In my first article on this topic, I built the business case for why your firm should adopt managed services and why digital marketing should front-end the sales cycle. I stated that you should set three key goals for your digital marketing efforts: increase your win-rates, create buy-in to your approach and retain clients long-term. This is how you realize EBITDA that is well above industry averages.
But you might be wondering how to use digital marketing to accomplish these goals? Digital marketing can feel very foreign or very familiar, depending on how closely you’ve monitored the trends. Most of us recognize great digital marketing when we see it. Yet we probably don’t understand what went into it.
In this article, I want to change that. I want to give you a behind-the-scenes view of how to do digital marketing very effectively today, specifically for managed services. What I’m about to share with you is based on real-world experience, not theory.
These insights come from having built and executed numerous managed services marketing plans for mid-size professional service firms. These 10 strategies account for multiple millions of dollars in managed service sales in several different industries. Let me show you what works.
THERE ARE TWO KEY PARTS TO THE STRATEGY: INFRASTRUCTURE MARKETING AND OUTBOUND MARKETING
GETTING THE STRATEGY RIGHT
To effectively market managed services, there are two key parts to the strategy: infrastructure marketing and outbound marketing.
Managed services infrastructure marketing includes:
- Ideal client profile
- The promise
- Clear managed service descriptions
- Client testimonials
- Thought leadership content
Managed services outbound marketing includes:
- The ultimate digital marketing stack
- Content marketing
- Website marketing
- Email marketing
- Social media marketing
Here is the difference between infrastructure marketing and outbound marketing. Infrastructure marketing is what you do to prepare to go to market and to pull prospects through the sales funnel once they begin to lean-in. This is like preparing for a feast. You want to make sure you guests have a great time once they arrive.
Outbound marketing is what you do to get them to lean-in and consider your firm. This is like inviting people, on a consistent basis, to join the feast. Both infrastructure and outbound marketing are designed to accelerate autonomous movement through the sales funnel which includes these stages:
Awareness: a prospect becomes aware of your brand, services and people.
Consideration: a prospect considers how you can help them.
Interest: a prospect enters dialogue and requests a proposal.
Evaluation: a prospect evaluates your proposal against their needs and competitive offerings.
Selection: a prospect accepts your proposal and moves to next steps.
In this article, I want to give you insights into how to build the best managed services infrastructure marketing strategy. In my next article, I’ll provide insights into how to develop a great outbound marketing strategy.
IDEAL CLIENT PROFILE
The first step to take when building an effective marketing plan for managed services is to get clarity about who you are targeting. This is best developed through an ideal client profile. There are two parts to an ideal client profile: demographics and psychographics.
Demographics describe those characteristics that are external to an ideal client. These can include industry, title, responsibility, age, education, annual income and the like. These become very important later when you build email marketing lists and social media strategies.
Psychographics describe those characteristics that are internal, usually state-of-mind. Psychographics are best defined as goals, opportunities and challenges of ideal clients. Once you’ve defined your demographics, I recommend that you gather your best and brightest minds and ask them about the goals, opportunities and challenges of people who fit the demographics.
Because managed service sales-cycles can be quite long, it is advisable to develop a profile of differing buyer influences: such as technical buyer, economic buyer and decision-maker. In many instances, different types of buyers have different motivations and it’s important to be cognizant of this as you build your promise, service descriptions and thought leadership content.
AN IDEAL CLIENT PROFILE HELPS YOU GET CLARITY ABOUT WHO YOU WANT TO TARGET AND WHAT MATTERS TO THEM
Step two is to develop your promise. The nature of selling professional services is promise. Because services are intangibles, service buyers need to have a great deal of confidence that when they hand you money they’ll get something valuable in return.
I believe managed service programs should make two promises: promise of outcomes and promise of benefit. A promise of outcomes is best expressed in quantifiable terms and within a defined time period. Here are examples of quantifiable outcomes by service industries:
- Accounting: our clients, on average, pay 37% less in taxes than in prior years.
- IT Consulting: our average client realizes a 28% productivity increase within 24 months.
- Management Consulting: most clients improve EBITDA by 14% within 36 months.
- Legal: we win 87.6% of all our trials and arbitrations.
- Coaching: clients improve employee retention by 62% within 18 months of our program.
You may or may not promote a promise of outcome on your website or through other digital means. In fact, it will be crucial to decide when to introduce the quantifiable promise. Some of our clients choose to do this once they are in sales dialogue by including a specific projection in their proposal. What is important is that you can legitimately make the quantifiable claim and that you can back it up with hard data, case studies and client testimonials.
