Our clients have credentials and degrees and experience that would put nearly every other profession to shame. But whether they have in-house marketers or hire outside people like Ingenuity, they can still miss the boat on marketing their firms well.
Good Marketing Should Foster Firm Growth
If you look at the tip of the marketing iceberg, your marketing person may do things like hire a website company to build a site or pick a color or two for a new logo. They may help set up a LinkedIn profile and order some promo items with the firm logo.
Nearly anyone can do that. If that is all you are expecting from your marketing people, you are not allowing them to deliver value.
Just as any baby lawyer can fill in the blanks on a contract, if the big quibble in your firm is about color or fonts, you are paying too much and missing the real opportunities of thinking strategically about the best ways to grow your firm and communicating your best ideas to the marketplace.
There are real opportunities for growth with smart marketing people.
#1 Be Different from your Competitors in the Eyes of Your Clients and Prospects
By different from your competitors, we do not mean having a maroon logo when theirs are mostly blue. For a professional service firm, the logo is only a tiny bit of a strong brand. The real genius in branding your firm is discovering what your clients count on you for and what your firm’s values really are in terms of how you deliver your service. You need to have everyone in the firm on the same page about the unique way you deliver value to clients.
It is not an easy conversation to uncover, much less articulate in a way that seems fresh and memorable. Too many firms have mission statements around “excellent client service” or visions about “being the premier firm in the region…” when that is as trite as gum. If we see another tagline that reads something like “Excellence. Service. Integrity,” we will never need another glass of wine to fall asleep at night, we can just read the identical taglines of firms that seem exactly alike.
Professional quality work and client service are the thresholds of what your clients expect from you. What makes you different and how can you express it in a memorable way? Your marketing people can ask your clients, survey your marketplace and come up with memorable ways to articulate these differentiating values and messages.
Once this is defined, teach these key messages to everyone in your firm. Teach the backroom people about how clients value their work. Inspire the front end people with the results they create. Get them talking! Then let your marketing talent integrate your differentiating themes — what really makes the experience of you stand out from your competitors — into your website, your advertising, your proposals and every other marketing message you send.
#2 Own the “Famous” Reputation as the
It is no longer enough to know how to fill in a great tax return or even design a great bridge. People need to look to your firm as the “best place to go” when they have a certain need. How do you own that piece of people’s minds? Your marketing people can create strong press and media outreach to get you quoted and writing on topics in specific areas. Establish a speakers bureau so that your firm experts are out sharing their knowledge. Get active in associations. Actively seek a certain quotient of fame so that people know who to hire.
#3 Escape the Commodity Pricing Trap
Nothing beats the joy out of the profession like being treated like a mere commodity in the RFP nation. The only way to break out of that trap is to be able to clearly articulate your differences and make sure the world knows about them. Without a clearly defined competitive edge and without the talents of bringing it to the attention of the world, you might as well just fill in the spreadsheets with your best price and compete with professionals in Iowa and India.
Great marketing people help you stand out as brighter, fresher, smarter or in some way better than the competition.
#4 Dominate a Niche
Being a generalist is very expensive because you have a huge world to talk to. Being the “best firm to go to when you are in this industry…” is a defined target that your firm can deeply dig into. (Hint: Having two or three clients in one SIC code is not dominating a niche.) You need to own it. That means you have to play rugby instead of lawn tennis.
Dominating a niche is a contact sport. You have to know your subject, show up at all meetings and trade shows, write, speak and schmooze. Most of the professionals we know are not born sales people. Let your marketing talent organize this niche and tee up opportunities and introductions.
#5 Close Deals
If building your own practice is job one at your firm, sign up for sales training right now. This is not a skill you can afford to lack. We offer basic sales training for people who have had none and know several great people who teach advanced sales training for people who sell services.
Great marketing people may not always be sales trainers but they can certainly diagnose the need for one and get the right trainer lined up. Bring your marketers along to sales calls and watch your close ratios increase as they ask the more basic and naïve questions about the prospect’s business, goals and family or hobbies. Suddenly the prospect likes you and wants to give you the business.
Big clients tend to require that you sell in teams, which is not like selling one-to-one. Have a sales process and a sales pipeline in your firm. Your marketers should hold people accountable to the process. The days of service partners are rapidly disappearing – everyone has to be able to help generate new business and your marketing team can help each one with individual business development plans.
#6 Know How Your Buyers Buy
Since the advent of the Internet, people who used to pick the accountant or lawyer they went to college with now can shop for one on a Saturday night. They get email newsletters from six firms and get sales calls from two more.
Your marketing people should regularly attend panels of people who buy your services as well as continuing education on buying patterns. Invite a panel of your own clients to speak at your firm and ask them what they value and why they stay. Your marketing people can set up your website, your newsletter and all your firm communications to maximize the experience for clients and prospects.
Your marketing team or consultants should be focused on the big picture of firm growth. If your marketing person is spending loads of time on colors and trinket buying, you may need some help at a strategic level, or, we often find that you may be standing in the way of letting that person make a real difference for you.
One of the old adages in sales is, “People buy with emotion and justify their decisions with logic.” Especially when you are selling an as yet undelivered and intangible service, people buy based on their trust in you and your ability to do a great job.
These days, people can learn a lot about you before ever contacting your firm. It used to be that they got their recommendations by word of mouth. Now with the Web, they learn about you through “world of mouth.” Why not hedge your bets with some positive comments and success stories straight from your clients? It’s humbling and also cost effective. Here are a few tips for gathering persuasive testimonials:
Consider using an outside party who is good at drawing people out. Your clients will tell you that you are “great,” but “great” is hardly compelling sales copy. They will be more expressive with someone they do not know. Make sure your interviewer has done this before; it is an art to draw people out and get the language that persuades.
Tell your clients who will be calling them and why. A heads-up from you means they will be much more comfortable with the interviewer.
Always use the telephone or in-person interviews. If you ask folks to write a letter, the letter will almost always be stiff and formal. Again, not compelling copy. When you interview them, you have the chance to craft the words a little into much more compelling copy. (However, compelling copy should never drive you to make anything up that they did not say. It just gives you a little more license to edit.)
Craft a variety of testimonial quotes for use in your promotional campaigns.
Send each quote (any that you might ever consider using) to the clients and have them sign off on it. Make sure they know it may be used on your website, media releases, proposals and for a variety of promotional uses.
Whenever possible, use the person’s full name, title, and company. “Pat Z. in Wisconsin” sounds like a late night diet-aid commercial. “Patrick Zuber, President, HealthCore Company, Madison, Wisconsin” sounds real. Of course, if you are in a more confidential industry such as family law or estate planning, sometimes it is appropriate to use first name and last initial or to carefully craft the client’s business description.
Keep the client release form on file for as long as you use the testimonials in marketing.
Send clients copies of brochures or newsletters where the quote has been used. Most people like seeing their name in print or keeping a copy of the testimonials in their files.
If a real person testifies in detail about how it feels to work with you, it is much more persuasive. It’s also easier and more accurate than trying to talk about yourself. Having a file full of testimonials will make all of your promotional material better and easier to write. It will help you understand just why people buy from you. And it will build your confidence to go out there and tell your story.