We’re about 35 minutes into our initial meeting with a prospective professional services client. We’ve asked the necessary and expected questions about their firm history, recent marketing initiatives, some current business challenges and emerging opportunities.
So we ask the most important question of the meeting. How are you different?
It’s almost always a “fork in the road” moment. Nearly everyone hesitates or frown when they hear it. Or, worst of all, they give a sales answer, which shows us that they are still struggling with developing a compelling, supported brand positioning.
Here’s the main reason that it’s a hard question for professional service firms – sometimes they struggle to sell their ideas. And that’s a big problem, since that is the only “product” that accounting, law and consulting firms actually sell.
Here’s a list of 10 starter questions that we use to help our B2B services clients begin to gather the evidence that will help them to identify their own differentiated marketing story:
- Sales Funnel: How do you describe the typical sales and conversion journey for your new clients? How does it differ for your returning clients? For example, does your law firm understand the flow of prospects to your retail practice? How does that customer sales funnel compare to your M&A practice?
- Industry Insights: Most professional services firms market to particular industries and/or functions. What are your firm’s priorities? Do you have associated leaders with externally recognized credibility that we can interview?
- Website Calls to Action: What are the top 5 landing pages for thought leadership on your website? Why do you think they are popular – and how have you used those clues to help shape your marketing messages?
- Content Development: Do you have a process built to identify audience preferences for content and search engine keywords? If so, are there consistent themes that provide foundational support to the marketing program? If you are an architecture firm focused on “green” buildings, how much traffic does your website receive for “green” keywords?
- Matrix Priorities: Professional service firms usually have a matrix structure, with different leaders appointed to cover industry practices, geographic priorities and internal functional skill-sets. Do we need to tell marketing stories to support all three areas? How are those stories alike? How do they differ?
- Competitor Clues: What kinds of thought leadership do your competitors share on social media? For example, are other executive search firms engaging every day or just for individual integrated marketing communications campaigns? How are they making their own complex content exciting and actionable?
- Bench Strength or Weakness? Professional services firms are quite focused on keeping their junior and lateral recruiting pipeline full. They have to be, since the demanding consulting lifestyle requires arduous travel and time commitments. But, there’s a real problem. Those same busy folks are often charged with executing marketing communication for the firm. Has your firm been able to leverage the “bench” for marketing…or are those folks unwilling to play?
- Old vs. New Weapons: Almost every consulting firm has a marketing “sacred cow” that senior partners would like to keep alive…often without real quantitative or even anecdotal evidence that it’s worth it. What’s your cow? What would it take to kill it, so that there’s budget for new marketing strategies?
- What About Your Most Important Audience?: What past marketing projects have inspired your own employee base? Were you able to benchmark that internal enthusiasm? Would you be able to build on that success externally?
- White Papers are Out, E-Books are In: Professional service firms have begun to realize that their vast archives of intellectual capital can be a significant differentiator in the era of thought leadership. Describe your marketing tipping point in the digital age. How – or did – your firm finally decide to embrace online marketing? Did your thought leadership evolve, too?
Professional service firms have a unique opportunity to leverage their greatest strength – their ideas – in new and different kinds of marketing programs. But those ideas require differentiation to be successful.
What questions would you add to this list? How do you start to develop your own unique marketing story?
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