When you partner with a digital marketing agency, you want to receive not just the work as promised, but recommendations on how to optimize your digital marketing to impact your lead generation. Your firm needs strong digital marketing consulting. In this video, hear from Dawn Wagenaar, Principal at Ingenuity Marketing Group, as she shares some important considerations about what professional services firms need when working with a digital marketing agency.
If you prefer to read the video transcript, you may find it below:
Several years ago, Ingenuity worked through a strategic process to define the future of our agency. As you may have guessed, it included digital marketing.
Today, we help many of our clients develop campaigns that include social media, eblasts, SEO strategy, digital ad campaigns and other automated communications.
But professional services continue to be about relationships. When you are looking for assistance with fresh communications to support new business development, how do you evaluate a great digital marketing agency?
First of all, the agency should understand how buyers select professional services. It’s not product marketing. Your deliverables are different. Your digital campaigns must speak to why they need your service. What pain are you solving?
Next, the campaign must connect to your sales process. Who will follow up on campaign results and evaluate how to improve it? It goes beyond printing monthly data reports. You want your agency to translate visitor and buyer behavior for marketing as well as sales.
As a business owner myself, I’m not sold on complete automation of marketing and sales for professional services. But I do believe that your content should include strong keywords and search engine optimization – for every blog post, service page and video!
That way, your content is working for you to attract leads.
A great digital marketing agency must combine a strong business consulting strategy for professionals with a technical understanding of how people find and choose your content.
We are often asked about how technology can be used to measure and improve marketing success for our clients. One thing to know is that there are A LOT of tools out there for whatever it is you need a technology solution for. It is important to do your research to figure out which tool meets your needs.
1. Assess your needs
A tool may offer 10 different functions but if you only need two try to find a better fitting tool so that you are only paying for what you will use. A client recently asked us which tool they should implement to support their SEO strategies. They were ready to buy a significant subscription for a program that would have given them more information than they would have been able to use. We recommended that they use the free Google SEO tools they already had in place and trained their employees on how to find the information that is important to them. This solution will truly serve their needs and in turn, save the firm money.
2. Test the free versions first
Some tools offer free and paid versions. The free version is a good way to test it out but most of the time, the paid version offers additional features that are worth the money. One area we get many questions about is social media tools. There are a lot of technology options out there for social media campaign scheduling. One specific tool, Hootsuite, has a ton of additional features in their paid version that make scheduling and managing your content much easier. One of our clients uses the paid version and we can upload the content for the month at one time in a spreadsheet, adjust the posts visually on a calendar and have an unlimited amount of content and accounts we can share to.
3. Understand your Firm’s Goals
Business development is a top-of-mind issue for many firms right now, especially with unnecessary travel suspended and in-person meetings minimized. Many professional services firms and associations are looking to optimize their email marketing strategies and employing efforts to improve their email contact lists. A robust CRM can track and rate leads and allows you to develop nurturing sequences that keep you in front of clients and prospects. Before building this out, resources need to be developed and the sequences planned. Get input from your top leaders and be sure that you test your sequence within your team before sending it out so that when you do, you are putting your best foot forward. A good CRM can help a firm or association identify potential leads that engage with content but weren’t on the radar previously.
Implementing, analyzing and optimizing technology solutions can be an overwhelming endeavor. Keeping your goals in mind will help you make the best decisions on which tools will serve you best and help you stay on track during the planning and implementation.
Is your marketing list stale? Is it harder to pick up new leads through networking? Are visits to your website high, but you don’t know who is searching?
Traditional business development for professional services — including recruitment — dictates that you network at events, build relationships and get referrals. But what if you can’t do that as much as you like? After all, you’re busy with many other things.
Although referrals and networking can warm up leads and shorten the sales cycle, sometimes it’s not enough to keep your list fresh for high growth.
For years, a website was regarded as a billboard to prove that your organization exists. Now we’re at a phase of fresh content development, but who is reading it? Want to find out and capture those names and emails of potentially great new clients?
Build and enhance your own digital marketing strategy.
High-growth firms, whether that’s CPA firms or firms in the architecture, engineering and construction (A/E/C) space or financial service and legal firms, can all benefit from a digital marketing strategy. It’s a simple concept, but it takes time and commitment to execute well.
