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.