2016 is nearly upon us. We’re gearing up for our best year ever in business. Over the last few years, we’ve put several strategies in place that have begun to pay off nicely. In fact, I’ve come to see this as almost a three-part process: strategy, tools and metrics.
Strategies are a plan for acquiring and serving clients in a highly profitable way that ultimately produces delight and long-term client retention. The right strategy builds a powerful brand, if we concede that a brand, in the professional services space, is essentially a reputation.
But strategy needs to be paired with great tools. For service-based organizations, the cloud has changed what we offer and how we go to market and serve clients. After tools we need metrics to measure our progress against goals. If you want to have your best year ever, you need the right strategy, tools and metrics. I’d like to share with you what’s working today so you can make 2016 your best year yet.
Our clients are seeking to be much more scientific with their marketing these days.
Our exclusive focus at my company is on serving and growing professional services businesses. So the strategies I’m about to discuss are uniquely related to service-based organizations.
To my way of thinking, there are a few key questions that a great service-based strategy should address:
- Who is our ideal client?
- What services do our clients need?
- How do we package our services so they most likely meet our clients’ needs and allow us to earn strong profits?
- How do we most effectively go to market and tell our story so we acquire the right ideal clients and avoid clients who are not a great fit?
- How do we retain these great clients for life so we have the greatest impact on them and they in turn offer us the greatest economic impact?
In my experience, when you ask the right questions, you put yourself in the best position to discover great answers. I really do think these are the right questions for service-based businesses who want to have very happy clients, consistent growth and profits that are 5 to 7 times greater than industry averages.
When you develop the best answers to these questions, you’ll realize several benefits. Your clients will actively refer you and speak highly about what you do. Your staff will enjoy working with your clients so it will be much easier to retain key staff. Your business will be much more valuable, which will produce attractive options for stakeholders, such as a liquidity event or even a transfer of equity on an earn-out schedule.
Of these questions, there are two that are clearly marketing related, my core area of expertise. First, how do we package our services so they most likely meet our clients’ needs and allow us to earn strong profits? And second, how do we most effectively go to market and tell our story so we acquire the right ideal clients and avoid clients who are not a great fit? I’d like to focus on these two questions for just a moment.
Let’s take this first topic, packaging services. I’ve watched service-based companies struggle with this question for years. Once you have a profile of who your ideal client is and what they need, then the question becomes how do you serve them? What do you offer them and when do you offer it?
There are essentially two options here. The first is to list a menu of services that clients can pick from. In this model, consultants usually conduct discovery at the onset of the client relationship and that leads to a scope of services and then to a formal agreement.
This model still works. But it’s slow, time-consuming and it doesn’t really fit today’s self-service buyer. In this model, prospects can’t really see the whole picture of what you offer (features, pricing, timelines) until after they’ve gone through discovery. The risk to this model is that a lot of people won’t go through a time-intensive discovery process unless they are highly confident that it will be worth their time. In this model, prospects can’t window-shop your services online and then engage. This is clearly the preference we see for today’s sophisticated service buyer.
The second option is to organize services into packages, usually around a standard set of features for each package. It is pretty common now to see packaged services along the line of bronze, silver, gold and titanium. Usually the bronze package is entry level and the titanium is far more customized. The service fees increase as the package features increase.
These days we are advocating for packaged services with our clients. This doesn’t work in every client model, especially when consulting engagements are completely customized and the average fee-per-deal is greater than a million dollars. But these packages do work for many business models and they are highly effective, if you build them properly.
We recommend packaged services for a few reasons. First, it allows in-bound clients to do their own research and start to think about how their needs match up to your offerings. Second, it expedites the sales funnel. If you put pricing ranges on your various packages, clients will often self-select and gravitate toward a particular package.
Third, it allows for an easier sales process for consultants who are managing client in-take. When clients are picking from a package, the entire quoting system can be streamlined. This means you no longer have to create long and complex scope of service documents that are laborious and time-consuming for consultants to build.
Another vexing question for many service-based companies is: how do we go to market and tell our story so we acquire the right clients and avoid the wrong ones. Here is what I see working today.
Most of our clients are now using digital marketing strategies to pull prospective ideal clients along an in-bound journey. The old days of dialing for dollars and pitching are pretty much dead. This simply doesn’t work. Today’s buyer is much more sophisticated and wants to control their own journey.
We typically see four parts to the in-bound journey:
- Anonymous – where prospects visit your website, read blog-posts or consume other types of content without identifying themselves.
