When I travel through airports, I often read the signs that line the walls. One sign in particular caught my attention recently. It was from a law firm and it said: “lady justice may be blind, but she sees things our way 97% of the time.” Now that is quite a claim. Essentially, they are saying that they win 97% of their cases. That’s impressive.
This got me thinking about something. Most service firms have to make strong claims about what they can do for their clients. After all, services are intangibles and if you give someone money, you want to know what you’ll get in return. But most sophisticated service buyers don’t just listen for the claim. They also look for the proof. After all, anyone can claim anything, yet proving it is a whole other story.
Proof statements are a critical part of a modern digital marketing strategy for service firms. But you might be quite surprised at what we’ve learned about proof statements and the role they play with organic prospects on the inbound journey. I’d like to share with you why you need proof statements, what kind you need and how to use them to close deals faster.
Organic prospects want to do their own due diligence and see supporting evidence of a claim that is enticing to them BEFORE they enter dialogue.
What Is An Organic Prospect?
In case you haven’t hear this term before, an “organic prospect” has a very specific meaning for us. An organic prospect is someone who:
- Has never done business with you.
- Was not in your database, was not a referral from an existing client or partner and was not in contact with you before they started their inbound journey.
- Knew very little about you before they started their inbound journey and you knew nothing about them.
- Was not predisposed to want to work with you and had no reason to say yes to you before they started their inbound journey.
This is how I think of organic prospects. They are truly new business.
What Is A Proof Statement?
A proof statement is a set of supporting points that prove a claim to be true. For example, the law firm I referenced a moment ago might offer as a proof statement the judgments rendered from their case file history. As long as they can prove that 97% of their cases resulted in favorable outcomes for their clients, they have proved their claim.
But this is not the sort of proof statement I’m talking about. Organic prospects who are trying to decide who they should work with for a service engagement do their homework online. Most of these people want to conduct their own due diligence completely independent of a human being. This means that your proof statements need to be digital in nature and likely located on your website.
Most service organizations today offer proof statements in the form of testimonials, case studies and documonials. There may be other forms of proof statements, but these three are the most common.
Effective Versus Ineffective Proof Statements
Effective proof statements position a service firm’s value proposition, their claim, in front of their ideal clients. An ideal client is the kind of person that a service firm is ideally suited to serve. A value proposition is the reason that person will choose that service provider.
For example, let’s assume an IT consulting firm makes the claim that they can improve the productivity of their client’s staff by 500%. That is a pretty specific claim and it is targeted at the kind of company who wants to improve employee productivity. How might the IT consulting firm prove this claim?
A moment ago I suggested that most service firms use testimonials, case studies and documonials as proof statements. But which of these three is most likely to support a specific type of claim – like a 500% improvement in employee productivity? Let’s explore this a little bit.
Many service firms get testimonials from their clients. But when we dig into these a little bit, we often find almost no relationship between a company’s primary claim and their testimonials. Testimonials, in fact, often are the shallowest of proof statements. They typically sound like this: we used ABC consulting and we are happy with them.
Testimonials, the way most service firms use them, almost sound like endorsements, the kind of endorsements that professional athletes make. And we all know that endorsements are paid advertising, where the person endorsing a product is paid to say those kind words.
It is my strong sense that most testimonials do almost nothing to persuade inbound prospects that the company they are considering can actually do what they claim they can do. Testimonials may have their place in your marketing plan, but I wouldn’t count on them serving as an effective proof statement of a specific claim. And as you’ll see in just a moment, organic prospects choose to engage or withdraw based on the quality of the proof statement.
Case studies and documonials, on the other hand, might effectively support a service firm’s claims. In case you are not familiar with the term documonial, they are essentially a video-based case study. Case studies and documonials can be used to showcase how a specific client actually realized the claim.
Now you may not find this particularly surprising or earth-shattering. After all, a lot of service firms also use case studies. But what I’m about to share with you may be something you haven’t heard before.
The Inbound Journey
Before I share that insight with you, I want to explain a key concept that is critical for today’s modern digital marketer: the inbound journey. The inbound journey is the set of steps that most organic prospects will take as they move inbound toward your company, as they decide whether or not they will engage in dialogue with you.
