If you have built up a positive brand reputation for your professional services firm, partnership marketing and referral source marketing are two tactics you should consider making a part of your overall marketing strategy. When two brands come together for their mutual benefit, the results can be quite impressive and create new opportunities to reach prospective clients or members.
Partnership marketing is simply when two brands collaborate on a marketing campaign. Some of the most common ways we are seeing this accomplished within professional service firms and associations is through co-hosted webinars, newsletter shout-outs and creating co-branded content such as whitepapers.
As you consider who to partner with, be strategic and make sure that there is a mutual benefit. Maybe you have a larger client list but the other partner has a magnetic and trusting personality that makes webinars fun. Or perhaps you have more expertise in an area and your marketing partner has a very engaged audience. Even if your partnership marketing efforts are a bit lopsided, that’s entirely okay. Sometimes it is worth it in order to forge the relationship and create loyalty.
The benefits of partnership marketing are many and include increased brand awareness through exposure beyond your primary audience, new contacts for your nurturing campaigns and lead generation. It is also an association and professional services marketing strategy that is low risk. You can dip your toes into the waters of partnership marketing to see what resonates with your target audience and quickly adjust your strategies with minimal investment or cost up front.
When we talk to our clients, we often find that they are neglecting their referral sources in their networking and marketing efforts. If you are not optimizing this source of business development, you may be missing out on some great prospective clients or members.
Whether you are just building your referral marketing strategies or need a refresher in how to implement it, here are a few tips to boost your efforts in this area.
First, identify referral sources that could send business your way. For CPA firms, this may include attorneys or financial advisors. For an association, this could be a nonprofit with a similar mission that complements yours. Make sure they understand what you do and what your ideal prospect looks like.
Next connect regularly with your referral sources. Create a schedule so that you are routinely calling or emailing them just to connect. The goal is to stay top-of-mind so they refer you when the opportunities arise.
Finally, when you receive referrals you appreciate, pick up the phone and let them know. Once you’ve done that, take it a step further and do something nice for them. You could send a referral their way, give them a recommendation or review or make another type of introduction that would be helpful to their business. Go out of your way to send the message that you appreciate their support in your success by contributing to theirs.
Implementing partnership and referral source marketing into your strategies can help you build your brand awareness and connect with new potential clients or members. Give it a try and see what works for your professional service firm or association.
Dawn Wagenaar and Christine Nelson co-authored an article in the August 2020 issue of The Marketer for the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS). This national magazine is a premiere publication for marketers and business development professionals in the A/E/C industry and other professional services.
We are honored to contribute our knowledge to A/E/C professionals and those who serve them. Below is the article in its entirety, reprinted with permission by SMPS, which reserves their magazine for members as a benefit. Let us know if you have any questions about your website SEO and how to optimize it for visitors, clients and leads!
Creating Dynamic Websites for Secure Online Marketing
While some firms have been fairly agile in moving to an online workflow and marketing approach, even before COVID-19, others are still counting the costs and missed opportunities of a delayed response. Although dynamic online marketing and business development have been available for many years now, adoption in A/E/C has been slow or even nonexistent.
On a spectrum of digital priorities for the new decade, more than 50% of professional services firms emphasized new content creation, but less than one-third were focused on analytics or website design, according to the 2020 High Growth Study by Hinge. This begs the question: With the amount of time it takes to develop and post new content, what’s the true benefit if no one sees it?
Lead generation through content requires analytics, which in turn require dynamic digital platforms. The Hinge statistics would need to be flipped for a true revolution to an online marketing and growth platform. For firms that are serious about growth through online marketing, here are some basic upgrades in SEO and security they need to consider.
Updated Web Platform
Sometimes, an old platform just can’t continue the digital journey, particularly if platform themes weren’t updated regularly along the way. In that case, your firm may need to invest in a new platform or updated theme to make the website more secure and searchable.
To help you decide if you need a web refresh or a whole new website, conduct a site audit to identify important things like missing metadata or outdated site functionality.
Secure Web Certificate
A secure website is dependent on many things, but one easy way to see if you have a baseline secure website is to see if your URL address is “https” rather than “http.” New websites are already developed with “https,” but some need back-end work to update their certificate and avoid search engines labeling them as not secure—and advising visitors to leave immediately. You don’t want that happening, as most antivirus software won’t even allow visitors to open or use unsecure sites.
ADA Compliance and Opt-In Policy
Do the images on your website have descriptions and alt tags to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements? Are font sizes large enough? Do your videos have captions and transcriptions? If not, it’s time for an update.
