The Biggest Marketing and Business Challenges of Today’s Professional Services Firms

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Our understanding of behavioral psychology and technology innovations are changing the professional services landscape. We’re not only accumulating tremendous amounts of data into consumer behavior in general, but we’re learning specifically how professional services marketing and branding can influence buyers’ behavior.

But this new understanding raises some big questions for firms. Which business challenges are the most urgent? How should one prioritize marketing efforts?

These questions have been answered through a recent survey of over 500 professional services firms conducted by the Hinge Research Institute [email required]. The survey sought insights from senior decision-makers at industries including management consulting, accounting and finance, marketing, technology, legal services, and architecture, engineering, and construction.

What are firms’ top challenges?

Survey respondents were asked to list the major issues they face. One challenge very clearly stood above the others.

From a strategic perspective, developing new business is the overriding challenge for firms across industries, cited by over 72% of respondents. The message is clear: Firms are not only seeking new business but are actively prioritizing it.

Developing new business, however, is the only challenge facing firms today. Respondents named an average of 3.5 unique challenges, with each of the 10 issues identified proving to be major concerns for many firms. Notably, the second most commonly cited business challenge was recruiting, with many firms recognizing a need to both find and retain good employees.

Which marketing initiatives are firms implementing this year?

What kind of professional services marketing techniques are firms employing to solve their problems? Survey respondents were asked to indicate which initiatives they expected to undertake in 2015.

Respondents indicated that they plan to use an average of 5.7 professional services marketing initiatives. A wide range of initiatives were cited. That isn’t surprising… In a professional services marketplace with many evolving pressures—and the universal desire to attract new business—firms are taking a multifaceted approach to their challenges.

The top marketing emphasis was generating more referrals, identified by over 61% of respondents. This isn’t surprising, as referrals have traditionally been at the heart of many service firms’ marketing strategies.

However, across the world of professional services, countless firms are missing out on opportunities for new business due to an incomplete approach to referrals.

When many firms think of referrals, they think of recommendations from clients based on a job well done. That is an important referral type, but it’s not the only one.

In fact, there are three major types of referrals:

1. Reputation-based referrals

Referrals made by organizations that don’t know a firm by direct experience but can speak to their knowledge and abilities by reputation in the marketplace.

2. Expertise-based referrals

These referrals are based on a firm’s specialized expertise, recommending a provider based on its ability to tackle a specific challenge—even if the referrer lacks extensive knowledge of the firm’s reputation.

3. Experience-based referrals

These are referrals that many firms are accustomed to generating—recommendations based on direct experience working with a given firm.

Too many firms focus only on generating experience-based referrals and miss out on the opportunities afforded by the other two types.

All the marketing initiatives identified by firms, including increasing referrals, mutually support one another. Firms might build the visibility of experts by giving them a platform to post educational content on an updated, streamlined website—all of which helps build the visibility of the firm’s brand.

Professional services brands generally recognize that an effective marketing strategy is comprised of many different moving parts that work together to achieve the ultimate aims of heightened visibility, new business, and growth.

Moving Ahead the Next Half of 2015

Will firms pursue their professional services marketing initiatives through internal marketing resources, external partners, or some mix of the two? Respondents were asked how they expected to move ahead in 2015.

  • 42% will use only internal resources.
  • The rest (58%) will use some external resources or rely entirely on outside partners.

The widespread expectation that firms will use external resources reflects the nature and diversity of firms’ overall priorities.

To take a many-pronged approach to their challenges, firms may need to rely on many different skill sets: Web development, writing, and coaching for rising experts, for example. This variety of talents is most easily employed through outside partners.

As firms seek to keep up with the pace of change across the professional services industries, we can expect more firms to adopt marketing techniques that will raise their brand profiles and help reach new audiences.

MarketingProfs All In One

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3 Ways Business Service Firms Can Gain More Social Traffic

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3 Ways Business Service Firms Can Gain More Social Traffic
According to a recent study reported by Search Engine Land, social media only drives 5% of total web traffic for business service companies, while organic search is responsible for 51%.
 

The numbers indicate that business service companies achieve less traffic and conversion from social media than other industries. Before investing in paid search campaigns, companies should improve their social media outreach, not only to drive more web traffic, but also because a strong social media presence helps support paid search campaigns. To help these businesses improve their social traffic, here are three tactics they can use:
 

1. Leverage co-marketing

Partner with other experts in the industry to develop content. For example, you can start a digital marketing interview series or a Q&A session and ask marketing professionals to share insights with your readers. This partnership will help you increase online exposure because when the participants share the interview or session on their social channels, you’ll reach their followers. In addition, you can attract their followers to your website. 
 

2. Use social media to list services

According to eMarketer, 37% of US shoppers use social media to research offerings that they’re considering buying. This behavior has influenced business clients, who now go on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter pages to learn about your company and compare you against competing firms. 

Take advantage of this behavior by giving your social media pages more attention. For example, go a step further than just branding your Facebook page.  Put up photos and credentials of your specialists in the Photos section. Use Albums for photos of your staff at job sites, on conference panels, or charity events. Populate the About page fully, with links to your Home page of course, but also with links to the 2-3 most frequently-read pages on your website. Use Google Analytics to identify your most popular web pages – they could be your service offerings page, client list or project pages.
 

3. Share relevant articles professional LinkedIn groups

Share useful, relevant articles you’ve written in LinkedIn groups. For example, if you’re a small accounting firm, you can join LinkedIn groups such as On Startups – The Community For Entrepreneurs or Startup Specialists and share your blog about tax write-offs for small business owners. This technique will help you generate website visits because you’re sharing content to a targeted audience.
 

By using the three approaches above, you can use content partners to expand your online reach and attract more social users to your website, take advantage of online behavior and increase client incentives to visit your company page and learn about your offerings, or share relevant articles in LinkedIn groups to a qualified audience.

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