firm, you have an opportunity to build some valuable meaning into your firm’s name. It can be a powerful positioning statement and tell the market exactly what you do. We are now starting to see more firm names like It All Adds Up Accounting and Your Financial Solutions, both accounting firms in the US. Here in Australia we have firms like IP Solved and businessDEPOT breaking the traditional mould. You do have to make sure it’s distinctive and unique and that you’ll be able to build a solid digital marketing strategy around it.

So, what’s in a name? In professional services the stakes are now higher than ever. Better employee engagement, better brand positioning, and a crucial competitive advantage, can all be gained by simply choosing a more meaningful name.

The new world of professional services


The good old days are gone. Post the GFC, professional services clients now expect a very different service. Increasingly sophisticated clients expect professionals to be more responsive and have a better understanding of their business and the commercial pressures they face.

Service must now be truly client-centred and professionals need to be creative and empathetic. They must work with, not just for, their clients. They need to create solutions, not just present solutions. Innovation is about changing cultures within the organisation, engaging and collaborating with clients.

In Katherine Tower’s article “Culture Shock”, Paul Jenkins, Managing Partner of global law firm Ashurst, says:

   “It’s not about law firms choosing to innovate, it’s about being required to innovate by sophisticated clients. Clients now have the expectation that processes will be simplified, that we will make life easier for them and that they will be given greater accessibility.”

So why is it so difficult to innovate? The focus for many firms continues to be billable hours, with ‘today’ as the main focus. If ‘today’ is the dominant focus, what is the encouragement for professionals to innovate? While there is nothing wrong with making money today, what about building for the future?

Also, with most firms there is no alignment between innovation and compensation. You will never have innovation unless you allocate some time and reward to making it happen.

Often, the firm’s leadership does not see the value in innovation. The theory is, “Aren’t we successful now, so why do we have to change?” Leadership in the Big 4, global law firms and consulting firms see this issue differently and are constantly looking for ways to innovate. While they can spend more time and more resources than smaller firms, it does not mean that smaller firms can ignore this issue completely.

When it comes to the sales process, this is the new reality. According to the RAINGroup, in their “What Sales Winners Do Differently” research, there are three levels of selling behaviours and outcomes that set sales winners apart:

Level 1 is Connect. Winners connect the dots between client needs and their company’s services as solutions. Winners also connect with people. They’re perceived to listen and connect personally with buyers more often.

Level 2 is Convince. Winners convince buyers that they can achieve maximum return, that the risks are minimal, and that the seller is the best choice among all options. In other words, they are masters at making the value proposition case as compelling as possible, and communicate it effectively.

Level 3 is Collaborate. Winners collaborate through behavior – they are perceived to be responsive, proactive, and easy to buy from (collaborative in how they work). At the same time, it’s not just how the seller interacts; it’s what they do. Buyers believe that winners actually collaborate with them during their buying process (collaboration in the sense of working with the buyer to achieve a mutual goal), and that they educate buyers with new ideas and perspectives. Indeed, buyers perceived these sellers to be integral to their success.

It’s the third level, collaboration, that is now so critical to every step in the client journey, not just during the sales process. Client service should now be delivered as a collaboration between the professionals and the client. Solutions are developed and delivered by collaborating with the client. This means the professional must thoroughly understand the client’s industry and business. There are now far more professionals specialising in specific industries or categories of clients to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Professionals have known for some time that the best profit is not in the compliance services, but the broader advisory and consultative services, adding value by building and enabling. Firms do not want to become commoditised. To be able to charge premium fees, and grow the firm, it is vital that professional services firms master consulting and collaborating skills. In order to be truly innovative, firms need to enable and engage their people and the primary focus must be on genuinely engaging and collaborating with clients.

Is the client buying you or the brand?

For as long as I’ve been marketing professional services this question has been one of the most fiercely debated. Does the client buy the anticipated relationship with the practitioner, someone they need to trust implicitly and actually enjoy working with, to get the best results? Or, do they need the name of a Big 4 or top-tier law firm to provide the level of comfort that comes with the reputation of the brand?