Strangely, we see this common problem, even in new websites: The back-end analytics code is added twice, or it’s skipped altogether. The site’s analytics should be checked postlaunch to make sure pages are indexing properly and the analytics are collecting data on visits. If the web developer doesn’t do this, invest in a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) expert to make sure your firm isn’t losing weeks or months of visitor data.
Once your analytics are in good working order, create tutorials or training for staff on which analytics are important for your firm to track. Monthly SEO reports have no meaning unless they’re translated as part of your overall marketing and business development goals. You need to know if content campaigns are working and attracting visitors and leads in order to know which ones to repeat or maximize.
This is a huge area of digital marketing but is far too often missed in the development of content. Your firm should have a set of strong keywords and phrases that are searched for your specific services. You can create the list by seeing which bring visitors to your website now, and then add related keywords and phrases.
Keyword research is just as much an art as a science. Success can depend on whether people are searching on mobile devices, through voice assistants, or on their laptops. Balance popular or widely searched keywords with those that are more unique to your firm and geography. Use more than one keyword tool to create a strong list.
This is a huge area of digital marketing but is far too often missed in the development of content. Your firm should have a set of strong keywords and phrases that are searched for your specific services.
Once you have a solid keyword list, your content needs optimization. This means that keywords get incorporated strategically into headlines and body copy, but also that page titles and meta descriptions are built into all new content. You can make this step easier by creating a blog template that asks the writer (or ghostwriter) to add in the SEO while they are writing the content. Be mindful of character counts in page titles and the sensible use of keywords for your readers.
As part of your SEO campaigns, you may choose to focus on certain key phrases that align with the services you’re promoting each quarter for growth and leads. This will keep you focused on attracting visitors for those services, but also help your firm improve its search engine ranking for those phrases. Again, this is an art and a science because search engines continually update their algorithms and methods of ranking sites for relevant content.
Some of the rankings also consider if your firm is conducting paid digital advertising. This is, of course, how search engines make their money.
Calls to Action
Too many websites leave visitors trying to figure out where they should go next. For example, it doesn’t help to say, “Contact us for more information” at the end of a blog post with no detailed information or link.
Strategic calls to action guide visitors directly to the link of a related blog post, video, or whitepaper. Entire content campaigns take the visitor on a path from blog post to client success story to whitepaper to service area and a formal needs assessment or query. This is how qualified leads happen directly online. The visitor qualifies themself and requests a call, more information, or a demo.
In fact, during the early months of working-from-home this year, we saw a noted increase in search queries and use of website contact boxes by visitors who were desperate for information on a variety of business needs. They found it easiest to ask a question via contact box. The firms that were ready to respond quickly got the lead.
Flip the script on your website experience. Focus now on the infrastructure and right analytics that will get more eyes on your informative content. Your 24/7, secure, and optimized website will pay dividends when you can’t market in person.
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.
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.
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.
If you look at the history of any firm that dominates a niche market, you will often find this domination based on one or two people who have become authorities in that industry. Everyone in the industry knows that when you have certain kinds of problems you reach out to these people first. They are frequently quoted in the press about the industry, asked to speak at industry events and maintain a high profile with the local and national associations.
A lot of firms are known for certain niches, but very few have gained exclusive recognition — the household name for agribusiness accounting or the predominant architect for designing public buildings. As more firms work at niche marketing, it is going to get harder to gain that exclusive “rock star” kind of recognition.
Many smart and strategic firms remain at the most basic level of recognition, which is simply to remain visible. Your people show up, meet people, write articles and offer to speak. Your firm sponsors an event and advertises in the niche market newsletter or publication. If you are personally charismatic and connect well with people, this may be enough to gain some measure of recognition and exposure. If you are not, you had better add more marketing strategy and focus to your niche development.
One effective tool to use when expanding a niche marketing strategy is public speaking. When you have a toehold in a niche, speaking is probably the easiest way to both gain the reputation as an expert and develop personal relationships in the niche.
If You Speak It, Own It
Doing a few “pretty good” speeches or being on a panel or two is not going to cut it. The competition is tough and you just have to be better. When Ingenuity helps someone get breakthrough recognition through speaking, we start with strategy and follow up with integrated implementation toward the goals.
You need a purpose. Most of our clients speak in order to develop business for their firms. That’s pretty generic. Decide on the true reason for your speaking — which services do you want to promote and why are you convinced that people need them? The best speakers have a passion for their topic. You need to authentically convey that passion and believe that you make a difference with what you share.
You need a goal. Start with your end clearly in mind or you will be giving away a lot of valuable information for free to people who may not care and may never buy your services. We have heard many CPAs, financial advisors and attorneys give away the store in their public speeches. Because they are trained to be experts, they tend to give away all their knowledge in the PowerPoint, leaving the audience with no appetite for more. Not that you should use a hard sales approach that never works. Instead, use a thoughtful approach to your topics and track your results. The data will show what works pretty quickly.