This is the simplest example of how a nurturing sequence could work. You may have part of this process happening already — with social posts linked to blog posts — but it’s the email capture and nurturing emails that really help to drive conversion. Here is another example:
In this example, you are introducing new leads to a valuable piece of content through a call to action (CTA) in each email. The content could be a whitepaper, a guide or even a webinar invite.
If recipients don’t click the first time, they get nurtured by additional emails to click through and download the content/register for something. Once they take a key action (opt-in), the digital lead nurturing doesn’t stop there. Follow-up emails continue the digital “conversation” by highlighting elements of the content they might be interested in. The ultimate goal is to get the lead to view more related content on the website, get persuaded of their timely need for help, and take an assessment or have a call with the subject matter expert or business development professional.
These emails can be created to come directly from the business development lead or niche leader, so the communications are immediately personal.
A nurturing sequence does the work of warming up leads while your professionals focus on follow-up. They can also add fresh names to your list, which is harder to do these days with data privacy regulations. Each lead’s behavior, tracked through email software and marketing automation tools and web contact forms, demonstrates when the lead is ready to have a call and learn more from your professionals. You don’t bother them. They want you to reach out.
Bonus: Nurturing sequences are working 24/7 for you — whenever a lead is searching for your solutions and services — and they can be set up by the marketing department to support your other business development activities.
Real Results Through SEO Strategy and Digital Marketing
See how one firm brings in business leads through valuable niche content, social and SEO strategies through its newly optimized website. Read their story.
You might ask yourself why it’s a good time for your firm or organization to focus more attention on digital marketing and SEO techniques that drive leads to your door.
Your firm may have partners looking to retire who want to modernize their marketing processes, which will increase growth and result in a higher valuation.
You may have struggled with traditional business development and want to diversify your options, multiplying the number of leads that come to you each month.
You may realize that leads are finding competitors online before they find your firm’s name in search engine results for similar services. You don’t get asked to the table when you should. You aren’t visible enough.
You may have an eager team ready to invest in this type of business development — through emails, content writing and social media connections — as opposed to time-consuming happy hours and tradeshows.
It all matters.
Investment in digital marketing and SEO strategy is important in an age of virtual and remote work and rapid changes in digital communications, brand positioning and options to stay visible and relevant to your audience.
Take time to explore your options, and decide if doing it yourself is the best approach or if you could use a jumpstart through an outsourced relationship like Ingenuity’s team. We look forward to nurturing you.
Here’s a free tool to get started. Our SEO Checklist helps you determine where your website could use some updates to attract leads and persuade referrals.
The last couple months have likely put your well-planned marketing strategies and social media campaign into a tailspin. Organizations are needing to adjust strategy into crisis communication mode in order to distribute relevant information to their clients and prospects and that has left little time to implement already planned content.
Even in a crisis, we recommend that our clients continue to produce blogs and videos about their core services, industries and niches. This is so they optimize their SEO strategy and do not lose ground by putting these efforts on the back burner. However, how this content gets distributed in a crisis situation is what changes significantly.
Not all your content needs to be new or original. Some real gems can be found in your older content and as a result, save you time. With a fresh update and some relevant examples, the old can be polished up and become new again. Read about this and other ways to repurpose your content.
When you are in the midst of a crisis, how you position your messaging may need to be put under a new lens, especially when it comes to your social media. The same blog post can still be used while simply changing the social media post and explaining the relevance to the situation. Here’s how we would write a social post during a crisis situation about the same blog post:
In the midst of a crisis, you’re likely scrambling to get urgent messages out to your clients, prospects and employees. You don’t have time to create new content but know that your SEO strategy still needs to be implemented. To keep moving forward, look no further than older, still relevant content to save time.
Here are some tips to keep in mind for your social media messaging and content distribution during a crisis:
Be intentional about your messaging. Always make social media posts relevant to your audience. This is even more critical during a crisis. How does the information you are providing pertain to the current situation and help them solve their problems?
Don’t promote your services, industries and niches in an obvious way. Always look for how it helps your clients and prospects and approach your social posts with a proactive message. How does what you offer help them?
Use a personal, human touch. Relate to your audience and personalize your messages so they feel like they connect to your brand. Show that you truly care about them as an individual.
Be sensitive to how your message can be perceived. Run your social media posts by a few people that you can trust to provide you with honest feedback.
