I was speaking with a prospective client the other day who said to me: “Randy we’re just not generating enough qualified leads to achieve our growth goals. We’ve done everything you’re supposed to do in digital, but it isn’t working.” The frustration in his voice was all too familiar to me.

I actually hear it a lot these days. Maybe you’re feeling the same way? A lot of service firm leaders are spending money, time and energy on digital marketing strategies. But the results are just not there.

In this thought piece, I’d like to outline 5 key principles that can help you build a highly effective digital marketing plan. These are the digital strategies that are really working for us and for our clients right now.

Key Take-Away:

The right digital marketing strategy helps you pull organic prospects into meaningful conversations.

What Is Digital Marketing Anyhow?

For decades, service firms went to market with just a handful of analog strategies.

  • They asked their clients for referrals.
  • They attended tradeshows
  • They spoke at conferences.
  • They advertised in highly targeted trade publications.
  • They joined industry associations and networked.
  • They formed partnerships and strategic alliances.
  • They bought lists and direct mailed people.
  • When all else failed, they cold-called prospects.

Then along came digital and suddenly marketing people found themselves overwhelmed with trying to keep up with all of the analog strategies while adding these onto the list:

  • Social media
  • Websites
  • Email marketing
  • Blogging
  • Webinars
  • Videos
  • E-books
  • White papers

With so many strategies and tactics to choose from, it’s no wonder that most service firms struggle with digital marketing. There’s simply no way you can do everything.

 

The 5 Key Digital Marketing Principles

I have some good news here. You don’t have to do everything. You can be highly successful in digital marketing just by focusing on these 5 key principles:

  • Understand the in-bound journey.
  • Deploy the right content plan.
  • Deploy the right technology infrastructure.
  • Deploy the best social media marketing strategy.
  • Measure the things that matter.

When I say “successful” here is what I mean. Our clients want to grow the number of prospects who are a good fit for their business and who are truly organic, having no knowledge of the service provider and no predisposition to say yes to working with them.

Our clients want to grow their prospect list so that there is a steady stream of them, so many in fact that they cannot work with all of them. They want to create more demand than they can fulfill.

This positions our clients to select their best new clients and deals, move up market and charge more per engagement. This makes our clients profitable and very stable. The five principles I just outlined have been very effective at achieving these goals.

 

Understand The In-Bound Journey

In case you haven’t heard this, I want to make sure I say this loud and clear. Today’s sophisticated service buyer does not want to be sold. They want to buy. They see themselves as 100% in control of their decision about who to select as their service provider.

Today’s service buyer wants to make up their own mind. They usually do not want to talk to a human being until very late in their decision-making process. They want to complete their due-diligence online and autonomously.

This means they are looking for a service provider, who is a good fit for their needs, relying on digital content. I call this the in-bound journey and I will virtually guarantee that there are thousands of prospects out there right now who need a service provider like you.

What does their journey look like?

  • 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 request to enter dialogue with your sales team to discuss a specific need or opportunity.

To be successful in digital marketing, you have to understand the digital in-bound journey.

 

Deploy The Right Content Strategy

Content is king in digital marketing. But this is where I see many service firms really struggling. When I look at their content strategies, I typically see a blog, a few gated assets and maybe some on-demand webinars. Often this content generates very little engagement, or and maybe worse, people register for it and then go dark.

To be successful in content marketing, you have to do two things really well. First, you have to focus on what matters to your prospective ideal client. Second, you have to build a content structure that allows them to warm up to you on their schedule. Let me explain.

When I look at the blog sites of a lot of service firms, it appears to me that they write about topics that matter to them, not so much to their ideal client. So why should a prospect give that content the time of day? Really successful content marketing focuses on three things: the goals, opportunities and challenges of ideal clients.

If you haven’t built an editorial calendar, that’s an important starting point. When you look at the topics in your editorial calendar, how do they match up to what matters to your ideal clients? If there is not a fit, you need to make a change.

Let me give you some definitions. A goal is something they absolutely must accomplish. An opportunity is something that excites their imagination and something they may fund if they have time and budget. A challenge is something that prevents them from achieving goals.

For you to be successful with content marketing, you have to build content that speaks to the goals, opportunities and challenges of ideal clients. But that’s not enough. You also need to speak to them in time increments that fit their schedule.

Most people who are in the early stages of the in-bound journey won’t spend a lot of time with your content. They are not willing to commit the time just yet. This is where blog-posts and other short-form content are really helpful. I think of this as a shallow-swim. The prospect isn’t ready to dive headlong just yet.

But when they have need, budget, timeframe and a reason to act, they’ll be looking for deeper insights. This is what I call the deep-dive. To allow people to binge on your content, you need deep-dive assets like e-books, webinars and action guides.

 

Deploy The Right Technology Infrastructure

Digital marketing will only be successful if you build the right technology infrastructure. What should be in your plans? We recommend four key pieces and use this acronym: CMS, MA, CRM, SMM.

CMS stands for content management system. This is the tool that allows you to manage your website and keep it updated with great new content all the time. We work in a number of different CMS systems, so please don’t assume that there is one perfect CMS out there. Many different CMS’s can do the job you need done.

MA stands for marketing automation. We have a lot of expertise in this area and recommend about 4 different types of platforms, depending on the needs and budgets of our clients. You can visit our website for more details in this area.

CRM stands for customer relationship manager. The CRM most of our clients tend to use is Salesforce. I’m not plugging Saleforce, but it is the number one tool our clients use.

SMM stands for social media manager. This is a relatively new tool set, like HootSuite and Oktopost, that helps service firms do more with less. Social media management tools also now report data back into marketing automation platforms.

 

Deploy The Right Social Media Marketing Strategy

Speaking of social media, this is an area where we see a lot of service firms missing the mark. I’ll admit that I am exceptionally biased toward LinkedIn. I know of several service firms who have tried to achieve success on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even Google-plus. Most of these firms have given up in disgust.

But LinkedIn is the real deal. It aggregates people who need services, have budget and are often open to considering new providers. If you don’t have a strategy to get the most from LinkedIn, this is where you should be focusing your energies.

 

Measure The Things That Matter

The problem with digital marketing is that it’s hard to know when you are achieving success. This is made even more difficult by the plethora of metrics that are built-in to most digital marketing platforms: clicks, views, shares and likes. With so much you could be measuring, what should you measure? What really indicates that your digital marketing plan is working?

The first and most obvious thing to measure is new organic clients. I also recommend that you measure the revenue and profits that come from these relationships. But before someone becomes a client, they have to go along that in-bound journey?

What should you be measuring there? I think there are three key metrics:

  • The number of organic prospects who are a good fit for your business. Your marketing automation platform should make this very clear.
  • Time on page for the content marketing areas of your website and specific assets that you know precede meaningful conversations.
  • Time on site for your website overall.

These three metrics have been they key indicators to us and to our clients that digital marketing is in fact generating organic prospects who will soon be ready for dialogue.

 

A Resource To Help You

The ideas you’ve encountered in this thought piece are just the beginning of what you’ll find in a great resource I’ve developed. I’ve written an an e-book called Ten Things Service Websites Must Do To Drive Revenue. This book is designed to help service leaders use digital marketing to grow revenue. I know this e-book will be a huge help to you.