If you work in business development for a B2B professional services firm, chances are you're used to selling the value of your company's advice. After all, that's what most service companies are built on — advice your consultants provide to clients; advice that helps client companies operate with optimal efficiency; advice that avoids costly mistakes, builds facilities for the future, attracts and retains the best talent, etc.
You might work for an architectural or engineering firm, or maybe an HR or compensation consultancy, or a third-party logistics provider. No matter the industry, the best professional service firms are those that give great advice because they’re highly specialized in terms of the clientele they serve and the tools they offer. They've learned that specialization leads to quality assurance, helps them to differentiate and produce higher margins, and makes it easier for them to convince prospects of their high degree of expertise.
The truth is, this expertise and specialization can be harnessed in many ways to help attract leads online. This post will help to explain how.
Lead Generation Then...
Think about what your business development funnel looks like — especially your most valuable sources for new business leads. For perspective, we're going to take a short trip using our "Way-back Machine." In 2007, professional services consultancy Wellesley Hills conducted a study, What Lead Generation Tactics Work, aimed at identifying the top tactics for generating business leads. At that point, they revealed that traditional methods still dominated the top five, leading with referrals, cold calling, and attending events. You can't really blame the respondents; digital marketing and inbound methodologies were still brand new concepts, and very few marketing professionals knew much about harnessing the power of search to grow online attraction.
But in the world of business development, 2007 is ancient history. The Great Recession accelerated already-fast-moving trends in evolving buyer-driven behaviors, and the vast expansion of technology has facilitated turning the evolution into a revolution. This is especially true as it relates to marketing automation software. According to Forrester’s Marketing Automation Technology Forecast, spending on marketing automation tools will likely surpass $25 billion by 2023, implying a 14% annual growth rate. And the functionalities of that technology continue to expand, including the integration of hundreds of supporting apps, various ways to extract granular data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, chatbots, video, and the list goes on. It all leads to enhancing the customer experience by making the entire buyer’s journey more seamless and personalized. Today, the marketplace warning should be "seller beware," because the buyer is in charge.
If you were asked to detail where your leads are going to come from in 2019, would your answer sound eerily similar to those in the 2007 study? If that's the case, it means you're likely missing out on the 76% of all B2B buyers who want “content that speaks directly to their company” — content they’re now exponentially more likely to obtain through online search and social media.
The Future of Lead Generation
So what should you be thinking about to be well-positioned for lead attraction in 2019?
1. Know Your Points of Difference
Understand why your best clients choose you, continue to work with you, and why they're willing to make a public testimony for the value you bring them. Look for ways to create quantifiable evidence that reinforces client attitudes. One of the best ways to do this is ensuring your website is optimized and targeted to reach your ideal buyers. When a new visitor lands on your website, it needs to immediately communicate your point of difference, have easy navigation, and be continuously updated using a Growth-Driven Design (GDD) approach.
2. Commit to Identifying & Communicating With Your Target Personas
Get serious about identifying who your best prospects are, how they think, and what matters most to them. Use the knowledge of their critical motivations to fully flesh out the target personas that you want to attract. Think about who in the vertical markets will be key influencers and the decision makers they'll influence, right down to the titles and their respective responsibilities. A deep knowledge of these people will set you up to develop your content strategy, which leads to point #3.
3. Content Strategy
Knowledge of the key questions and pain points of target personas is the best foundation for a meaningful content strategy. Take your persona-based foundation and look for opportunities to illustrate the services you want your potential clients to be more aware of. Demonstrate your authority and expertise in your industry with relevant blog articles, social media posts and video content (a must in today’s marketing landscape). Also include gated content that requires visitors to exchange some of their personal information, such as a name, email address and company name. Some examples include infographics, eBooks, whitepapers, checklists and more. And be sure to demonstrate your point of difference through examples, testimonials and customer case studies — let others do the convincing for you.
4. Branding Thought Leaders
Use content publishing and promotion to spotlight the practices and specialization of leaders in your firm, branding them as experts that elevate your firm’s reputation. LinkedIn is the top social platform for sharing B2B insights, so be sure to leverage this professional network to its fullest. To make sure you get the most reach, create a content distribution checklist for all the ways you can reach potential leads, including email, video, advanced content pieces, account-based marketing and more.
5. Referrals 2.0.
Make it easy for clients, peers and friends of your firm to make referrals via social media and online content sharing. Give them plenty of simple opportunities to like, share, post, comment, and otherwise toot your horn to the online world, which will benefit you much further than the referrals generated, since Google will be watching along with prospects.
Use marketing automation technology, such as HubSpot, to help execute a sustainable content publication strategy and to remain consistent in your approach to content marketing and lead attraction. With the right technology, you can establish workflows, schedule and publish content, send highly targeted emails, view detailed engagement analytics and more. To maximize the effectiveness of your automation platform, make sure it offers a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool or that it can easily integrate with your existing CRM. Most importantly, stay committed! There's nothing worse for a professional service provider than publicly demonstrating a new strategic intent and then abandoning it due to lack of resources, time commitment or insufficient planning.
While the buyer is driving the purchase process, there's never been a better time for professional service sellers to get progressive about understanding buyer behaviors. Focus on analyzing what your buyers are doing to build an approach that makes your company difficult (if not impossible) to ignore.
Need assistance in developing your strategic marketing plan and attracting highly qualified leads for your professional service firm? At Weidert, we specialize in lead gen for complex industries and can tailor a solution for you. Reach out for a free consultation, and check out our guide on How to Prepare Your Website for Inbound Marketing below. It has lots of practical tips to get you started.
With 18+ years in senior management roles at Fortune 500® and medium-sized companies, Greg has deep marketing and sales experience with CPGs and manufacturing. He leads strategic initiatives with clients and is involved in developing client inbound marketing plans. Greg holds an M.B.A. from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management and a B.A. in Economics from Lawrence University.