In some ways, times have never been better for professional services marketing. After eight years of sluggish economic growth, businesses are increasingly cautious about hiring full-time employees. Depending on fringe benefits offered, the cost of hiring an employee can be as high as 140% of their salary. And as my father always said, it's a hell of a lot easier to get into something than it is to get out of something.
Businesses have reacted to this reality by outsourcing more and more non-core business functions like marketing, accounting, HR, legal and payroll. This move towards outsourcing core business functions creates opportunities for professional services firms. Yet many professional services firms struggle with generating good quality leads to grow their businesses.
In this post, we will explore the various ways of generating leads with your professional services marketing strategy. Different strategies have varying levels of effectiveness and some require more commitment than others.
For most professional services firms, a sustainable lead generation process is a key to growing in today's sluggish economy.
All leads are not created equal
One of the important factors in professional services lead generation is the quality of the lead generated. I would rather have two leads that were qualified buyers in my targeted niche than a hundred buyers that I really don't know anything about. Lead qualification should be an important part of your professional services marketing strategy.
To qualify leads, you first have to define what defines a good lead. Some of this definition comes from having a focused marketing strategy. Some of this comes from hard-earned lessons that you've learned in the course of running your business. For the purposes of this discussion, let's just say that quality of leads is almost always more important than quantity in professional services marketing. Most of us have fairly high lifetime deal values and long sales processes; we can't afford to waste time and resources on unqualified leads.
Strategy 1: Cold-Calling
Many businesses resort to cold-calling when they need to generate leads. It worked in the '80s, it should work now, right? Wrong!
Cold-calling response rates are 1-3%, where a response is defined as setting an initial appointment. And how many potential customers have you annoyed to the point of blocking your phone number in the process? Here are some other things to consider about cold-calling.
- How many decision-makers have time to take calls from people that they don't know? Precious few would be my guess. I sure don't
- In professional services firms, many business development professionals are also consultants for the clients they produce. How many consultants have time to make 100 cold calls a day?
- How can you possibly know if someone your calling has a need that you can solve or is actually in a buying process?
The telephone still has a role in business development, but it is rarely the initial point of contact in an effective lead generation process.
Strategy 2: Content Marketing
Content marketing is an excellent way for professional services firms to display their knowledge and expertise to potential buyers. It also corresponds with the way people buy today - the Corporate Executive Board found that the average buyer completes 57% of their sales process before ever speaking with a sales person. Your marketing content is what they are using to determine if you can help them solve their problems.
There's one thing about content marketing that's very important. Buyers have to find your content before it has any value to them! Here are some things to consider about content marketing.
- If you're a professional services firm, you should be doing content marketing. Period. But you need to consider it an essential part of your business and invest the necessary time and resources to develop an effective content marketing program.
- It takes time to develop the domain authority with Google to drive organic traffic to your website. It's important to persistently and consistently produce high-quality content that helps your buyers solve problems. While your building up your organic traffic, you should consider investing in social media advertisng or search engine advertising.
- Once you start generating organic traffic, content marketing will sell for you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The blog post on my site that drives the most traffic and leads today was published in 2014!
- A savvy professional services marketing strategy uses marketing content in an outbound manner. Good educational content is an excellent way to start conversations with buyers. For example, consider sending a case study to a similarly situated prospect to show how you might help them solve a problem.
- Don't forget that one of the primary goals of content marketing is to generate leads - you should have a mix of premium content that requires submission of contact and demographic information and widely available content, usually in the form of a blog.
Content marketing should be a fundamental element of your professional services marketing strategy.
Strategy 3: Email Prospecting
This is the 21st century version of cold-calling. The premise is to send highly targeted emails to potential buyers that you want to work with. The effectiveness of email prospecting is directly related to the value that you offer in your emails. Don't waste your buyers time - show them that you understand their problems and help them solve them. And quickly! No one has the time or inclination to read rambling 1,000 word emails. Here are some thoughts on email prospecting.
- You must use technology in your email prospecting that, at a minimum, tells you who opened your emails and who clicked on the links! We recommend HubSpot's Sales Pro (formerly Sidekick for Business.) In addition to tracking responses, HubSpot Sales Pro has many other features to help power an effective email prospecting program.
- As Shakespeare said, brevity is the soul of wit. An email that has more than 200 words is most likely going to be deleted.
- Email prospecting is a good way to jumpstart your content marketing process before you generate sufficient organic traffic. A quick email with a link to a helpful blog post is a great way to make a good first impression with a potential buyer.
- Use the golden rule in your email prospecting. Respect your buyer's inbox as you would like yours to be respected.
Email prospecting is an effective lead generation strategy, but it needs to be done consistently to produce results.
Strategy 4: Referral Marketing
Referrals are the holy grail of professional services marketing. After all, who wouldn't want to talk with a potential customer who needs your help and has been referred to you by a happy customer? For established professional services firms, a steady stream of referrals may be all you need to fuel your growth needs. Here are a few things to keep in mind about referrals. Not coincidentally, referrals are the highest converting form of leads in B2B marketing.
- You will never get referrals without providing stellar customer service. That's why an exceptional customer experience should the foundation of all professional services businesses.
- A referral marketing strategy doesn't rely on happenstance - you have to ask for referrals! Make asking for referrals a part of your service or project review process. After reviewing a project with a satisfied customer, it's natural to say, "Do you know anyone else who we might be able to help?
- You've got to give to get. See if you can refer your customer to one of your contacts. Referral marketing is a two-way street.
Referrals make growing your professional firm fun and easy. Do all you can to encourage referrals, starting by providing stellar customer service.
Strategy 5: Social Media Marketing
It's a safe bet that your potential buyers are on social media in one form or another. You should be right there with them. The key is to be helpful, not salesy. Here are some ways you can use social media to generate leads.
- Use social media to promote your content. Your content should be helpful, not salesy. Your social media promotion should follow suit. When you post your content, make sure to include copy to explain why a buyer would want to click through to your content.
- Include lead generation offers in the content you're promoting on social media. For blog posts, make sure they include a lead generation offer. You can also share your landing pages on social media, but don't overdo it.
- Social media advertising like LInkedIn sponsored updates can be a good way to accelerate your content marketing efforts while you're building up your organic traffic.
- Participate (not dominate) in groups and networks where your buyers are. If you come off as too salesy, you will blow your credibility and your ability to sell.
- Don't be that guy or gal who invites someone to connect on LinkedIn and immediately follows up with a hardcore sales pitch. You will ruin your reputation quickly like that. Establish trust and earn the right to sell to your connections.
Don't overlook social networks like Twitter for lead generation! We have three generations (baby boomers, millennials and gen-xers) in decision-making roles today. Don't assume everyone thinks like you.
These are just a few of the lead generation strategies that professional services firms are using to grow. You will likely use some combination of these in your lead generation process. Make sure to integrate them as tightly as possible and take advantage of the technology available to optimize your lead generation efficiency. Want to learn more about how to generate leads for your professional services firm? Schedule a free consultation with us.