How to market professional services: Q&A with author Lee Fredericksen

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While the fundamentals of B2B sales & marketing are relatively constant across industries, there’s just something different about selling to professional services firms. Everybody else sells something they make, but these guys (us included) sell what they do. Their people are the product. It’s a unique business that takes a unique sales & marketing approach.

I was very impressed with a recent book written by Hinge Marketing, focused on best practices for marketing to a professional services segment or prospect base. I sat down last week with Dr. Lee Fredericksen, managing partner of Hinge and author of Online Marketing for Professional Services to talk more about the book and this unique sales & marketing challenge.

Q: What are some of the primary differences in marketing professional services vs other products?
There are two major differences. First, as a marketer you have less control of the content and nature of your product. Someone who is selling cars doesn’t have to convince the cars to behave a certain way! The car never comes in with a bad attitude. Also, the professional often operates autonomously or in the client’s environment, for long periods of time.

The second major difference is that it is very challenging to differentiate between professional services firms. For example, different accounting firms or marketing companies can appear very similar to someone who is not an insider. In reality they may be very different.

Q: How has professional services marketing changed in the past 3-5 years?
We are in the middle of a dramatic shift that is moving professional services into the online marketing world. This is driven by a combination of technology that enables it, changes in expectations and demographics. Many people in the workplace now do not know a time where there wasn’t an online world, so they expect to be educated online.

Also, where a provider is located is much less of a factor than it was even a few years ago. As a result, a growing number of firms are finding a lot of success with online marketing. This is driving a strong shift in that direction. Those refusing to notice this change are going to find themselves at a distinct competitive disadvantage.

Q: What are three things that the most successful professional services marketers are doing today?
First is using a content marketing model. In this model they are offering educational content to attract visitors to their website and promoting it through social media. Premium content is available to visitors who provide their contact information in order to receive their guide, research study or eBook. They are using this strategy as a way of nurturing potential clients.

If you are asking yourself “Why would I share my knowledge for free?” think of it this way: in traditional sales the challenge has always been trying to qualify people. In content marketing you are educating them on your approach. Hence, you are building trust at the same time that you are pre-qualifying them. Those who don’t find your content of interest or value are generally not a good fit with your service, whereas those who do know exactly what they’re getting before they start working with you.

The second thing that is proving successful for professional services is using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to attract website visitors. SEO has gotten a dubious reputation because of some of the “black hat” techniques used by people looking to take a shortcut. Unfortunately, some professional services firms have overlooked what is a very valuable tool.

The third important tool to focus on is analytics. This is what separates those who are dabbling in online marketing from those who are serious and producing significant results.

A “bonus” tool is social media. The more successful firms have figured out how to use social media both to promote their content and establish online relationships within their target audience.

Q: What kind of results are they seeing?
Our research shows that the firms who get at least 40% of their leads online are growing 4x faster than those who do not get any online leads. They are also up to 2x as profitable. The combination of faster growth and greater profitability is having a tremendous impact on these firms’ bottom line. It is producing a very good return on investment if they do online marketing correctly.

The problem comes with the firms that dabble in online marketing by spending dollars and time on activities such as social media, a new website that isn’t optimized, and sporadically producing content. Many fail to do it at a level that produces results, even though they sink substantial costs and time into it.

Q: How do you see professional services marketing continuing to evolve over the next 3-5 years?
We see a continued acceleration this coming year: 66% of firms are increasing their online marketing budget and the average increase is 56%. Almost half (46%) have created a new website within the last year, so there is a dramatic shift towards online marketing.

We see there’s going to be online winners who are growing faster and gain a competitive advantage, and there’s going to be online losers who are left at the starting gate.

Q: How has this book in particular helped promote your business and build your own pipeline? Would you recommend writing a book to other firms, and why?
Our book Online Marketing for Professional Services has been a tremendous boost to us because it has allowed us to showcase our research-based approach and explain exactly what works. We feel that it’s important to be educational. We are not afraid to share the “secret sauce” to build trust and establish a relationship. As a result of that, we receive well-qualified leads that know exactly what they are getting when they work with Hinge.

Incidentally, we are also receiving referrals from people who have read our educational materials, but haven’t actually worked with us. About 70% of our business comes from our online content marketing in the form of inbound leads.

A book has long been an excellent calling card to establish the expertise of individuals and firms. I think the secret to a successful book is to have enough promotion with it so that it reaches a large enough segment of your target audience to have an impact. Overall, I would recommend it if firms are going to make a big enough commitment to promote it – do it right or don’t do it at all.

About Lee
Lee Frederiksen, Ph.D. is Managing Partner of Hinge, a leading branding and marketing firm that specializes in professional services (www.hingemarketing.com). He’s started and run three high-growth companies, including an $80-million runaway success. Lee has worked with many global brands, including American Express, TimeLife, CapitalOne, monster.com and Yahoo! He can be reached at [email protected].

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Matt Heinz
Prolific author and nationally recognized, award-winning blogger, Matt Heinz is President and Founder of Heinz Marketing with 20 years of marketing, business development and sales experience from a variety of organizations and industries. He is a dynamic speaker, memorable not only for his keen insight and humor, but his actionable and motivating takeaways.Matt’s career focuses on consistently delivering measurable results with greater sales, revenue growth, product success and customer loyalty.

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