Eight Sales and Marketing Tips for Professional Services firms
COVID-19 Marketing Advice

Eight Sales and Marketing Tips for Professional Services firms

Eight Sales and Marketing Tips for Professional Services firms
8 min read
Ronan Morris
Ronan Morris 19 May 2020
Practical Advice for Law firms, Accountancy Firms, Consulting firms, and other professional services businesses.

Covid-19 has had a profound effect on the health of our nation and its economic effect is being felt and will continue to be felt for many months and years to come.

Since the beginning of the crisis, professional services businesses have, for the most part, responded with great agility. Business continuity plans have been quickly activated and appropriate steps have been taken to protect staff and clients. Service delivery has adapted where possible to digital.

Sales and marketing have mostly taken a backseat as businesses adapt to the new normal.

But that of course is beginning to change. 

Partners in firms are now gradually turning their attention to the future health of their business. As strategic marketing advisers to many professional services firms, we wanted to set out some of the advice we’ve been sharing with our existing clients:

1. Face the new reality and get your partner team on the same page.

The virus will be a feature of our lives for many months to come. You may yearn for the relative certainty of last year but your business needs to look forward, not back. 

You need to spend time as a leadership team trying to come together as best you can to assess where you are as a business and where you are heading. Different partners will have different opinions but the sooner these are all out on the table, the better. It’s almost certain that your business strategy as of 4 months ago is no longer valid and needs to be thought through again. 

The fact that there remains many unknowns in the short term should not be used as an excuse to postpone difficult discussions on what your value propositions will look like and how you will market them.

Setting aside time to discuss your future sales and marketing strategy of the business will ensure you are all pushing in the same direction - sooner rather than later. Also, this is a shared partner issue - not just for your managing partner or head of business development.

Another challenge is to keep teams, being partners and staff engaged, motivated and staying positive for the future. It is all too easy to focus on the negatives and miss the opportunities that may be there.

2. Retention is key

It can be tempting in a crisis to look around in a panic for new clients. That should never be done at the expense of focusing on existing clients. Their existing revenue to your business is now even more valuable and they are also the easiest to cross-sell to and have lower acquisition costs. 

Stellar ongoing service delivery combined with excellent communication is the bedrock of any strong retention strategy. You may already have processes and workflows to manage this but review and enhance them.

Can you help them to unlock the right government assistance e.g. grants, tax breaks and other supports. Can you help them with scenario modeling and  business impact analysis?

Share insights on a regular basis about navigating the crisis - what you are seeing in the market in terms of leading or best practices etc. Clients are so worried about basic survival that they may not have time to survey what’s going on more broadly.

Relationship building doesn’t come to standstill because we’re working remotely. Think about virtual meetup opportunities. Clients will remember who stayed in touch, shared knowledge and had their backs during this time.

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3. Segment your client base

Connected to the above is the need to better understand your existing clients. You should conduct a formal risk assessment of each and every one.

The two key factors you want to look at are risk and opportunity.

Risk

In a crisis such as this, risk is twofold. 

Firstly, the risk that, for reasons beyond your control, this client will no longer themselves exist as a business in the short to medium term. This will mean a loss of revenue for you and in a worst case scenario, potential bad debt on fees outstanding. What’s your plan here? To protect your brand and reputation, you will need to consider offering services in spite of this risk. 

Secondly, the risk that they might leave and go to a competitor firm. This could be for cost reasons or for a perceived better overall proposition.

You need a tailored strategy for each segment and in many cases a very specific strategy for each client, depending on their fee potential.

Every crisis also creates opportunity and you need to make sure your firm is not blind to these as they emerge. They might become visible at client level or at a vertical (sector) level and having formal processes around identifying these and leveraging them will be a key offensive strategy for your firm.

For the moment though, your emphasis needs to be on going broader and deeper with existing clients, leveraging relationships in one buying centre in order to create a bridge to others. And also as a way to grow your word of mouth referral channel.

Remember also that clients who avail of multiple services from your firm will find it much harder to leave are also much less likely to even consider doing so.

4. Segment yourself

There will be winners and losers - in every type of professional services area.

