A professional dilemma.
The professional services sector is confronting a difficulty. Among the consequences of the mining industry downturn are declines in the need for legal, accounting, engineering, design and a host of other services. It is an issue they share with many other groupings and entities.
Mergers, acquisitions, project starts and growth initiatives are limited, spasmodic – if not rare.
For those existing clients who persist, a common, early and forthright agenda item in meetings is: how can professional fees be reduced.
Identifying prospective new clients is difficult. They are few in number, conservative, defensive and are currently being generously serviced by existing service providers.
Attendance at networking events is, in general terms, fruitless. Rooms are full of like-minded under-utilised professionals who are seeking the ear and attention of the few prospective clients. Feast and famine: so many skills, experts and qualified professionals, with contrasting isolated clients in need of such expertise.
How do you sell professional services? The best possible answer is don’t try. After all, the objective of marketing is to make selling superfluous.
Digital marketers contend the answers lie in the digital spectrum. That’s true in part. But it is only a partial response. A full suite of media channels needs to deployed, integrated and maintained.
Therefore, advertisements and blogs on Google, Twitter, LinkedIn and other options will achieve little, particularly increases in revenue, unless they are part of a integrated, disciplined marketing strategy.
The recent extended 12-year economic boom enjoyed by Australian businesses inevitably led to a widespread sense of complacency.
It was simply too easy to win business, bank the profits and enjoy the consequences.
Over the period, the low barriers of entry to many professions and sectors facilitated and accelerated an ongoing, increasing number of competitors and substitutes. The general attitude was no worries. There was plenty for everyone.
Low barriers of exit were seldom, if ever, considerations. No-one was leaving ... until the on-set of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008, and more recently with the mining industry downturn.
Reality has struck, very hard for many. No one thing, sector or region seems to be immune to the cascading fallout of the retrenchments, profit squeeze, dividend reductions and tightening financial provisions.
Some leading players, consultants and analysts simply did not identify or anticipate the evolving waves of changed market conditions ... builders in particular. Many rejected the evidence which was apparent since February, 2015.
Forward planning was not a priority for NOW marketers seeking revenue from NOW consumers. Instant gratification prevailed.
BRANDED FOR SUCCESS
Significantly, the most resilient entities in a broad cross-section of sectors have been those which had developed, integrated, respected and maintained a recognisable brand name presence.
That alone has contributed appreciably to advertising effectiveness, specifically in the on-line, digital and social media spheres.
The deficiencies in the branding of many entities have become increasingly apparent. Over-reliance on those channels to create, establish and sustain a brand was ambitious, if not naive and hopeful.
DEVELOP EXISTING RELATIONSHIPS
Many professional firms, practices and companies maintain client lists which exceed 500, 750 and, sometime, 1000 entities.
A significant majority of those would not know the full extent of the services, skills, expertise and experience possessed by external professional service providers. Accordingly, contracts, revenues and profits are unnecessarily shared and, indeed, compromised.
Anecdotal evidence suggests little use is made, or sought to be made of, the potential which exists within the networks of existing clients.
Seeking recommendations is seldom successful. Asking for, following up and complementing personal introductions are quite different propositions.
Alas, further proof-positive of the need, and scope for marketing, rather than selling of professional services.
BEYOND CAPABILITY STATEMENTS
Distribution of attractive, glossy and photograph-heavy brochures is seldom successful in generating new clients, revenue and profits.
Readership is sparse. Put simply, at least 98% of the respondents of unsolicited promotional literature are not contemplating such a service, or a change in service providers – at that time.
Sadly, a close analysis and review of many such literature pieces conclude that an overwhelming majority are, in essence, capability statements.
Promotion of qualifications, experience and professional association memberships are not key or compelling messages or temptations. Indeed, most such features are minimal standards that are expected or demanded before being considered. Photographs of senior people and partners do little to enhance the appeal.
Some non-marketing professionals don’t comprehend that in marketing and selling it is not about you. The prism through which most prospective clients view and comprehend is:
What’s in it for me?
Moreover, a significant percentage believe that their circumstances and needs are unique and different. They need to be assured that external professional service providers (1) understand and (2) care.
In short, put the client in the picture, preferably by name, and on the front page.
SELLING – ON THE CARDS
The art of handing out business cards has been refined.
If only the skills had been developed and extended to having the prospective clients retain and subsequently refer to them.
Many cards lie inert among countless files, which are only occasionally reviewed, then reduced in size and numbers.
Business cards need to project and articulate what the featured person does, rather than the position which is retained.
Full use should be made of both sides of a business card. It may just increase readership.
THE LADDER TO SUCCESS
Detailed below are the progressive steps which are essential to formulating, documenting and implementing and integrated action plan.
- Determine, and concisely articulate the values, beliefs and drives of the professional firm.
- Detail and document the innate advantages, benefits and reward typically enjoyed by clients.
- Discern, and where appropriate specify a market positioning, and image of the firm and its team members, which differentiates and distinguishes it and them from stereotypical perceptions of professionals and peer professionals.
- Establish, schedule and maintain periodic visits and communications to existing, prospective and past clients – with a strong focus on favourable outcomes for them.
- Ensure multiple points of contacts are retained to optimise and expedite service quality and responsiveness for clients.
- Regularly and consistently conduct education sessions, to ensure that all external spheres-of-influence are aware of, comprehend and value the full suite of available services.
- Identify, and persistently leverage the pool of information, intelligence, expertise and experience that can be deployed to the advantage of clients.
- Offer, and profile complementary infrastructural and professional support that enhance the presence and productivity of targeted clients.
- At all times value one’s skills, expertise and training and unapologetically charge for such.
- Periodically review the basis of applying professional fees, ensuring they are perceived to be fair, equitable and of value to clients.
- Be positive, enthusiastic and focused. The sentiments are infectious, and beneficial to all.
Barry Urquhart of Marketing Focus is an internationally respected business strategist, consumer behaviour analyst and conference keynote speaker.
Conference Keynote Speaker
M: 041 983 5555