I believe the answer is both. Clients do make unconscious decisions about you and how they feel about you personally. However, they will also make unconscious decisions about your firm, based on their recognition, or unrecognition, and perceptions of your firm (i.e. the firm’s brand). This is the power of branding and brand positioning. Both your personal brand and the brand value of your firm will influence the prospect’s decision to put their trust in you and your firm.

Your reputation as a practitioner in the market will affect the number of quality referrals you receive as well as your sales conversions. When the prospect meets with you they will make very fast decisions about how they feel about you. People want to work with people they like. They don’t need to become your best friends, but clients will be prepared to pay more for service they perceive as excellent value. Part of the value equation is trust and you need to develop rapport with a client to develop trust.

There are many books and articles about how to develop rapport and trust, including David Maister’s “The Trusted Advisor”, first published in 2000. The article “Becoming a Trusted Advisor – the Ten Behaviours”, by Michael Fleming is a good short guide:

“Lawyers spend a lot of time constructing complex, technical, logical arguments to persuade their clients why they should engage them for particular work. I’m not saying that logic doesn’t have a role to play but too many professional advisors spend too much time polishing their logical arguments and not enough time thinking about how they might better connect emotionally with their clients. Trusted advisors understand that it’s vital that they try to make an emotional connection with their clients. The good ones do it by using stories, anecdotes, examples, analogies, imagery, visual aids, and even some light humour.”

Your personal brand, your ‘reputation’ in the local market, your online (digital) personal brand, and your behaviour in-person, all influence your success. Your firm’s brand also influences this success. A brand is an implied promise (to existing and prospective clients) that the level of quality people have come to expect from a brand will continue with future purchases of the same brand. Strong brand management can increase a firm’s perceived value to the client and thereby increase brand equity. This can increase future sales by making a comparison with competing firms more favourable. It can also enable the firm to charge more for the service.

There is evidence that a firm with a strong brand, i.e. a good reputation in the market, will attract higher yielding clients and can demand a higher fee for services provided. Some clients actively choose a firm based on their brand, for example a publicly listed company choosing a Big 4 accounting firm for a financial audit, as they perceive the need for a certain level of experience and resources. Other more cost-conscious clients may perceive these firms as too expensive, but they will have perceptions of other firms.

According to Lee Frederiksen from Hinge Marketing in his article “Brand Strength and the Halo Effect in Marketing”:

“The concept of a strong brand is something that we all understand on a very intuitive level. From our own experience, we know that firms with high brand strength do better in the marketplace, whether they need new clients, business partners or employees.

So what exactly is brand strength? While there is no universal definition, we describe the brand strength of a professional services firm as the combination of a firm’s reputation and its visibility. Firms that have better reputations coupled with higher visibility have stronger brands.”

Prospective clients are searching for answers online, so firms that have a solid content strategy, to help build a strong brand, will feel the benefits of more enquiries, but if the culture of the firm and the personal brand of its front line does not align with its external brand it won’t be growing at the speed it would like to.

If you are a senior member of your firm, a principal or senior staff member, you need to be developing your own personal brand, as well as supporting the development of your firm’s brand. You can no longer rely on reputation alone. To achieve positive personal branding and powerful firm branding you need to be strategic and proactive.

  1. Develop your personal brand by becoming a thought leader. Becoming a thought leader involves specialising in a sector of the market or providing a niche service, and developing content (articles, white papers, events, speeches, etc.) that demonstrates your expertise in this area.
  2. Develop your personal brand by developing your emotional intelligence. This includes how you build rapport with clients and prospective clients. Train everyone in the firm and arm them with the interpersonal skills to make better emotional connections.
  3. Develop the firm’s brand by actively working on your brand’s presence in the market. This can be done online with a sophisticated content strategy. Support your firm’s marketing team or engage an external marketing consultant to spend time developing and executing a strategic content plan to proactively position your firm.
  4. Develop the firm’s brand by ensuring that your external brand activities align with your internal culture and client service standards. It’s not enough to say that you help your clients achieve their business goals if your staff do not know how to do this and just revert to the comfort of compliance work.