It’s best to err on the side of caution, even if that means you are posting less frequently. This is not the time to move forward and ask for forgiveness later. There are plenty of examples of social media mishaps that have affected brands negatively. Coming back from a brand messaging snafu isn’t easy.
Create a plan for the next time you need to respond urgently or adjust your message. Many organizations were caught off-guard and didn’t postpone scheduled social media posts or were slow to adjust their messaging. Crisis comes in many forms so evaluate the lessons learned and prepare for how you will respond in different scenarios in the future.
You may be developing lots of content right now in order to maintain your SEO strategy and may not be able to promote it as much, or at all. Take heart, once things start to level off, you’ll have a gold mine of content to promote on social media and it will still be new to your audience.
A crisis can last for a few hours…or a few months. The effects can linger for years.
One common issue in crisis is that people have a tendency to overreact. They may run headlong into the storm or they may freeze. It’s important during these times to have people around who have the strength to step back, assess and develop an objective plan that avoids further crisis.
With that in mind, do you have a go-to ghostwriter?
We’ve all been there…figuring out how to communicate complex topics in a way that gets prospects to understand and trust and take action. We also know amazing subject matter experts who are great at their work, but admittedly not so great at explaining how their work helps clients.
Even professionals who like writing need a good ghostwriter to validate if their work is
Too technical for the average client;
Too long or short for the average blog; or
Too informational with no guidance for the reader to take action.
How about adding search engine keywords and meta descriptions so that visitors can find that great content? Well, that part takes some professional practice and skill, not to mention research to identify the ideal keywords for your firm.
You might assume that marketing specialists or managers are integral to maximizing your content. But in a crisis? An outside perspective can calm everybody’s nerves and get to the heart of your message. Meanwhile, your internal teams can focus more closely on the logistics of sharing, posting and following up on your content and crisis communications. Responding to questions in a crisis is job number one once people get the information they need.
Why Do I Need a Ghostwriter Now?
If you have never considered a ghostwriter relationship before a crisis, it may be the perfect time to build a relationship now. Here are the reasons our clients have told us that ghostwriting is central to their crisis communications planning and ongoing content marketing strategies.
• Objective third party to view their content and provide efficient editing
• Identify content opportunities that subject matter experts (SMEs) may not see
• Maximize the SME’s time through interview, drafting and editing
• Consulting on what is truly “news” to business and trade media
• Identifying content that can be used in multiple ways (blog, social, PR)
• Evergreen writing that doesn’t get stale after a month
• Seamless addition of SEO keywords into copy and descriptions of content
• Recommendations for companion eblast copy and social posts
• Knowledge of the industry to develop relevant content for your audience
• Research skills to add context and “why it’s important.”
• Calls to action for marketing purposes and relevant links
When you have the right ghostwriter relationship for your content marketing strategy, you can adapt your marketing plan faster and gain context for what is happening across the industry. Since ghostwriters work with all kinds of clients, you can leverage their knowledge to help your firm write and publish content like the pros that you are!
Have you ever gotten an email that starts with, “Hello Tish!” but that’s not your name?
It’s just one example of content marketing gone wrong. You’ve probably seen the results of inappropriate content marketing in your own inbox and social channels.
Messaging that seems too sales-oriented or untimely
Email greetings with the wrong names
Generic product pitches to anyone but you
Spammy, scammy, opportunistic noise
We know that you work hard to make content relevant to your audience. In fact, during a crisis or major shift in the market, you absolutely have to. Smart professionals like you know when to step back, turn off the automated campaigns, pause digital ads and stop pre-scheduled social calendars…and think.
What needs to change now that things have changed?
Well, Tish, let’s dish on these very real challenges:
Anticipated marketing is canceled
Staffing and budgeting are reallocated
Planning is happening in quick bursts of real time
We’re all for digital marketing automation at Ingenuity, but real time marketing requires a human to intervene on quality control and think about the other humans receiving your content…especially when those humans are living with evolving stress and maybe even decision paralysis.
Recognize the Team and Regroup
Our consultants often participate in telemeetings and video calls with other professional service providers and marketers within accounting and financial services, engineering and associations. Each industry has its own unique challenges, but the one thing these professionals all appreciate is an acknowledgement that they are doing the best they can under strange or changing circumstances.
