The spray and pray approach just doesn't work anymore. This is the primary conclusions of the Demand Gen Report 2016 B2B Buyer's Survey.With continuing weak economic performance and the real possibility of another recession, B2B buyers are applying more scrutiny to purchases and sales cycles are lengthening. 54% of buyers surveyed said that their buying process has either increased somewhat or significantly over the past year. And 45% of survey respondents said that the number of people involved in the buying decision increased either somewhat or significantly over the past year. Simply put, professional services buyers are under increasing scrutiny to make the right decision in the buying process.
With tighter budgets and greater scrutiny over buying decisions, just what are successful professional services sellers doing? The answer can be found in one of the key questions in the DemandGen Survey: why did you choose the winning vendor? Here are the top three responses:
- The timeliness of a vendor's response to inquiries - 98%
- Demonstrated a stronger knowledge of the solution area and the business landscape - 97%
- Demonstrated a stronger knowledge of our company and its needs - 94%
The top response is a no-brainer - if you're not responsive to someone in a sales situation, what can they expect when they're a paying customer! The next two responses show just how important personalization is to your professional services marketing efforts. Buyers don't just expect you to be an expert in your field and understand the implications of your solution in the general business landscape, they also expect you to understand how your solutions fits into the unique circumstances of the buying company.
When asked what was important to them when researching a potential vendor's website, the top response in the DemandGen Survey was "relevant content that speaks directly to my company."
So just how can you personalize your professional services marketing to meet buyer expectations? Here are 4 strategies that will help you make it easy for potential customers to buy from you.
Focus on market segments that you know
The first thing any professional services firm should do is define the market segments in which it has deep knowledge and a proven track-record of success. Once you've defined these segments, you should focus on them relentlessly and not allow yourself to be distracted by opportunities outside your targeted segments.
With an increasing emphasis from buyers on specific knowledge of their company and their industry, this is a way that SMB firms can successfully sell against their enterprise competition. The tighter your focus is, the greater your advantage. For example, an accounting firm that has a track record of success working with non-profits will be tough for a generalist to beat. Let's take it one step further - consider if the accounting firm specialized in non-profits that service the financial services industry. The will have a great story to tell to their narrowly focused market segment.
Keep in mind, of course, that the market segment has to be big enough to provide sufficient opportunities for growth. And there's nothing to say you can't target multiple market segments. A local insurance broker I know targets technology companies, non-profits and the construction industry. They have specialists in each of these market segments, but they've done very well targeting these segments.
Create inbound marketing content for your targeted market segment
Remember, buyers are looking for "relevant content that speaks directly to my company" when they are researching purchase options. Doesn't it make sense to give them what they want?
If you're targeting market segments in which you have experience, this should be relatively straightforward. Create content that answers the questions that you hear every day. Share stories about the problems you've solved for customers in your target industry. Help them understand what they should be considering when they're solving the problems you help with.
Above all, be honest and helpful. If you create self-serving content designed to sell, it will be readily apparent to the potential buyer. If you help them, they will buy. If you sell them, they probably won't.
Publish relevant blog posts consistently - we recommend a minimum of weekly blog posts. Generate leads with your blog posts by offering potential buyers the opportunity to access premium content in exchange for contact and demographic information (see figure below.) Lead generation offers can be eBooks, whitepapers, webinars and videos. They should be structured to give leads more detailed insight into the topics covered in your blog posts.
Publishing regular blog posts won't just generate leads, it will also help you create domain authority with Google to display your content to buyers when they're researching purchases.
Use marketing automation to personalize the buyer experience
One of the interesting paradoxes about marketing automation is that it makes your marketing seem more human when done properly.
Use questions in your lead generation forms to identify demographic factors that help you segment your leads as they convert. You will note the the lead generation form at the end of this blog posts asks three questions that we use to segment leads:
- Are you a HubSpot customer?
We use this information in a few different ways to help personalize our marketing:
Lead qualification - our marketing automation process helps us qualify leads. For example, if someone who works at a marketing agency downloads our content, we know they probably aren't going to buy from us. On the other hand, if someone identifies themselves as a senior executive at a professional services business, we know that this is someone worth dedicating resources towards.
Content personalization - by knowing a little bit about the demographics of the leads we generate, we can share additional content with them that is relevant to their situation. Rather than send someone general information about inbound marketing to an insurance agency executive, we can share information with them that helps them understand and solve the problems they face. We're a HubSpot Silver Certified Agency Partner - that's all we do. By knowing if someone is a HubSpot customer, we can give them some really helpful information that will help them get more from their HubSpot subscription.
Personalize your outbound marketing
It takes time for your inbound marketing to organically produce a consistent flow of leads. Most businesses don't have time to sit around and wait for their content to start showing up on the first page of Google.
There are a few things you can do to accelerate your inbound marketing efforts. Personalization improves your chances for success with all of your marketing efforts.
The first way to accelerate inbound marketing is social media advertising. For most professional services businesses, this means LinkedIn advertising. You can personalize your LinkedIn advertising in two ways:
- Promote content that's relevant to your target audience - don't promote general content on LinkedIn, promote highly targeted content relevant to your market segment.
- Define your advertising audience to duplicate your marketing segment - LinkedIn sponsored content allows you to segment the audience that sees your promoted content by company size, industry, geographic location and other demographic information. It's relatively easy to define your audience to include your targeted marketing segment.
It's not too difficult to see that if you promote relevant content to an interested audience, your chances for success will be optimized.
You can also use personalization in your outbound prospecting efforts. Send targeted emails to a tightly defined audience that help them solve the problems they face every day. Remember, be respectful at all times - you haven't been invited to their inboxes. Be brief and to the point and always offer value.
The DemandGen Report 2016 B2B Buyer's Survey clearly shows that sales isn't getting easier. The old school approach would be to double down on the cold calls and hope that you will generate more sales opportunities. But that doesn't sync with how buyers want to buy. The old adage of work smarter, not harder is the key - personalize your professional services marketing to improve your close rates.