So how do you market a professional services company? This question was posed to me and it’s one that requires a bit of explanation and exposition.
In a professional services company, there are a couple of problems that just naturally occur. Your “product” is your time and your expertise or intellectual property. The key to inbound marketing, we often say, is to provide great content that provides insight and thought-leadership to your prospects. When you’re in a professional services company, that’s what your clients are paying you for, insights and thought-leadership (as well as your time). Therein lies the rub, how do you provide valuable content that doesn’t “give away the store”? How do you explain what you know without giving away your firm’s intellectual property?
Tell the Whole Story
One of the keys to marketing a professional services company is to make sure that you’re telling the whole story. Let me explain. A couple of weeks ago, I was speaking with a prospect about inbound marketing. He wanted to know how it all worked. I explained to him at a high level how it works. As the prospect continued to press for more and more detail, I explained to him step-by-step how we do what we do. I told him about the tools we use and described the processes that we use. I told him about the challenges to watch out for and everything entailed in running campaigns and tweaking a strategy. What I knew was that if I told him the whole story, he’d understand that despite me spelling out step-by-step how it’s done, he doesn’t have the time or the knowledge to do it himself. He was focused on running a company, and didn’t have the time or the expertise to do what we do. By explaining the challenges that he was likely to encounter, I’d overwhelmed him with “the whole story”.
Of course, when you’re marketing, you can’t create voluminous pieces of content that spell out everything you know, but you can spell out the steps required to solve a problem. By doing so, you may provide that rare individual with the ammunition they need to solve their problem by themselves. But for most prospects, you’re just establishing credibility and helping them to understand that you are the missing component to solving their problems.
The other significant challenge to marketing a professional services company is that the best and brightest minds in your company are busy billing for their time. If you’re like most professional services companies, you’re constantly focusing on utilization and realization rates. Your people have been conditioned to focus on billing for their time, and rightfully so. So how do you get them to take time out of their busy day of billing to focus on providing content for marketing? There are a few ways to address this. One is to use a professional writer to interview those subject matter experts in your firm for that content. A solid, experienced writer can interview them and take what they say and condense it into a highly readable, cogent piece of content. This will allow them to convey their knowledge in as little time as possible. The other key is to help your people to understand the importance of marketing. Marketing isn’t a department or business function, it’s everything that your organization does to drive and convey value. Making your clients happy in delivery is as much a marketing function as writing a blog or creating an infographic. Creating a blog is no less important to conveying that value to clients and prospects.
Understanding the Division of Labor
People hire you because they either can’t do what you do or they are focused on other things. Similarly, there are functions of marketing that are probably best left to experienced marketers or a marketing firm. The key is to understand your organization’s limitations. There are many things you can do yourself but if you need help, let’s talk.