A promise of benefit usually is not quantifiable. But it is just as important, maybe more important, than a promise of outcomes. A promise of benefit is often psychological in nature and speaks to a state-of-mind or strong emotion. Here are examples of promises of benefit by service industry:
- Accounting: keep more of your hard-earned money.
- IT Consulting: stay on the cutting-edge to beat competitors.
- Management Consulting: preserve your legacy for future generations.
- Legal: gain the peace of mind that comes from having the best lawyers on your side.
- Coaching: retain the talent you need to realize your dreams.
Usually we encourage our clients to include a promise of benefit on their website and in other places, especially LinkedIn. Make sure your promises appeal to your ideal client.
CLEAR MANAGED SERVICE DESCRIPTIONS
Step three is to develop clear managed services descriptions. To accelerate prospects through your managed service sales funnel, you need service descriptions that help them understand what you have to offer.
Remember, today’s sophisticated buyer wants to take 90% or more of their journey independent of a human being. Those who are seriously considering your firm will closely scrutinize the managed service offerings on your website. Even if they are referred by a current client or partner, the first place they’ll look is your website. What’s more, you may not even know they’re looking.
These are the key areas where you need to describe what a client will receive:
- A service overview
- Who the service is for
- Why you developed the service
- The features and benefits of the service (a great place to provide your promise of benefit)
- Your approach to delivering the service
- The deliverables of the service
- The pricing and terms, including a pricing matrix for different service tiers
On this last point, pricing, our clients are evenly split with some who refuse to show pricing on their website or other public places while others put it out there. We show pricing on our website because we want to make it clear how much we charge. There is nothing worse than to get into dialogue with a prospect only to discover that they have only half the budget needed for our services.
In this day and age, I believe powerful people don’t want to be sold. They want to buy. They see themselves as in control the process. So the more you can do to make it clear to them what they can expect, the faster they’ll move through your sales funnel.
Step four is to develop proof statements, like client testimonials and case studies. These are crucial to accelerating the sales funnel. Managed service agreements require a long-term commitment from the client. So the question becomes, what gives them confidence to sign a 12-month or longer contract?
In our experience, nothing eases the mind of the economic buyer and the person with signature authority more than proof statements from people and companies similar to them. We recommend proof statements that include these parts:
- The client situation – why they were considering the service.
- Your recommendations and why you made these.
- The service package the client acquired and why they did so.
- Your approach to delivering the services including any obstacles you encountered.
- The results the client has realized after a certain period of time, usually a year.
THOUGHT LEADERSHIP CONTENT
Step five is to develop thought leadership content that proves you are the expert. I want to make an important distinction here between the production of content pieces and the development of ideas to go into content pieces. Before you develop actual content, you need to brainstorm the ideas that will go into the content.
Far too many professional service firms totally skip this step and that’s a huge mistake. Here is the best strategy we’ve discovered to develop a set of rich ideas and insights to populate an annual editorial calendar, which is a best-practice.
Organizations who deliver primarily managed services usually face the same set of challenges over and over again. Learning to solve these problems and deliver real value and impact to the client produces a vitally important by-product: wisdom.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the 10,000-hour principle. If you want to be an expert at virtually anything, you need to do it for 10,000 hours. While only a few people on your team might have 10,000 hours of experience in a particular area, I would wager that collectively your organization has many times more than that.
The collective wisdom and experience of your team is inherently valuable – if you organize and distill it into thought leadership content. There are two key steps to consider here:
- Create the best advice possible for your ideal clients’ top goals, opportunities and challenges.
- Develop a content marketing plan that is targeted toward places in the digital ecosystem where prospective ideal clients tend to hang-out.
I’ll explain how to target ideal prospects in my next article. But first I want to address the topic of creating great advice. Most of what passes for content marketing and thought leadership today is simply noise. This is why you have to take a different approach.
I recommend that you make a list of your ideal clients’ top 5 goals, opportunities and challenges and make these as specific as possible. Then gather your best and brightest minds and ask them what their advice would be to address the goals, opportunities and challenges.
Document this advice into a set of answers to these key questions:
- If an ideal client is trying to achieve this goal and they have these resources at their disposal, what is our best advice about how to achieve the goal?
- If an ideal client is trying to realize this opportunity and they have these constraints, what is our best advice about how to realize the opportunity?
- If an ideal client is trying to overcome this challenge and they have tried and failed in these ways, what is our best advice about how to overcome the challenge?
The answers to these questions creates a treasure trove of advice from your best and brightest people. This is how you create thought leadership that pulls prospects through the sale funnel. Great content marketing is irresistible to ideal prospects because it talks about things they care about deeply.
In my next article on managed services, I’ll get into the outbound marketing strategies we recommend. I’ll cover how to use digital marketing to promote managed services today and open up a huge sales funnel for your firm.