That’s what crisis communications is about. It’s not normal. It’s rarely fun except for certain adrenaline junkies…and even they need a nap sometimes. In crisis, most people seek a place of calm.
Therefore, the healthiest thing to do in a rapidly changing market is to focus on what you can do.
Go back to the drawing board. Look at your current content assets and your helpful outsourced relationships. Look at your calendar and team. Identify your role going forward in communications and content marketing. Are you best at:
Research and analysis? Writing and editing? Strategy and logistics? Team dynamics?
Use those strengths to establish daily, then weekly, then biweekly, then monthly, then quarterly priorities until the crisis eases. But realize that an annual marketing plan may no longer fit your market or even the world. And while content marketing can be automated for efficiency, it needs surveillance and measurement monthly to stay relevant.
To help you regain a foothold, here are tips for both marketers and business developers to launch content marketing and communications activities with renewed energy and enthusiasm…in any environment or crisis.
For Content Marketing and Communications
Manage the message (go personal and empathetic, but avoid trite phrases)
Establish priorities (mobilize teams based on strengths)
Anticipate short-term and long-term (weekly triage; quarterly review of tactics)
Ideate on alternatives (external and internal communications)
Stay on top of trends (what will the future look like?)
Strengthen media relationships (media training anyone?)
Build in efficient processes (e.g. online networking tutorials)
Acknowledge and publicize early wins (to build influence and team motivation)
Share stories of client success (like, always)
For Professional Business Development
Reach out (current and past clients/prospects)
Oversee web queries (direct queries to your email)
Help your referral sources (clarify your prospects and get clarity on theirs)
Work closely with marketing (triage and quarterly planning)
Identify new sources of revenue (what is emerging for top line?)
Send handwritten notes (appreciate and connect)
Stay connected to trade groups (serve and attend calls)
Social network (increase connections; send messages; endorsements)
Professionals who do this now are the best equipped to manage a long game of change for their organizations. They will also be viewed as valuable and influential — something that every professional executive team needs to recognize now about their marketing.
Don’t stop marketing! Prepare refreshed and relevant marketing, and then act when the time is right.
And for Pete’s sake, update and segment your email lists so that Pete isn’t called Tish anymore. Respect the prospect.
A solid content marketing strategy shouldn’t simply revolve around creating a content calendar with a list of to-dos. It should align with the goals your professional services firm has identified for growth and utilize digital marketing resources that help you connect with your clients and prospects. A few things you want to consider when developing your content strategy include:
Utilize a variety of content mediums – Your audience is comprised of unique individuals who all consume content in different ways. Some prefer reading a blog post while others may prefer watching a video or reviewing an infographic. A varied content strategy will ensure that you are providing the types of content that will resonate with more than one segment of your audience.
Set goals for your content – How does your content align with your firm goals for lead generation and growth? By understanding this, you can create more effective content that resonates with your clients and prospects.
Determine what success looks like – Perhaps success is a certain number of leads coming from your website. It could be the number of views your video receives or the number of new email sign-ups you receive each month. Establish what KPIs are important for you and then measure them on a regular basis so you can determine if you are meeting your goals and how you can optimize your efforts for greater success.
Maximize your content – You can use your content more than once and in more than one way by repurposing or updating old content. You can update older content or you can convert content from one format to another.
Vary Your Content
There’s an incredible variety of content that can be created today. Blogs, video, podcasts, infographics, market and industry reports and whitepapers are just a few examples of what types of content can be used in your firm’s strategy. Because every individual consumes content differently, it’s important that your content marketing plan includes a variety while still producing what is authentic for your firm.
We have worked with some clients who find great success through video content, while others connect better with their clients and prospects through their blogs and whitepapers. Your firm should focus on creating content that resonates best with your own clients and ideal prospects and not worry about jumping on the latest trends, even if your competitors are doing it
If you find that you don’t have any individuals at your firm who want to be the subject matter expert in a video, this is an area you could outsource. Write a script and hire talent to be in front of the camera delivering your message. Or perhaps the individual would be more comfortable having a recorded conversation that is produced as a podcast. Play to the strengths of your firm leaders and employees to develop the best content that’s authentic to your firm.