In a post-GFC professional services environment, where clients are demanding more of everything, you can differentiate both yourself and your firm, but it needs to be done with intent and with discipline. You need to plan to develop your own personal brand, as well as your staff members’ personal brands, and your firm’s brand. Prospective clients are making decisions based on their perceptions of you and your firm, your personal brand and your firm’s brand, so you need to actively develop both.

Thought Leadership Versus Content – What is the Difference?

These days the terms ‘thought leadership’ and ‘content’ are used almost interchangeably. What is the difference? Marketers of professional services (traditionally legal, accounting and engineering services) have been using ‘thought leadership’ as a strategic profiling, brand building device for decades. These days, as we market professional services firms, B2B, and B2C companies, we talk about both thought leadership and content marketing. I’m not sure people really know what they both are and how they should be used.

Thought leadership is exactly that, leading edge thought. Thought leadership is the goal; the goal is to be seen as a ‘thought leader’. It is actually the goal of a particular type of content. Thought leadership content is material containing original thoughts, opinions and in-depth analysis, which hypothesises and proposes new concepts and ideas. True thought leadership will take a long-term view on topics and issues. It’s about building reputation and authority over time and across multiple digital, social and offline channels. It enables your organisation’s subject matter experts to act as trusted advisers who offer helpful, responsive, generous and useful advice. Over time, this type of content will establish the firm’s experts as true thought leaders. If you are the subject matter expert, you will participate in online and offline conversations, and steadily build your credibility through affinity, authenticity and trust. This adds value to your personal brand and ultimately the brand of the firm.

Content, on the other hand, has multiple purposes. It is the material you or your company produces, in whatever format you choose, i.e. written content, videos, infographics, memes, newsletters, podcasts etc. It specifically refers to online, digital material, although some marketers are starting to refer to offline printed material as content now too. It is not meant to explicitly promote a brand, but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services.

The Content Marketing Institute, an online resource for information on all things content marketing related, defines content marketing as: “Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

The key word is “valuable”, otherwise the definition could be describing almost any form of advertising or marketing. If people seek out a piece of content, if people want to consume it, rather than avoiding it, it’s the sort of content that could be part of a content marketing campaign.

There are numerous different formats of digital content. See Tami Briesies’ “101 Different Types of Digital Content”.

The relationship between the two

Content marketing is about building the brand, driving client/customer action, and ultimately driving sales, by engaging the target audience. Thought leadership is achieved by using particular types of content in a new and unique way, to build profile and positioning. Thought leadership content would generally be content such as white papers, reports, articles, videos etc. For example, a white paper or report might analyse the results of industry research and you might even choose to charge a fee for this content. The thought leadership content establishes the author, and the brand, as a thought leader.

Back in 2013, Laura Ramos, of Forrester, illustrated the relationship like this:

Some excellent examples of B2B thought leadership can be found in the article “11 B2B Brands Putting Out Real Thought Leadership Content” by Robert McGuire.

How do you use them both?

For quality content, the idea is to produce a consistent volume of engaging content, making sure it is:

  • Findable
  • Readable
  • Understandable
  • Actionable
  • Shareable

This checklist from Ahava Leibtag “Creating Valuable Content: An Essential Checklist” is a great place to start.

Content should be used to engage with potential clients/customers and drive interested prospective clients/customers (leads) to your website to ultimately take action, by signing up for more content or to be contacted by you directly.

Thought leadership content should be used to build your profile as an expert in your area of expertise. Thought leadership ultimately helps you position yourself and your service as significantly valuable to potential clients. Prospective clients will seek you out and it will allow you to realise your optimum value.

The key is to develop a targeted, structured, and informed content strategy, including thought leadership content, to increase brand engagement and ultimately increase sales leads.

What is digital marketing in professional services?