- Acknowledged – where prospects register for gated content assets and identify themselves.
- Engaged – where prospects register for multiple gated assets and spend time thinking about your ideas.
- Leaning-in – where prospects are convinced you are right for them and are ready to engage in dialogue.
So the question becomes, what can you do to expedite this process so the right people self-select into dialogue? Here is what we see after analyzing the digital footprint of literally thousands of in-bound prospects for our clients.
Prospects want ideas and insights that can help them achieve their goals faster, more efficiently and with lower risks. This is why you need a content strategy that gives prospects what they need at every phase of the in-bound journey.
The first part of this strategy is to make sure you are sharing insights where prospects who fit your ideal client profile tend to aggregate online. This might include blog-sites, industry publications, associations or other places. But it absolutely includes LinkedIn.
We have not found a better solution today than LinkedIn for sharing great ideas that entice the right people to take their in-bound journey in your direction. LinkedIn’s groups tend to pull like-minded people together who are interested in common goals.
Now I know that LinkedIn groups can sometimes be quite spammy and filled with garbage posts. But it is also true that LinkedIn is now our number-one source for new prospects moving in-bound toward our brand. Most importantly, some of the prospects are a perfect fit for us.
The key point here is to have both a shallow-swim and deep-dive approach to your content. A shallow-swim is like a short blog-post that a person can read in just a few minutes. A deep-dive is a gated asset that a person might spend several hours with and then even more time thinking about it.
Now let’s talk about the tools you need to go to market and measure your progress. We see three essential tools these days and one optional tool that can be quite handy. The three essential tools are a content management system (CMS), marketing automation and customer relationship manager (CRM). The optional tool is a social media management system.
For CMS’s, we see several options today that our clients are using. Wordpress is the most popular CMS, but it is often full of security holes. There are literally hundreds of CMS’s available today. The most important thing is that it fits your needs, is easy to use and allows you to publish content quickly and easily. It’s also important that the CMS allow for easy tie-in to your marketing automation system.
For marketing automation, there are several great tools available today. There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to choosing and using a marketing automation platform. I don’t have time in this article to give you details on this, but I’ve written a lot of other content about it on our website.
As for CRM’s, there are just a handful of key players. Most of our clients tend to deploy Salesforce. We are Salesforce power users. One thing that is important is that your marketing automation platform should tie-in seamlessly with your CRM.
Now let’s talk about the metrics you need to measure your progress. Traditionally, the marketing function at most service firms is asked to do two things: manage the brand and generate leads. Usually brand management is not all that measurable for service firms, unless you are simply measuring brand awareness, which we consider to be the weakest indicator of potential growth.
Measuring leads, on the other hand, is imminently quantifiable. But the problem is that marketing and business development’s definition of a lead are often quite different. We set the following benchmark with our clients for what constitutes a true lead.
- Need – they have a need for which your products and services are a good fit.
- Budget – they can easily afford your services.
- Timeline – they have a specific timeline in which they must act.
- Reason – they have a specific reason for taking action.
- Dialogue – they are willing to enter dialogue with you and move toward a proposal.
So the first metric we recommend is the number of true leads the marketing function needs to generate to fill sales pipelines.
All of our clients today are seeking to be much more scientific with their marketing. As much as they are using predictive analytics for other parts of their company, they are now seeking to do the same with marketing. They want to know they can pull certain levers and consistently achieve certain outcomes.
This is why the second metric matters just as much as the first. The second metric is client conversion. If marketing generates one thousand leads but none of them close, this is a problem. Over time, you should be able to establish a correlation between the number of true leads you generate and the number of clients who convert. This makes your marketing much more scientific.
While the end of the in-bound journey is the big goal and is the most measurable phase, the other stages are also measurable. This is why we recommend that you closely monitor two other key metrics: time-on-site and time-on-page. These two metrics are indicators that your content is compelling and is moving your prospects toward leaning-in status, where they are predisposed to enter dialogue.
How To Do This
To help you have the best year ever in 2016, I have a few options for you.
First, if you haven’t yet deployed marketing automation, check out this action guide 7 Steps To Optimize Marketing Automation For Service Firms.
Second, if you want to improve your content marketing capabilities, check out this action guide 7 Steps To A Content Marketing Program That Consistently Yields Ideal Clients.
Third, if you want to improve your in-bound journey, check out this e-book Ten Things Service Websites Must Do To Drive Revenue.
I know all of these content assets will really help you take the right steps forward.