Marketing your professional services firm today is fraught with challenges.
Yes, the internet enables a geographic reach that has broken down geographic barriers. And the ability to conduct research, as well as market to niche demographics, lends a new precision to an old craft.
But, these same technologies have also created obstacles. Pricing pressures abound. The ‘local advantage’ that service firms like lawyers, architects and engineers have enjoyed has been reduced. The world is at your doorstep, but the world itself has become smaller.
Knowing how to assemble the necessary toolkit to market your services can seem daunting — even more so when trying to figure out who you should be marketing to and how to do it with precision.
That is why we’re writing this series of blog posts: to help you develop smarter strategies to market your firm. From assessment to execution, you’ll learn a systematic approach that will help you both define your brand’s message and market it online. Though our approach will focus on the web, smart firms integrate their marketing activities into both online and offline channels. Where appropriate, we’ll discuss how the two complement one another.
Let’s start at the very beginning!
Planning your firm’s marketing strategy begins with a little navel-gazing. The five categories of questions we’re seeking answers to in this phase are:
- What are our brand’s core strengths? How does self-perception differ from what our clients really think of us?
- Who are our current clients and what do they buy from us?
- How are we acquiring them?
- Are there other types of clients we should be marketing to but aren’t? Conversely, are we spending precious resources marketing to the wrong client types?
- What tools are we relying on to do the firm’s marketing?
This post will center on the first two categories; we’ll discuss the rest in later posts in this series.
The Ancient Greeks considered self-awareness to be critical to living an enlightened life. So critical, in fact, that they inscribed the expression ‘Know Thyself’ as one of only 147 aphorisms found at The Temple of Apollo at Delphi.
Corporate self-knowledge is equally critical to effective marketing. We begin this first phase of our journey by taking stock of ourselves.
Who are your firm’s current clients and what sorts of services are they consuming?
There are misleading conclusions you must be aware of in this phase. The outsized personalities and skills of rainmaker partners often drive a firm’s reputation. The presence of a rainmaker on your staff, for instance, might bring in one type of work. But your firm, as a whole, might be strongest in other service areas. Be careful of these pitfalls and do a deeper dive by looking at your billings.
Look at your billings from two critical dimensions.
Billings should be looked at according to client and service area. First, break down billings by client. This will give you initial data on the types of clients you serve. From this initial list, take a look at which practice areas individual clients are using. Are large clients using many types of services? Or are your larger clients doubling down on specific known strengths of your firm?
The other way to use revenue data is to sort your billings by practice or service area. Nearly every billing package allows you to generate reports based on these criteria. This data offers the truest portrait of the types of services your firm is selling the most of. Besides taking this snapshot, though, it’s also useful to look at historical trends. Looking at billings by service area over the last six months vs, say, the last three years, yields different conclusions. The first might tell you what’s trending. The last gives you a sense for what the historical strengths of your firm are.
The result of looking at your billings from these two dimensions gives you a complete picture of what you’re selling. You will learn what services are most valued. You will also learn whether your reputation is either full-service or niche.
Supplement self-assessment with research.
Tracking billing data tells you what you’re making money at. It doesn’t always align with your firm or brand’s reputation, though. What’s the easiest way to find out what your customers think of you? Ask them.
You should be listening to your customers throughout your relationship with them. Including informal assessments into everyday interactions is easy. The next time you’re on a call with a client try ask them a question. “Hey, I know we’ve been doing a lot of XYZ sort of work for you over the last several months. What kind of job do you think we’re doing?” The answer you get might be illuminating. It might yield more anecdotal than empirical data, but it’s still a good way to start.
Beyond the anecdotal, though, there are a variety of inexpensive online tools that can give you more empirical feedback. Here are some ideas from the likes of Neil Patel, American Express and other experts.
Most of these methods rely on one of the following:
- Short online surveys from the likes of tools such as Survey Monkey or Zoomerang
- On-your-website surveys, which can be implemented using tools like Qualaroo
There are also tools which merge customer feedback with the power of social review sites, like Google My Business, and scores of others. GatherUp is one such tool. GatherUp integrates customer feedback into all aspects of your customer’s experience. The product incorporates ongoing feedback into your business processes. If your firm is getting positive feedback, for instance, the customer is asked to leave a social review. Negative feedback, though, triggers intervention on the part of the business. If your client relationship is troubled, GatherUp allows you to repair the damage. Early intervention often both saves the relationship and prevents negative online reviews.
Where are our clients coming from?
The previous exercises have attempted to help you determine who your firm’s clients are. But why did they become your clients in the first place? Learning the answer to this question can further confirm strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, it can inform future marketing plans.
It turns out that historical billing records are a good place to begin this investigation. And – since we’ve already been looking at those – we’ve already begun the process.
In the course of reviewing billing data, it should be easy to identify new clients and new jobs. Our goal is to find out why the firm won those new clients and/or why existing clients began new pieces of work with us.
After you’ve identified both new jobs and clients, determine what partner or associate has been managing their work. It may seem old school, but just asking the partner for background on the new job/client will probably give you the answers you’re looking for. If your colleague can’t give you firm answers, ask them to have a conversation with the client. In most circumstances, these answers will not be hard to find.
There are more sophisticated ways to attribute the source of new client work but – for professional services firms of almost all scales – doing some old gumshoe private investigation work will be practical and yield the deepest sorts of insights.
It probably goes without saying that, after you’ve collected as much information as you can about new firm work, you should put your results on a spreadsheet and start teasing out any obvious trends. This final step of research, combined with everything else we’ve discussed, should give you a very firm portrait of what sorts of clients your firm has been attracting and why they’ve become your clients.
At the beginning of this post on marketing assessment, we asked ourselves five questions. This post has answered the first three. The next post will explore how you can adjust your marketing and sales pipeline, to acquire new clients.