Everyone’s talking about digital marketing. Turning data and online activity into sales. Driving traffic to a website to sell a product or service. What does this mean for professional services? Is it worth spending valuable time and money on developing digital marketing capabilities? In traditional accounting, legal and engineering firms can we really turn our online activities into actual leads? The short answer is yes. It might seem illusive in the professional services world, but it can be done.

There is definitely incentive to do it. Hinge Marketing’s research shows that “firms that generate 40% or more of their leads online grow 4 times faster.” Marketing online is cheaper and can be more targeted.

In professional services, the digital marketing strategy is all about content marketing. Actually, we already do content marketing, we just call it thought leadership. We have the content; we just need to optimize it to drive traffic to the website. We need to use, and test, the best keywords for search engines like Google to find our content. There are various tools available to create and test content for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Then, once visitors are on the site, we need to meet them where they are in the buying cycle and provide more relevant content to engage them and move them further down the sales funnel.

A few things to consider when developing your digital marketing strategy:

  1. First, you need systems in place to record the online activity. 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. Once you’re capturing user details, although they may be anonymous at the start, you can then work towards capturing their contact details, so you can either market further to them, or contact them directly, depending where they are in the buying cycle.
  2. You need to have a plan, which includes a content management plan, to identify the areas of service you want to be known for and found online for. These would normally correspond to your practice development areas, already identified in your overall marketing plan. You would normally have key spokespeople or ‘visible experts’ or ‘thought leaders’. These are the people generally writing or initiating the content. Your optimized keywords will be identified through this plan. Then, from the plan, you can work out which channels are going to be the most useful, including social media platforms, organic search, paid search, and other websites for referrals etc.
  3. Once you have a process in place to ‘amplify’ your content through the relevant channels, you can then start to measure the traffic being driven back to the website. Depending on activity by users, the website can deliver personalized content and send the user to particular pages and content on your website. At this point, you’ll want to capture personal information, by providing a form for the user to fill in before they can download the content. You can also provide forms for users to fill in to receive more information about your services or request someone to contact them. You can then ‘score’ your leads and decide what marketing you would like to deliver to them. If you have a marketing automation system you can begin to send relevant emails to them. Google re-marketing is also an option.

It’s important to map the visitor journey and be concise and measured about the content a visitor receives. Based on their activity on the site, you can start to map where they are in the buying cycle. In professional services, our lead times can be quite long – sometimes months or even years – so it’s crucial to nurture the lead along the way. The visitor might not be ready to talk to anyone yet, but might be happy to receive thought leadership, if it’s relevant and useful.

You can, and should, turn your social media and other online activities into real and valuable leads. There is really no point spending time and effort on social media if you’re not using it to drive traffic to your website and capturing actionable leads. Online brand building is only worthwhile if you can turn the brand engagement into billable client engagements.

The Ringmaster not the Juggler

female ringmaster , leaves the circus

I was listening to a radio interview the other day. I can’t even remember now who the celebrity was. All I remember is the female announcer asking the female celebrity about her “growing brood” and how she manages to “juggle work and family”. Her answer was she has a lot of help, but that’s not the point. You hear the term ‘juggle’ a whole lot, in relation to women and careers, and frankly, I’m over it.

Juggling suggests that it takes some skill to keep all the ‘balls’ in the air – great – but it also implies that you could drop any one (or all) of said balls at anytime. Meaning that you are only marginally in control. Someone could throw you a new ball that you aren’t prepared for and they all come crashing down.

I think this metaphor, whenever it started being used, has had its day. It’s part of the rhetoric that is keeping female leaders from reaching their full potential. Language is extremely powerful and if we continue to talk about our lives in terms of juggling all the aspects of it, we’ll continue to believe our lives are about this balancing act and not about living our fullest and most rewarding life – all important elements of it included.

I prefer to think of myself as a ringmaster. I manage all the different aspects of my life with (practiced) control. Organised chaos. Like a juggler, the ringmaster has to learn these skills, and it’s not without the help of partners, family and friends. My husband and I are both ringmasters. I’m just changing the metaphor for my life, so I’m not limiting myself to ‘juggling’ imaginary balls. I’m ‘ringmastering’. Yes, it’s a word. I looked it up.

