In days gone by, most professional service firms would start their new client relationships in the analog world. We used to produce conferences and events, hold seminars and shake hands at tradeshows. Even our non-in-person promotions were analog. We would print advertisements and newsletters to mail to people with a real, honest-to-goodness, U.S. Postal Service stamp. Sounds funny now, doesn’t it? Oh, the good ol’ days.

Most relationships now begin in the digital world and stay there until very late in the sales cycle. This is what I have come to call the invisible relationship. If your firm is struggling to acquire ideal new clients, it is very likely because you are struggling to form meaningful invisible relationships. This is the key to new client acquisition. Let’s explore how to do this.

A quick story

When I was a poor college student in the 1980s (yes, I know that dates me), I could afford very little entertainment. But there was one thing I could afford — the one cent Columbia Records subscription. For one penny, I could get 17 albums or CDs on a promise to buy 12 more at regular price over the next year. How could I resist a deal like that?

My buddy Jeff, who possessed encyclopedic knowledge of all things classic rock, was an audiophile like me. I ordered my 17 CDs and invited Jeff over for an adult beverage and a listening marathon. Late into the night, we listened to CD after CD and pored over the artwork and liner notes. Like I said — I was broke.

Key Take-Away:

If your firm is struggling to acquire ideal new clients, it is very likely because you are struggling to form meaningful invisible relationships.

I noticed something on the back of the CD jackets and brought it to Jeff’s attention. I noted that most CDs had three letters in bold print. Sometimes the letters were AAD, sometimes they were ADD and very, very rarely at that time some were DDD. It piqued my curiosity.

Jeff explained to me that these letters stood for the three phases of how music was produced at that time. The first letter stood for how it was recorded — either in digital or analog, using old-fashioned tape machines. The second letter stood for how it was mixed, whether it was on an analog system or a digital system created from tapes converted to digital.

The final letter stood for how it was mastered. While vinyl records were inherently analog products, CDs were inherently digital. This is why the final letter was always a capital D. All source materials were converted to digital in the last step.

Why do I tell you this story? Because this process mirrors how we form relationships today.


The DDA relationship process

I believe that we now form meaningful relationships using a DDA model. The first D represents how prospective clients become aware of us. The second D represents how we nurture those relationships until they are ready to convert. The A represents the actual human interaction that occurs as prospects convert to clients.

Most prospects now learn about either a specific offering from a service firm or the service firm itself in the digital world. There are literally thousands of small- to-medium-sized professional service firms today and virtually all of them use content marketing, with varying degrees of success, to create awareness of their brands.

They are using blogs, social media networks and groups, infographics, email newsletters and even video channels to engage the interest of prospective new clients. This is what I call the first D: digital awareness.

The first D is relatively easy to create. There are all sorts of people looking for good ideas in virtually every professional services market niche. These people will gladly consume your content, fill out your registration forms, watch your videos and spend time on your website.

But when it comes to conversions — well that’s not so easy. I believe that it is the middle D — digital nurturing — that accounts for most of these non-conversions.


The middle D is the source of most struggles

Nurturing digital relationships requires a great deal of effort. This is what I would characterize as the transition from lead nurturing to content marketing. I want to make a distinction here that I think is at the heart of the conversion issue.

Lead nurturing tactics, like blog posts, newsletters and infographics, are sort of like a shallow swim. Prospective clients dip their toes in your content, but they don’t take the big plunge.

Content marketing tactics, like webinars (to some degree), white papers, books and action guides, are a deep dive, where prospective clients spend a great deal of time with your content and your ideas. This is where you shape their notions of the best possible way to achieve their goals, realize their opportunities and overcome their challenges.

Most importantly, this is where they gain affinity for you and confidence in your knowledge, expertise and ability to help them.

If you are struggling to convert digital relationships to analog, where leads enter meaningful dialogue with your sales team, it is very likely that your deep dive content is not producing leaning-in behavior, where prospects deeply desire to take next steps with you.


A resource to help you

I see this all the time. I talk to companies who have thousands of followers on social media and have large newsletter lists. But when it comes to meaningful sales conversations, well those are few and far between. Usually this happens because their deep-dive content misses the mark in these critical areas:

  • It does not speak directly to the goals, opportunities and challenges of ideal clients.
  • It does not contain enough rich ideas to inspire prospects, giving them reason to desire more and stimulating leaning-in behavior. 
  • It does not provide a step-by-step approach that demonstrates mastery of how to make sense out of chaos and what steps to take.
  • The structure and presentation of the content is not gated, tracked and scored in such a way that it maximizes opportunities to enter conversations.

These are just the beginning of the ideas that we’ve discovered over the last year or so about how to use content marketing much more effectively. In fact, I have distilled this knowledge into a deep-dive action guide called 7 Steps To A Content Marketing Program That Consistently Yields Ideal Clients. This action guide contains seven videos and seven downloadable tools that you can apply to your content marketing programs.

This free resource shows you exactly how to do what I’m talking about here. If you want make your content marketing programs even better, turning them into a systematic machine that pulls prospects toward meaningful sales conversations, I encourage you to register for this free action guide.