There is a new number on the calendar—2016. That means it is time to prognosticate about the trends for the next twelve months. I am ready to do just that. Here is my take on marketing trends in professional services for the coming year.
The landscape for professional services marketing continues to shift. Firms will either need to adapt to the new environment or risk losing their footing in the marketplace. At the same time, recruiting and training marketing talent will not be easy.
With challenges come opportunities. Those who remain committed to educating prospects and clients through content marketing will be able to chart a path to growth.
1. Content Marketing Will Continue to Dominate Professional Services Marketing
We reported on research at the beginning of 2015 that showed almost half of firms expected to undertake content marketing initiatives. Well, it’s not going away.
Content marketing—blog posts, e-books, webinars, speaking engagements and more—has settled in, made itself at home and is here to stay. Professional services marketers will continue to use content to walk their prospects through every phase of the buying cycle.
Why does content marketing have such staying power? It is tailor-made for professional services.
It empowers you to demonstrate your firm’s expertise. When you publish content on the web, it enables prospects to find you and sample a slice of your knowledge.
As they learn more, prospects can frame solutions to their problems around the services you offer. Equally important, as they become familiar with you, their trust grows.
2. The Battle for Marketing Talent Will Heat Up
As the digital approach has overtaken traditional techniques, marketing is becoming more sophisticated. Online marketing tools and tactics continue to evolve with technology.
As a result, more marketing talent than ever is required. You need marketers to develop marketing strategies, create content, search engine optimize websites, build a social media presence, send marketing emails and more.
Today, few folks with professional services experience have the most advanced online marketing skills. What’s more, only a fraction of skilled marketers has a solid understanding of professional services.
Meanwhile, as competition between firms intensifies, there is pressure to build, recruit and train marketers who can unleash the growth potential of professional services firms. It’s not surprising that competition for marketing talent is heating up.
3. Business Development Is Undergoing a Transition
Because buyers now complete much of their research online before contacting a service provider, the role of business development (aka sales person) is changing. By the time that prospects talk with a sales person, they are educated. It is likely they have considered various options and have a framework for a solution.
Today’s empowered buyers want to do things on their terms. Sales people should not try to shorten the buying cycle selling to a prospect before they are ready. They need to understand that a solid education is the foundation for a future sale.
In fact, in a study we conducted with RAIN Group, we discovered that the top reason folks fail to win a new client is that they do not educate the prospect or provide new insights on how to solve their problem.
So marketing has to work further along the continuum of the buyer’s journey, informing them with content until they are ready to talk with a business developer. When that business developer moves into a relationship with the prospect, they need to continue to enlighten the customer.
Because of these shifts in buyer behavior, firms may need to rethink how they train budding business developers. Also, a restructuring of the relationship between marketing and business development is in order.
4. Traditional Referral Networks Are Degrading
In the past, you could develop a referral network and depend on it for your career. Today, however, two trends are jeopardizing the referral power of long-standing relationships.
An average of 10,000 baby boomers are retiring every day. As one senior rainmaker commented, “Lately, I’m going to more retirement parties than networking events.” As they leave the workforce, traditional networks and ways of doing things are breaking down.
Also, buyers can now find the expertise they need through their online research and learn how to solve their problems. Because they can discover resources this way, looking through their professional contact lists is no longer as necessary.
5. The Emergence of the New Rainmakers
Rainmakers have always been essential to the growth of professional services firms—those individuals who naturally seem to attract business. In the past, they worked their networks, schmoozed at business events and lured in the next client.
The new rainmakers do it differently. While face-to-face interactions are still part of their success formula, online activities are increasingly important.
Rainmakers are making their expertise visible online by publishing educational content and becoming known for their proficiency in a market or discipline. By doing so, they are broadening their reach and accelerating their ascent.
Assessing marketing trends at the dawn of a new year enables us to set our businesses on the right course. Given the changes in the marketplace, your marketing and business growth strategy will need to adapt too. Embracing the power of new strategies and tactics will enable you to get ahead in an increasingly competitive world.
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