Why are today’s marketing trends and research results so disruptive to the consulting and professional services industries, and the B2B community as a whole?
If it ain’t broke…
As a professional service provider, you know–better than any other B2B industry–exactly who your customers are. Consultants, technical staff, support staff, and more work with your clients every day. They want to talk about measuring data? Well, a facial expression in a meeting room or an abrupt email reply is all the data you need to determine whether you’ve connected properly, met expectations, saved the day… or not.
You’re in the relationships business. Providing services and solutions is really about providing the right people to deliver them. The feedback is instantaneous. You know whether you’re going to get along well with your client’s team, what expectation adjustments you need to make, and when to just be there for your client.
You know the decisions you make today will absolutely impact that relationship months later. You’ve been there when the impact of other decisions came home, for better or worse.
… why does it need fixing so bad?
Because professional services marketing teams have yet to realize that the development of relationships and the arrival at decisions is happening differently than it did even five years ago.
Prospective clients usually make their first encounter with your company online. And they expect more from the start of a relationship than brochure-style webpages crammed full of information they’re not necessarily ready for. They want interactive graphics, a more visual presentation, and current info about the people who deliver the services they want.
Current clients are seeking gratification elsewhere, outside of their relationships with you, using ideal new services and technologies at home, in other aspects of their jobs, and for fun. And they’re starting to wonder why their experiences with you are so… not Uber-like. Where I used to work, a client asked about our software, “Can you make this work on my iPad?” She was only half joking. And she’s a Fed.
Professional services marketing strategies should approach new leads like they do new client relationships.
Reach out to leads the way you reach out to your clients. Do you find current customers like to hear from the Account Executive or VP? Select a point of contact and reach out to leads the same way. The Expert Institute lifted conversion of leads 200%–and only sent out a letter once a month. It turns out that just like the people you work with every day, strangers who sign up for your mailing list expect to get to know you.
Realize that those relationships are not as sacred as you think. What’s posted in your enewsletter probably won’t stay in your newsletter–if you’re writing great content, that is. And that’s a good thing, because…
Your readers are in control of your brand. Realizing that the voice of your readers is now huge, live, and loud is exhilarating from the marketing perspective, but it’s also just plain scary. Play it safe on your blog to sound stuffy and forgettable. Use actors in your video to be likeable, memorable… and also obvious and cutesy. Forget who you’re communicating to and be immediately reminded.
Well, who’s visiting? Who’s reading and sharing? Who’s watching and subscribing? And finally, who’s calling?
If you’re seeing disparities and disconnects, you need to remember that you know this stuff: marketing your consulting business has never been about click-throughs, impressions, or shares. It’s about the people behind them, what methods you have in place to get to know them, and–once you know them–how best you can serve their needs.
White papers published by consulting firms are usually forgotten within moments of downloading. That’s because, quite frankly, beneath the different brands and formats, your services and your competitors’ are pretty similar, and you all outline the same quality results and deliverables your clients expect you to make. There’s nothing wrong with that. But all too often, you’ll be passed over. Your white paper hasn’t done enough.
Now imagine your prospects come across your firm’s website and your competitor’s at nearly the same time. Both of you have pretty much identical services, ratings, and other market factors. You also have a resources section, and that’s where you differ. Your You offer a white paper for free download: “How To Save 15% On Procurement Costs Using Resources You Already Have In-House.” You attract far more downloads, email list growth, and inquiries because people remember people who put them first, and that’s what your white paper does.
Now, of course, it’s not that simple. The worlds of business politics and bureaucracy demand that you do more than please a single reader. This is where you make sure the reader can justify her partiality to you, with solid information she can successfully put into practice, add to intelligent conversations, and share with colleagues. Your white paper ends up making your reader look good–not in the forced “I’m reading industry-related mumbo-jumbo all the time so I must be a genius” way (which actually works for some people), but in the practical, everyday aspects of his job that really get him recognized–and through him, you. You’re already a favorite in the client’s house, and you haven’t even exchanged a phone call yet.