Create a list of organizations filled with the kinds of people who can buy your services. Find out when these organizations have conferences, what they are looking for and how their speaking decisions are made. Decide which audiences you will charge a fee to and which you will not, as well as how you will develop leads from speaking. If the organization allows, pass out an evaluation form to qualify leads.If not, be creative and add a landing page with a survey or information that would be valuable for them to fill out a form and receive more detail.
You need packaging. A great photo, a speaker bio and a list of topics and audiences will help you sell yourself to groups of people who do not know you. You need a great package with compelling topics in order to get in front of the decision makers you want.
A speaking coach can smooth away your nervous tics, train you to take off your nametag and shorten your PowerPoint, and most importantly help you create something dynamic and unique for your audience. If your speaking style is shaky, you might need to invest six months at Toastmasters. Tape your speeches and make yourself watch them for improvement.
You need a platform. Start pitching tidbits of fresh information and ideas from the services you most want to sell and/or are passionate about. This needs to be done regularly as many organizations are staffed by volunteers who may take a while to make decisions. Your topics should touch on key areas of pain the niche audience experiences rather than creating a platform outlining the services of your firm. Address the needs of your audience, provide insight on industry trends and offer a limited sample of recommendations and solutions that tie to your services.
Platforms are the subtle art of public speaking. Your goal is new business, but your platform is about showcasing your knowledge and awareness of audience needs and potential solutions. Through your visibility and credibility as a smart and informed speaker, you’re on your way to developing your niche in a sustainable way.
10 Ideas to Maximize Your Niche Marketing Strategy
You’ve identified your niche market, now how do you gain more exposure to that audience? Perhaps you have a few thoughts on a marketing strategy, but aren’t quite sure how to implement the plan. Here are 10 ways to become a recognized advisor in your niche market.
Be Visible.Join trade associations, sponsor events and take leadership roles if possible. Learn how to effectively connect with professionals and speak to their pain, interests and desires. A little practice goes a long way.
Speak. Pursue opportunities to participate in round-table discussions and speak at industry events. Proactively take part seminars and panel discussions at industry associations.
Write. Submit articles to industry publications and the general media. Make sure your photo, biography, and contact information are included.
Get Covered.Identify your firm as experts in your niche industry to the media and let them know that you are available for interviews and expert advice on topics within your niche.
Network. Build rapport with vendors and related professionals in your niche. If you are a CPA, meet all the lawyers, bankers, insurance agents and other vendors who work in the niche.
Train. Host training sessions or conferences for clients related to your niche services. Better yet, offer to speak or present if they are in need of your expertise.
Publish. Be seen as an authority by creating niche newsletters or guides that offer tips and advice to clients.
Model. Research what other firms are doing and adopt similar strategies. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but don’t overdo it. Modeling a similar strategy doesn’t mean you can’t infuse your firm’s culture and personality into it.
Read. Stay up to date on industry news to understand client needs and challenges. Share your learning and impart your newfound wisdom to others in the firm through email or connect at lunch.
Perform. Do a great job for current clients so they sing your praises. Take that one step further by obtaining testimonials and case studies about the difference you have made for your clients that you can share in your niche marketing materials.
As your firm becomes known for a niche industry or service, you rise above the competition and are hired for that knowledge and your connections. The niche becomes part of your brand.
Niches can also attract and retain talented young professionals for the partner track.
For example, one of our accounting clients has built two-thirds of the firm’s practice in government consulting, a deep niche that is attracting non-CPAs with health care backgrounds as well as accountants. Another client focuses exclusively on pharmacies, and now has a national market. Yet another client has success with a large niche in buy here pay here auto dealerships that has contributed to double-digit firm revenue growth.
From these examples, it’s clear that niche development is going deeper than before, requiring a focused niche marketing strategy to stay visible to a narrower audience.
How to Deepen Your Niche Market
Which clients do you already serve in an industry? Can you grow a deeper niche for which you are better known than any competitor? Can the niche expand nationally?
You have to discern if the niche is sustainable as a growth industry, the level of competition and the potential to gain a significant portion of the market without being the lowest cost provider. Market research goes a long way toward defining your true niches.
If you don’t yet have a niche or if your firm is small, you can still develop a narrower niche within an industry. One professional services firm exploring new opportunities in manufacturing started to focus just on software developers because of the number of those firms in its region and the fact that no other comparable firms served them. It had a few clients and knowledgeable staff and was able to grow the niche through referrals and strategic marketing.