Another useful lens to look through as your team assesses the future is where does your firm sit versus direct and indirect competitors. A typical failing in sales and marketing in professional services is to look too inwardly. Research would suggest that prospects independently evaluate several firms before deciding who to engage with at the ‘bottom of the funnel’. How do you compare in independent evaluations? These could be done at a service level or often at a vertical level.

Other ways to compare yourself:

  • Agility - smaller firms tend to do better here. They are leaner and can pivot more quickly
  • Financial strength to weather a storm - longer established firms with healthy cash reserves can more easily wait out the leaner years in the hope of better times ahead
  • Levels - be aware that the level you operate at is a key evaluation criteria for prospects. In a crisis, you might find firms that are a tier below you are targeting your clients based on price. Equally, you might try the same approach to the tier above you. The top tier firms are at a disadvantage for this reason.
5. Review EVERY step of your new business funnels

Look at the top, middle and bottom of your funnel.  Look at how it used to perform, how it’s performing now and more importantly how each will perform when more normal business activity resumes. For most professional services firms, the problem often lies at the middle of the funnel; the point where prospects independently evaluate your offering - primarily on your website. 

Many firms lose out here as the middle of funnel experience for prospects is just not compelling enough. You don’t even get on the long list, let alone the short list.

In a world where there will be less leads and most will have a lower intent to buy, it is critical to maximise the number of prospects that get through to being a visible lead at the bottom of the funnel.

Turning to the bottom of the funnel, this is where leads become visible but where the evaluation is more dependent (on you). Remember that selling virtually is different to selling in-person - have you adapted your processes to reflect this? Perhaps consider agreeing to do a phase 0 of a strategic initiative for a zero fee to build trust and loyalty.

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6. Review your propositions.

You may not be ready to hear this but some of your propositions will no longer be attractive. As a management team you need to look at every value proposition that you have put to a prospect in the last year. How does it now play out? Is the buyer pain point the same? Is the value exchange still valid? Has the competitive landscape changed? Can you help your clients work more effectively in a virtual context?

Some of your propositions may even be stronger.

You also need to look closely at your fee models and look for creative ways they can be adapted to attract new business. For example, for the right opportunity, you might consider offering contingent fee structures.

Similarly, you may also need to look at the verticals you are targeting. How have these verticals been affected by Covid-19? Some may be at least temporarily unattractive to target. Where can you compensate? Are there other verticals that are thriving and that you can double down on?

7. New Opportunities.

Are there other major or minor pivots worthy of exploration? What new opportunities are emerging in the macro environment and how can you leverage them. How is underlying sentiment changing and how will that bubble up into your own propositions?

Will your existing clients and new prospects be more interested in outsourcing more work to your firm? Are there opportunities created by digitisation or through firms looking to automate certain workflows to reduce costs?

8. Assess your resources.

Assuming you’re seeing big changes with your top of funnel marketing efforts, what impact does that have on your marketing resources? Your teams may now be over-resourced or you may have the wrong skillsets for your emerging needs. Does your staff have the tools and infrastructure they need to be effective.

It may also be valid to look at the balance between what you do inhouse and what you outsource. You should also be looking at the various marketing software tools that you use to support your sales funnels? Are they still fit for purpose? Do they still represent value for money? 

Conclusion

The temptation in a crisis such as this is to look first at the ‘top of the funnel’ and see where you can secure new leads and new business. However, for most businesses, this part of the funnel is broken - at least for now. This is not the time for rash decision making based on a hastily conceived lead generation strategy.

Instead, look at the foundations of your funnel; 

  • your existing client base 
  • and how your proposition(s) is independently evaluated (mainly on your website)

Give this the time that it needs and then, when the ‘top of funnel’ becomes more attractive again, you will have a funnel that will effectively convert leads

So, that’s it. eight thoughts for professional services leadership teams to consider in the weeks ahead. 

Remember that long term, successful consulting relationships are based on trust. That is something that’s built over time. This crisis offers an opportunity to reinforce trusted advisor status.

If you need help with any of this, you know where we are. We’d be happy to facilitate a session for you or help in any other way.

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