Now, being a “favorite” is a vague, intangible goal, but there’s nothing vague or intangible about how to achieve that goal, or its results. Clients have spelled it out in 2015 market research conducted by the Association of Management Consulting Firms. The top five aspects of thought leadership like white papers, case studies, and ebooks that draw a direct referral rate as high as 26%:
- A demonstation of your deep knowledge of a problem and its solution
- Evidence of your solution’s effectiveness
- Help diagnosing their problems
- Original case study research
Do you see a common denominator? Clients are asking that you earn their engagement by offering valuable insights addressing what matters to them most, which isn’t actually different than what matters to you most: the clients’ problems. By writing a white paper that keeps this goal in mind… and then writing another… and another… your referral rates will skyrocket because you are becoming a favorite, over and over again.
For insights on these characteristics you can use when developing your content strategy, and proof of the response rate white papers, case studies, and other forms of thought leadership deliver to firms like yours, download my special report, The Top 5 Proven Keys To Lead-Generating Content for Consulting Firms.
Source: Association of Management Consulting Firms (AMCF). Thought Leadership: Cutting Through the Noise to Unlock the Value. Chicago: AMCF, 2015.
The following was on a Post Shredded Wheat Spoon Size Honey Nut cereal box I purchased recently. No need to read the entire thing, but there’s a reason I’m posting almost all of it.
An ingredient list that is so good, we have nothing to hide.
Wouldn’t it be great if it were easy to understand what is in your food? With post shredded wheat, it’s easy to be confident with your breakfast choice. It is made with nothing but goodness, so go ahead and enjoy a bowl.
Made with 100% natural whole grain wheat: we made it easy to understand what is in your food–we start with the natural goodness of whole grain wheat.
No artificial flavors or colors added: our flavor comes from 100% whole grain wheat, honey, almonds, molasses and real sugar. That means vitamin and mineral fortified post shredded wheat honey nut contains no high fructose corn syrup or artificial ingredients.
Natural source of fiber: every bowl contains 6 grams of natural fiber from whole grain wheat. Never artificial fiber.
Bite-sized health tip: nutritionists recommend eating at least 48 grams of whole grains a day. Instead of counting servings, enjoy one bowl of post shredded wheat honey nut. With 49 grams of whole grains per serving, you’ll get 100% of what you need for the day in just one bowl! Simple things to feel good each day: post shredded wheat is one of the simple things you can do to feel good each day.
Heart health: diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods, and low in saturated fat and cholesterol may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Digestive health: diets rich in fiber have many benefits and are important for maintaining digestive health.
Reduced cancer risk: low fat diets rich in fiber-containing grain products, fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of some types of cancer, a disease associated with many factors.
The message is pretty much the same you would find on any cereal box: cereal is good for you and tastes good, too. But the way it’s presented provides a lot more context for the target consumers.
Format. Health issues are always in the news, and especially the ones this box calls attention to using a “newspaper-clipping” design. Using a hot topic as context for your conversation with your customers appeals to their sense of topicality. The brand doesn’t pretend current nutritional concerns aren’t a hot topic with eaters who care today. It points out that this cereal is not involved in some of the most high profile cases of controversy like high fructose corn syrup or grains that aren’t whole.
It’s loooong! This is wordier than the average box of cereal–I actually cut out two paragraphs in the middle. People who buy Shredded Wheat care about breakfast. And honestly, I know I probably spend a bit more time just chewing than the average corn-flake eater: it’s a substantial spoonful. This box takes advantage of the captive audience Post has for a few minutes at least–a far cry from the seconds and even microseconds the same consumer will allot in online encounters, or in a sweeping glance down the cereal aisle. So Post didn’t throw a slogan and a few buzz words about health on the box. And I read every word.
Language. Kids and teens aren’t usually the target of cancer-prevention tips, so the language here isn’t all common denominator. Phrases are a bit more bulky, and there are a lot of compound sentences instead of short, snappy ones. This is a subtler way of showing respect: these kinds of consumers think of themselves as intelligent decision-makers. A more grown-up delivery of the brand’s message cues the “adult conversation” mindset, and engages the people Post is really after.
Bob Bly’s email about false logic in advertising and sales copy made me think. Copywriters–the best of our breed, anyway, and he’s among them–aren’t all adjectives, adverbs, and corny jingles. We apply technique to shade a brand, product or service in the most enticing and relatable light. It’s not always easy, though, and that’s where false logic comes in.