Create a Firm Within a Firm
Speaking of your niche team, select someone as the lead or spokesperson who has the respect of other partners and can facilitate niche objectives. Organize the team like a company within a company. Build in administrative and marketing support, job descriptions, a budget, and incentives for participation.
Ideally, you want a mix of established and new staff on the team to fuel ideas and momentum. Without this organization and commitment to growth, team members can be pulled in other directions — lacking time for focused business development and niche client services expansion.
Choose Your Messages
Work with the niche team to identify its value proposition. Why do you service the clients exceptionally well? Why is your experience important to their everyday business? Decide what sets your firm apart in this area and what values and expectations you want people to associate with your team.
Helpful hint: To support niche visibility, your online presence should look like the people and industry that you serve. Update your images and messaging to speak to their pains, interests and desires.
One of our clients recently asked us to develop team member bios that reflect their niche-specific experience. These bios can be used on the website as well as in proposals, presentations and speaking engagements to create more niche visibility and growth.Other firms develop partner-marketing events and send out industry briefs to inform niche clients and potential clients about their knowledge.
Remember that niche market development is not a rapid process. It can take years to establish your expertise. Make sure when identifying a deeper niche that it has internal champions with established industry connections and knowledge, a target market with growth potential, and synergy with your firm’s vision.
A niche marketing strategy can help your professional services firm understand your target client’s pains and desires. In doing so, you will reach a targeted group of leads and bring in more business. In this video, we share three niche marketing hacks to reach more leads. Learn how research, social tools, content and partnership marketing will drive your niche marketing strategy.
How should professional service firm partners identify and prepare their future partners? Principal Dawn Wagenaar provides five ways to help emerging leaders develop the mindset of a future owner. Help them prepare now as a key retention strategy.
At Super Bowl LII, the makers of Doritos and Mountain Dew partnered up on dueling commercials while asking fans to share their own lip-sync performances on Snapchat. Their common fans agreed that the products go together and that the consecutive commercials made them want to buy both products. It was the perfect example of successful partnership marketing…and fun!
This strategy can be a great option for niche marketing. But we’ve seen too many examples of partnership marketing done badly, leaving one partner with success while the other gets a participation medal. To make a partnership marketing opportunity the best it can be, do the following:
1. Choose the right partner.
If you are a manufacturer, do not partner with another manufacturer unless your markets are complementary. Professionals, likewise, should partner with a strong referral source. You can even choose to partner with a media outlet if they offer programs in which they do all the marketing for the purposes of meeting new potential advertisers through the event or campaign.
2. Align your goals.
Make sure you are on the same page with the reasons for your partnership. If your partner is only interested in your clients and you get nothing out of it, it’s worthless. Talk about the potential audience and if that audience is beneficial to both of you. Make sure each partner is guaranteed some level of success with visibility, networking or sales leads.
3. Have a hook.
Why should people spend their time attending your event or paying attention to your campaign? What’s in it for them? You and your partner could play host to an attractive guest speaker or panel. We’ve seen instances where companies partner to host a popular author for a book signing. Others may co-host a charity outing. You must provide value to gain value.
If your office is a terrible meeting place, do not force people to go there. They won’t. Choose a comfortable location that is set up well for mingling, listening to speakers or entertainment. Talk to a meeting planner about how to maximize attendance (e.g. date and time of event).
5. Promote heavily.
In addition to advertising, use your social media and direct invites effectively. People are busy, and they usually need to see something several times before they will pay attention and/or sign up. If your partnership campaign is a series of expert videos or podcasts, for example, continuous promotion will start to reach a percentage of your target audience. One announcement is not enough. Also, make sure your invite list is large. Things come up. Only a percentage of that list will commit and attend.
6. Position your company.
As a partner, your company should be central as sponsor or host. Create signage or have an attractive booth. Use your logo strategically online and at the event. Have people from your company positioned as greeters, experts or both to ensure that everyone knows or gets to know your business. This is not a hard sell situation. Through advertising of the event, campaign or product all the way through the marketing process, your company should stand out and get people to opt in to future communications.
7. Outsource logistics.
You don’t have time to worry about food, security, the sign-up table or the technology. Put your best vendors or people on key tasks to pull off a seamless partnership event. Your job is to mingle, educate and gather new contacts. If you are hosting an online event, have tech people on hand to deal with unexpected glitches or to facilitate live Q and A.
A great advantage to partnership marketing is splitting the cost of logistics with your partner!
8. Follow up with leads.
After all the work of conducting partnership marketing, do not forget to have a follow-up plan. Whether that’s a fishbowl drawing to collect business cards, an online contact capture tool or a related resource to share, be prepared to continue the conversation with attendees after your event.
A subtle type of partnership marketing is public speaking, particularly through niche marketing association events.