The inbound journey I’m about to describe is nearly 100% digital in nature. In our experience, most organic prospects will try to remain as invisible as possible as they are conducing their due diligence.
It’s usually only after they’ve made up their minds that a service provider has ticked some very specific boxes that they then reach out for a conversation. We’ve watched this happen hundreds of times for us and for our clients and we now know what those steps look like that precede a conversation. Here they are:
- Anonymous – where they surf your website and sample your content without identifying themselves.
- Acknowledged – where they register for a content asset and submit their personal information.
- Engaged – where they spend time thinking about your ideas and how you can help them.
- Leaning-in – where they are predisposed to want to enter serious dialogue with you as soon as they have need and budget.
This is how the modern digital inbound journey works for us and for our clients.
When Proof Statement Appear In Digital Footprints
We came to see the stages of the inbound journey after analyzing the digital footprint of literally hundreds of inbound organic prospects. We deploy marketing automation for all of our clients as the foundation of marketing infrastructure. This allows us to see the digital footprint of the people who are in their CRM, such as Salesforce. After analyzing hundreds, possibly even thousands of digital footprints, we discovered a trend.
Testimonials had almost no bearing on whether or not an organic prospect, someone who is new to their CRM, reached out for a conversation. Time-on-page in the testimonials section of the website was often quite shallow, sometimes just a few seconds. More than that, we could not discover a clear correlation between an organic prospect visiting a testimonials page and then requesting a conversation.
But there was a strong correlation between a request for a meeting and pageviews of case studies and documonials. The correlation we discovered goes like this.
If an organic prospect:
- Encountered a blog-post on a specific topic that directed them to register for a deeper-dive content asset like an e-book or action guide on the same topic,
- If the prospect registered for that e-book or action guide,
- If there was a proof statement, like a case study or documonial, on the same topic as the blog-post and e-book and if the prospect viewed one of them,
- Then a request for a meeting usually ensued within 30 days or fewer of viewing the proof statement.
- What’s more, if the prospect was a good fit and had appropriate budget, a deal usually closed in roughly half the normal time and with much higher profit margins.
That is a powerful correlation. I want to be clear. This did not happen 100% of the time and it also did not always happen in this order. The inbound journey can often be circuitous and non-linear. Most organic prospects don’t think or act in a straight line.
But the key insight here is that the case study or documonial nearly always preceded the request for dialogue. The proof statement was the last thing the organic prospect seemed to need to convince them that a conversation was in order.
The conclusion we have drawn from this is as follows. Organic prospects want to do their own due diligence and want to see supporting evidence of a claim that is enticing to them BEFORE they choose to request dialogue.
The Implications For Service Firms
I believe there are three very important implications we can draw from this insight:
- You need to make a strong correlation between your content marketing topics and your proof statements because prospects will look for that proof once you’ve made the claim.
- You need to make this entire journey available to organic prospects in a digital space so they can feel as if they are in control of their journey.
- You can track these inbound prospects and be prepared to engage them in meaningful dialogue if you are anticipating their conversation request. This shortens sales cycles and gets your consultants to deals faster and with higher profits because the prospects are already persuaded that you are right for them.
I’d like to offer some suggested next steps here for this last point – anticipating the conversation.
First, I recommend that you get marketing automation properly deployed at your organization if you have not already done so because everything I’m talking about here is only made possible by way of a real marketing automation deployment.
Second, I recommend that you set up a digital funnel that allows you to track prospects who display certain types of behaviors, specifically what I outlined above. If your consultants are conducting their due diligence as organic prospects are coming inbound, things can move much faster once you enter dialogue.
Third, I’d like to recommend that you anticipate which consultants might be right for certain types of inbound prospects before those prospects reach out for a conversation. This also allows you to get to deals faster. If a consultant is aware that an organic prospect might be inbound in their direction, that consultant can reach out and connect with the prospect on LinkedIn, visit their website and even conduct their own research to be ready for the conversation.
Where To Go From Here
In this post I’ve shared some pretty compelling insights with you that you may not have heard before. But this is just the tip of the iceberg that you’ll find in an e-book I’ve developed called Ten Things Service Websites Must Do To Drive Revenue. If you want to close deals faster with organic prospects, I know this e-book will really help you.