Early in my career, a mentor told me his philosophy about marketing. As a business owner of a regional insurance that successfully competed with global brokers, his idea was that the purpose of marketing is to make you look bigger than you really are.
I will rephrase that to reflect what I've come to believe over the years: the purpose of marketing for SMB professional services firms is to communicate your expertise and professionalism to solve your target market niche's problems. In doing so, it's likely that you will look bigger than you really are.
Today's business technology makes it easier than ever for SMB professional service firms to compete with the big boys. In fact, most of these SMB firms are managed by people who cut their teeth with the global consulting firms and outgrew them.
The SMB firms often bring more expertise to the account level than the global competition because the big firms assign experienced account managers to the middle market. This creates great opportunities for SMB professional services firms to compete on service!
But you need to get the opportunity to talk with prospects in order to win their business. That's why branding your firm effectively in a target niche is so important for the SMB professional services marketing strategy.
With that in mind, here are 3 ways to boost your brand in your professional services marketing strategy.
Boost your brand with a professional website
Too many professional services sabotage their brands with unprofessional, outdated websites. While you may be an expert in your field who delivers great results for customers, an unprofessional website will turn potential customers off quickly.
In today's marketing environment, your website is often the first experience potential customers have with your brand. If your website sucks, most of these potential buyers will think your company sucks. It's just not a good way to run your business.
If it's not the first experience buyers have with your brand, it's often the second. And it often destroys the trust that you built with the prospect in your initial encounter.
Consider this scenario. You're referred into a potential customer by one of your satisfied customer. Layup, right? You have a great initial meeting and close things off by exchanging business cards and offering to follow up on a few items you discussed.
After you leave, the prospect checks out your website. They find an outdated website that conveys that you're not serious about your business or too busy to care about your brand. When you follow up on those items from the meeting, you don't hear back from the prospect. What happened? Things were going so well.
Regardless of what the person who referred you told your prospect, you need to build trust with the prospect to start a business relationship. And the reality is that the prospect isn't going to trust an important function of their business to someone with an outdated website in today's business environment. Period.
So here are some things to consider when evaluating your website.
- Does your website have a clean, modern design? Websites with complex navigation, rotating banners and an overload of information just don't work. Your website should have a user experience interface that makes it easy for your prospect to find relevant information that addresses their problems. Take a look at the Apple website to see an example of a great user experience interface. Notice the simplicity in their user experience.
- Is your website centered around your customer? Too many websites are centered around the business - not their customers. Stay away from talking about your "agile process", your "best in class service" and your "cutting edge technologies." Clearly present what you do, who you do it for and how you do it. Clarity trumps cleverness in professional services marketing, so stay away from the cute copy writing.
- Do you have lead generation built into your website? You should have opportunities for your target market to exchange contact and demographic information for a piece of content that educates them on problems they may face. Don't overdo it. Too many lead generation offers will result in paralysis by analysis and will kill your lead generation.
One piece of advice - don't do your website yourself. Hire a professional who knows your business and industry to build a professional website for you. Just because you can do it doesn't mean you should do it.
The Lead Generation Process
Boost your brand with content marketing
The 2017 HubSpot State of Inbound found that 76% of North American business identified inbound marketing as their primary marketing channel. And inbound marketing is built around the concept of creating relevant educational content that attracts prospects to your sales pipeline.
For SMB professional services firms, content marketing offers the opportunity to give potential customers a free sample of your expertise and to demonstrate how you've solved problems in your target market niche. Simply put, content marketing is no longer options for professional services business.
Here are some things to help you separate your content from that of your competition.
- Create content for all stages of the buying process - from education to vendor selection. While it's great to create top-of-the-funnel content like educational blog posts in your content marketing program, you should also have case studies for the consideration stage and demos and consultations for the decision stage. Keep in mind that you won't talk to most inbound buyers until they've completed 60% of their buying process, so be ready to start where they are, not from the beginning, when you do talk with them.
- Make sure to include visual content in your marketing. Today's busy buyer has expressed a preference for visual content like videos and infographics that quickly gets at the information they're looking for. You should also make your written content visually appealing by using headers, images, graphs, bulleted lists and section separators. Your prospects typically scan content quickly to find the tidbits of information that are important to them; make it easy for them!
Promote your content for maximum distribution. While it's great when a customer finds your content via a Google search, you need to be proactive in order to maximize the consumption of your content. Promote your content with email marketing and through your social media networks. Use content in your outbound prospecting emails. Don't overlook paid promotion through social media and search engine advertising.
Content marketing is where SMB professional services businesses can step up to compete with global consultants. It's important that you're consistent and persistent in your content marketing efforts. The more good content you produce, the more organic traffic your website will receive. If you don't have the time or the presentation expertise, consider hiring an inbound marketing agency to help you with your content marketing. Keep in mind that good content can be evergreen: the page that produced the most traffic to our website last month was a blog post written in April 2015.
Boost your brand by specializing in a market niche
This may be the most important advice I can give to SMB professional services businesses about boosting their brands and improving their profitability. It's quite simple really, it's better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond. To take the analogies a step further, you dond't want to be a jack of all trades and a master of none.
Here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Word travels fast when you start doing good things in a targeted industry, geographic niche or company size. Oftentimes, the narrower your focus, the greater your business success.
- Leverage your expertise to create personalized content that resonates with your target market and use it to create more sales opportunities. Use your target market to qualify your sales opportunities to optimize where you expend limited sales resources.
- Do good work for clients in your target market and leverage that good work for case studies, referrals and testimonials.
Look at your current customers to identify where you're most and least effective. This will help you identify the market niches you can exploit.
There are more and better opportunities for SMB professional services firms to successfully compete and take business from the global service providers. Use these 3 techniques to boost your brand and create more sales opportunities.