The work of a ringmaster; the action of directing or managing something as, or in the manner of, a ringmaster.

I’m directing and managing and enjoying the thrill of the circus as I go. Let’s not limit female leaders to the role of a juggler. Women are capable of directing the multiple aspects of their lives with skill, agility, flexibility and flair. If we continue to talk about balancing and juggling we will continue to make women feel like the different aspects of their lives are somehow precarious, uncertain, insecure, and risky.

I want women to feel like every part of their full lives is meaningful, rewarding and completely manageable. In the circus of life, let’s not denigrate women to the role of the juggler, let’s recognise and celebrate them in their rightful role of the ringmaster.

Employee engagement = Brand engagement


According to Wikipedia “Customer engagement (CE) is an effect, a reaction, a connection, a response and/or an experience of customers with one another, with a company or a brand”. The key word is “connection”. It’s all about connection. You want your clients or customers to connect with your brand. In B2B, and also in B2C, you need your customers to connect with your people in order for them to connect with the brand. It doesn’t matter if the connection is made in person, via social media, or just through reading your content. The human element is always there.

So, if humans count, and customers want meaningful, authentic connections with the people within your organisation, then you need your employees to be authentic and genuinely care about the interactions they’re having. The only way this will happen is if your employees are engaged. They need to feel engaged with the work they are doing day-to-day. The more engaged they are, the more effort they will apply to the work you would like them to do (including interacting with customers). This also applies to non-customer facing staff. Whatever job they have to do within the organisation will ultimately affect the product or service, regardless of what that is.

Published studies like the Aberdeen Group’s EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT: PAVING THE WAY TO HAPPY CUSTOMERS go a long way to demonstrating the direct correlation between employee engagement and customer satisfaction. In the report they state,

Engaged employees positively influence the buying behaviors of customers, leading to higher customer loyalty and profitable growth.

Aberdeen concludes through the research, linking employee engagement measures with customer satisfaction levels, that,

Companies with formal employee engagement programs are indeed enjoying the fruits of their labor in fostering an environment where employees are motivated to satisfy clients.

When we take this a step further and connect customer satisfaction with brand engagement, we conclude that employee engagement is intrinsically linked to brand engagement. Satisfied, happy, engaged employees equals satisfied, happy, engaged customers. So, you can have a direct and positive affect on your brand by implementing a formal employee engagement program.

When developing a formal employee engagement program, here are a few things to consider:

Better employee satisfaction surveys

When conducting staff satisfaction surveys, or employee engagement surveys, companies often don’t ask the right questions. Surveys should be asking meaningful questions linked to drivers of engagement. They should be measuring the employee’s level of trust in management, satisfaction with their job role, and things like connection to the vision of the organisation. Surveys should be conducted frequently, annually, quarterly, or even monthly, and can be large annual surveys, covering everything, or quick snapshots in particular areas of focus. The outcomes should be quickly publicised within the organisation and areas of improvement acted upon as soon as possible, or investigated further.

It must come from the top

Even the most sophisticated engagement program will fail without the support of a company’s senior leaders. Leadership is a significant driver of employee engagement and therefore the company’s culture. Employees look to the senior leaders for guidance, so it’s crucial that leaders actively support these initiatives.

It’s all about trust

The key to a positive corporate culture is trust. Employees need to trust the leadership team and, equally, leaders need to trust employees to do the best job they can do. Employees need enough space to determine the best way to complete a task within a reasonable amount of time. The default position should be trust first, unless someone does something to lose that trust. Employees shouldn’t have to earn trust. If they are qualified, and satisfied all of the recruitment criteria, they should be allowed to get on with doing the job they were hired to do.

Ultimately, your engaged employees will deliver exceptional service to your customers, which, in turn, creates brand engagement and brand loyalty, so it’s worth spending time and money on developing and implementing employee engagement strategies and initiatives. A formal employee engagement program can create brand engagement and lead to increased company performance.