Maximizing the Usefulness of Your Content
Many professional services firms fall into the thinking that they have to be constantly churning out new content. This creates an overwhelming feeling that can lead to abandoning a content marketing plan. In reality, much of your content can be used more than once and in more than one way.
Of course, some content may be considered timely if your firm is addressing recent tax law changes or legislation that affects clients in specific industries. However, there’s a lot of content that falls under what we call “evergreen.” This is the type of content that remains relevant for months and even years. It can be easily updated and republished.
Rewrite or update older content – Dig back into your content that’s two or more years old to decide what information is still largely relevant and how it can be updated and republished for your audience. You have valuable insights that don’t lose their value simply because it’s older information.
Repurpose and revise formats – Perhaps you have a video that can be repurposed into a blog or vice versa. We’ve done this often at Ingenuity. While we don’t actively promote videos of former employees, it is still great content that our audience finds valuable. We repurpose that content as a blog post. With a little editing, the subject can quickly be revised and updated. This provides us with not only new content for our audience, but it provides us with SEO on our website and three to five social media posts.
A well-devised content marketing strategy can help foster loyalty and create new opportunities for growth in your professional services firm. Start with the steps we outlined above to get started in creating a sustainable strategy. If you need assistance creating content, hiring a professional ghostwriter can free you up to serve your clients while providing you with researched and well-written content.
When you have a gap in your marketing, it simply means that you have a group of prospects who have not yet converted to becoming a client – they are not buying your services. These gaps are opportunities that can revolve around your core services or a niche that is unmet with current clients and prospects. Identifying these gaps is your first step to filling them.
Gap Marketing to Improve Firm Value for M&A
When it comes to ownership transitions, the goal is to maximize value. If your exit strategy is hinging on an acquisition, this is something you have to plan for in advance. Positioning your firm as a high value acquisition can require some brand positioning and messaging to accomplish.
We recently worked with a CPA firm on the East coast who had approached a larger firm about the possibility of being acquired. They were told that it was not a viable option at that time and were given areas to improve if they wanted this to be future possibility. While the firm worked on their internal processes, Ingenuity was tasked with rebranding the firm and creating a marketing strategy to grow their core services and niches. After a few years of dedicated effort, the firm’s value improved and they were able to be acquired. While the firm was able to improve their processes and services from within, a strong marketing strategy and rebranding campaign played a role in the success.
If you want to improve your firm’s value to be better positioned for an acquisition, here are a few areas to look at.
Specialization and Niches Help Drive Acquisition
You cannot be all things to all people. Some firms operate too broadly with the services they offer and the industries they serve. This may indicate that they don’t really know their ideal client. Identify who your best clients are and what makes them so great. Why do they do business with your firm? Once you understand what it is that brings great clients to you and why they stay, you are on the path to determining where to focus your efforts to grow your client base.
It’s also important to identify which services and industries your employees excel in. If your firm is adept at conducting audits for nonprofit entities, then create a marketing strategy to develop and grow this area. Perhaps you live in a fast growing metro area with a lot of construction firms in the market that need outsourced accounting. Whatever the service or industry, a concentrated marketing effort can grow your firm and improve its value as a high value acquisition target.
Concentrate on Processes
If your firm lacks processes and documentation, can be this quickest way to an unfulfilled acquisition. While it might be fun and hip to forego formal processes, it doesn’t provide a solid foundation for operational success. Furthermore, if your firm relies on individuals over formalized processes, your firm is vulnerable to their continued employment. This can be an immediate red flag during an acquisition. Creating documentation for your processes shows that you value your employees, your clients and that you prioritize the firm’s continued success.
Look the Part
Quality brand positioning is critical to show how what your firm is about. The firm acquiring yours may decide to keep your brand intact, especially if you are well respected within your community and specialty and niche services. Ensuring that you have all branding elements in place can help create perceived value. Is your website up-to-date and optimized for SEO? Is your marketing collateral branded consistently with messaging that conveys your firm’s capabilities and differentiates you from your competitors? Have you created a proposal format that helps you win business?
Selling a company is no small feat. It takes some planning and work to be positioned for high value. Ingenuity has the tools to provide analysis and recommendations for identifying marketing gaps around your services or niches.
Recognizing the talents of your team can go a long way in retaining your best employees and recruiting new talent. In addition, happy employees are the key to great client service. In this video, hear from Dawn Wagenaar, Principal at Ingenuity Marketing Group, as she shares how brand positioning can help your professional services firm retain key employees.