False logic makes a fact or attribute more appealing than it would otherwise be–a way to bling out the ordinary, easily forgotten, or even less desirable aspects of something for a picture that glows with benefits from all angles.
One of my favorite examples of this is a common advertisement for tanzanite: that it’s “a thousand times rarer than diamonds.” This is a fact as far as the experts know (although it was probably a copywriter who originated that particular twist on the numbers).
High quality, naturally mined tanzanite is a bluish-purple gem that can be found only in a particular place in Tanzania. It has gorgeous clarity and sparkle when cut well. The fact that it can be offered for much lower prices than natural diamonds of the same size and cut is usually glossed over.
When one reads the statement about tanzanite above, the gem’s rarity is meant to imply its value. The resulting urgent desire for something few people have is exactly the hoped-for reaction. But the fact is, rarity does not equal value when it comes to gemstones. It’s only one of several contributing factors, the biggest of which–saleswise, anyway–is supply and demand.
The demand for tanzanite is not as high as that of diamonds, which are also prized for the hardness that gives them such permanence physically and mentally. So when you buy a tanzanite, you’re buying a stone rarer than diamonds, but not more valuable.
But read the statement again. The false logic employed here is compelling, and the knee-jerk “gotta learn more” reaction is one every business could benefit from. But then Bly adds a qualification that worries me.
“It’s possible to argue that some false logic borders on deception, but the marketer has to make that call for himself.”
My thoughts aren’t on whether I’m willing to sell my soul and lie, because this technique is drawn from the truth.
My thoughts don’t stop at how far I’m willing to stretch the truth, either. As Bly said, that’s totally up to me.
I’m wondering when–if ever–this technique is necessary–and then my brain leaps to the question: What is a salable product?
Let me step back a moment so you can follow along.
If you apply false logic to sell your offer, it implies there’s a weakness in your product, a lack of gotta-have-it in your market, or a hole in your sales pitch you couldn’t otherwise fill. In the case of tanzanites, it was a lack of demand. If none of these things are true, why use this technique? Wouldn’t it be a kind of gilding of the lily? If one or more of these things is true, should you be selling your product as is?
Bly is aware of these doubts, and he closes with the defense:
“A copywriter, like a lawyer, is an advocate for the client (or his employer). Just as the lawyer uses all the arguments at his disposal to win the case, so does the copywriter use all the facts at his disposal to win the consumer over to the product.”
But in this paragraph, Bly is actually using false logic to defend itself.
Certainly we should use all the tools at our disposal to sell, but it shouldn’t be necessary to use them all in every single project. There has to be a better argument out there somewhere.
Tell me whether I’ve missed something important–I’d be relieved to put this one to rest.
Kemya Scott of Phisco Marketing is a hard-working marketing strategist I’ve been glad to get to know over the past several months via Twitter and her blog. She knows her stuff and knows how to use it well, so I was excited when she shared one of her early marketing lessons at my invitation here.
One of the very first lessons I learned about marketing my business is simple: you never know where your next client will come from. I’ve attended personal affairs where I wouldn’t be thinking about business at all, and wouldn’t you know it some family friend starts asking what I do for a living, one discussion leads to another, and just like that, bam, I’m “on.” So I learned that you are always in a position to market your business, and you better be ready to share your business at the drop of a dime. Sharing is more than handing out a business card, you have to talk about your business without sounding like a sleazy salesperson. It’s more than memorizing a scripted elevator pitch, it’s about having a genuine dialogue with someone who may or may not become your next client.
I’ve learned to apply the same lessons with digital marketing. Social media is networking on steroids – and the same rules apply. I never know where my next interaction will take me, but I’m always “on” online. I don’t sales pitch; I share information and provide solutions. I listen to what people talk about to figure out their hot buttons. I don’t post anything I wouldn’t want a client to see, and I treat my online interactions as though my past, present and future clients will see every word. That next client is always lurking in the background, and I want to be sure they form the right impression of me!
Behind-the-scenes marketing advice from a marketer–it doesn’t get any better, except that today’s Follow Friday! I’ve never regretted following MissKemya on Twitter, so I hope you’ll follow her, too.
And please–go ahead and share your own marketing lessons in the comments for a spotlight of your own!