The future of professional service marketing and the industry it serves will be radically different in ten years. Changing clients’ demands, employee expectations, and rapid technological developments are just a few of the factors that will create a far different future for business-to-business services firms.
Ultimately, these factors, with technology in the lead, may even challenge the very nature of the business of professional services. But that’s a topic for another day.
An Age of Disruption
Many industries and business models are at risk of being disrupted due to rapid technological developments, enabling new business models, replacing old distribution channels and changing the way people and businesses interact.
At this moment, we see ground-breaking disruption taking place across most industries. Consider the list of Fortune 1000 companies. Over the last 40 years, starting in 1973, major changes have taken place. By 1983, one-third of these companies have fallen off the list. By 2013, only 30 percent of the original companies remain on the list. This pace of change will continue to increase as only a third of today’s major companies are expected to survive the next 25 years.
These changes are driven by megatrends that have far-reaching, interrelated consequences for businesses, economies, industries, societies and individuals. Combined, they are causing massive transformational shifts. Business-to-business and professional services firms will not be spared.
Digital technology developments are the leading disrupter, fed by social, mobile, cloud, big data, artificial intelligence and growing demand for “anytime-anywhere” access to information. Other causes include changing global demographics, an increase in entrepreneurship and innovation, which is closing the gap between mature and developing economies, and the movement of economic centers from West to East and North to South.
Professional services like architecture, engineering, construction, accounting, legal, and consulting have not been significantly impacted by these technology developments. But all signs are there that real change is coming, and that the industry is at the gates of a digital transformation process. The biggest impact might not just come from new ways of organizing and delivering professional services, but also the very nature of the “practical expertise” that professionals deliver.
But the key is to see the imminent digitization of professional service, not as a threat, but as an opportunity.
Progressive firms, those that are willing to see technology as an enabler to reinvent the way business is done, including their marketing and service delivery, have an opportunity to gain a valuable first-mover advantage.
The pace of change within professional services is only going to accelerate. Long-term success will require that practice leaders improve their business models continuously, which requires culture and mindset changes, and very flexible organizational structures. When implementing new technologies, firms should think less, do more, be less risk-averse and implement trial and error approaches.
The Keys to Effective Marketing for Professional Services Firms
The way buyers find and select professional services firms is evolving as more and more companies look online for reputable firms. Today, business professionals are just as likely to turn to Google for information on business-to-business (B2B) services as they are to use it to find a new restaurant.
Research has revealed that high-growth professional services firms tend to generate a much higher percentage of their leads online than firms with average growth.
The potential impact on the growth of a professional services firm is clear. The marketing strategy must reflect some of the more modern techniques such as online search, content marketing and marketing automation – to name just a few.
What does the future hold for business-to-business marketing strategies? To future-proof the marketing of our professional services clients, we recommend the following marketing techniques for professional services firms:
- Focus on expertise
- Take a balanced approach
- Key an eye on talent acquisition
- Have a thirst for data
- Be flexible in the face of change
1) Focus on Expertise
One of the top criteria companies look for when choosing a professional services firm is expertise. Three-quarters of service buyers say that a candidate firm’s expertise was what tipped the scale during the selection process.
Of course, it’s not enough to have expertise alone. The expertise itself is invisible. The key is to make it highly visible so that prospective clients know about you even before they need your services.
How do you promote your expertise? A proven approach leverages a resource you already have: your professionals. Here’s how it works. Help one or more of your most experienced experts to raise their public profile—encourage them to speak in front of your target audiences, write articles, put on webinars, and blog frequently. They should focus on educating your audience and sharing their expertise freely.
Over time, they will build a sizable, loyal following, some of whom will seek out your firm when they are ready to buy.
2) Take a Balanced Approach to B2B Services Marketing
Savvy professional services marketers realize that the best-performing firms use a combination of online and offline techniques to deliver consistent growth.
Strategic networking and public speaking are just as important as SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and blogging. But what ties it all together is great educational content.
Content marketing is the most effective platform to drive thought leadership and visibility. Your marketing strategy should be driving a diversified content marketing program that touches prospects everywhere they are—online and offline.
3) Key an Eye on Talent Acquisition
Staffing is a top challenge for many successful professional services firms. Professional services firms need to change their recruiting and retention strategies to achieve optimal staffing levels.
Finding good people is no longer the purview of human resources alone. After all, prospective employees are as interested in a firm’s reputation as anyone else. And promoting a firm’s reputation begins with marketing.
Professional services firms must develop compelling recruiting materials, starting with the careers section of their website. Firms that want to attract and retain talented people will also look to marketing and HR to build a compelling employer brand—a mélange of culture, policies, and messaging that keeps employees engaged, and prospective hires intrigued.
4) Have a Thirst for Data
Marketing is more measurable than ever, so modern marketers need to be adept at collecting and using data.
From SEO to email marketing to web analytics, modern professional services marketing must squeeze more performance with the help of a menu of sophisticated tools.
5) Be Flexible in the Face of Change
Nobody can predict with certainty what the market will look like tomorrow. Or what amazing new tools will transform the marketer’s craft.
One of the most important—but least tangible—skills a future-proofed marketer needs is the aptitude to adapt to a changing world. It’s remarkably easy to succumb to complacency and assume that the tactics that built your business in the past will continue to work in the future.
Today’s professional services firms are undergoing a profound transformation. To adapt, firms need to rethink the way they market themselves. Forward-looking professional services marketers understand what clients are buying— expertise—and they are retooling their marketing strategy and skill set to accommodate the way modern buyers find, vet, and select their firms—today and into the future.