If you prefer to read the video transcript, you may find it below:
As a business owner, I know how important it is to recognize and promote the talents of my team. But with project management deadlines and business development, it can be easy to forget this important piece of talent retention — and recruitment.
Happy employees are the key to client service and recruitment. Here are a few ways to recognize them. These ideas will help you attract more great employees.
How about going social? Create some “meet the team” posts on your social media channels. Share a photo of an employee and talk about why this person is great. Choose employees by lottery or start by featuring your leaders.
A second idea is to include younger team members as authors or presenters. Use a ghostwriter or outsourced vendor to help them write a blog post or develop a video. They might need some initial coaching or art direction, but it’s a great way to showcase your team’s diversity and personalities.
Here’s one more idea. Nominate them for awards. Some of your team members are doing amazing things inside and outside the office. Look for ways to nominate them for industry awards, community or business awards in your region. If you need help investigating your options, you can outsource this public relations task.
A great reputation attracts more talent! Recognize your employees, and word will get around!
One word you might see a lot today regarding business culture and marketing is authenticity – defined as something or someone “entitled to acceptance as authoritative, genuine, true or correct.”
You may also hear a lot about the term personalization — defined as “to render personal rather than impersonal or purely professional, to make or alter so as to meet individual needs, inclinations or specifications.”
This is the preferred approach to service delivery. Be a professional who is authentic and who personalizes the experience for every client. Perhaps it always has been this way, which is why professionals are in a great position to deliver what today’s clients expect.
Here is the challenge: with limited time, how do you create that personal and authentic experience for every client — and, just as importantly, every potential client whom you haven’t met yet?
In reality, it’s a people challenge and a technology challenge.
Why Digital Marketing Matters
Qualified potential clients usually want to interact with your firm or organization online first. They will gather a sense of what your firm cares about and represents through your website, bios, social media profiles and your public relations. It’s not just about the messaging. It’s also about how easy they can navigate your site and find up-to-date social posts about issues they care about.
On social media, people respond much more frequently and positively to a post about someone winning an award or working a booth at a tradeshow (with a photo or video!) than they do to a news item or a link to the firm’s services.
Also, if your posts include real people, then real people will respond to it! See the difference in these two posts — one about a new employee and one linking to a blog post.
If your articles include real stories about how other clients navigated a common problem, then your key points will hit home much faster than if you simply state the problem and the solution.
For example, we were working with a client that wanted to reach out more personally to prospects, but didn’t have time to meet with each prospect in person right away. To get more responses, we suggested using the personal touch of “virtual coffee” by sending a coffee gift card by mail. The invitation to prospects — using their first name and personalizing the message — was much warmer than a generic email or postcard, and our client actually heard back from people!
In the same way, your firm’s online presence has to be deeply personal and rooted in what your firm is at its core. When prospects see consistent messages from your firm that reflect a set of values resonant through all levels of what you actually deliver, it builds trust and makes them want to work with you.
What are your values? It’s not services, quality and years of knowledge. Authenticity requires an emotional and human connection that builds trust. Have you looked at your firm’s values and brand loyalty lately? Maybe it’s time for a refresh.
Try these ideas as a way to personalize your firm’s values and experiences with clients and potential clients.
Explore your organization’s core values. As a different type of marketing exercise, come up with a list of cars, celebrities or songs that are distinctly a bad fit. Now talk about why they don’t fit your organization. In the negatives, you’ll learn a lot about who you really are and why you’re different from your competitors.
Repeat great client experiences. Use a great client as a composite profile of more clients you would like to attract. Identify why the relationship works so well. Interview them about ways that you have built trust and personalized the relationship. Practice those skills with prospects and other clients. Just asking these questions can build more trust with your clients.
Be human. Clients and prospects are looking for a way to connect. Take photos of fun times or “real” times with your team and share them. Celebrate new babies or anniversaries. Send a card if a client is sick. Stop the shop talk if you sense that your client needs someone to just listen.
This process of blending professional aspects of your business with personalization may not be easy at first. It requires being a bit vulnerable and less focused on the work sometimes. But in a service-based business, people care just as much about how you make them feel as they do about how you help them succeed.