We all agree that project debriefs are helpful if you can get clear takeaways about areas to improve in your management processes, cost estimates or client communications. But everything we’ve read about project debriefs is essentially internal and focused on your team.
What about the client’s perspective?
AEC firms tell us that they get the majority of their new work through repeat clients or referrals from clients. So it begs the question, why aren’t project managers checking in with clients immediately post-project, six months after a project and so on?
Some experienced project managers and firms with a sales team are great at this, but it should be a common practice across your PM team if you are building a culture that delivers consistently stellar client experiences. PMs who check in with clients strengthen the relationship, and they will also hear about future work on the horizon sooner.
It’s a team effort. PMs and business developers have different, but complementary interests in the relationship. Business developers are interested in keeping clients happy and attracting new work. PMs are interested in improving processes, efficiency and project outcomes. It all translates to new work and more enjoyable projects for everyone.
Winning AEC Business While Retaining Great PMs
Here are some thoughts to integrate client check-ins with your post-project debriefing. They are a key part of competitive research and winning future business.
Encourage your PMs to invite or join clients for lunch.Post-project, you should have fun, celebratory lunches or post-project conversations. Why? It will strengthen the client relationship by letting the PM show their human and personal side. People who have a nice time together are more likely to want to work together in the future.
Prep your PMs for great post-project questions. As part of your debrief process, create some questions that the PM can use to collect important feedback and also ask for referrals. You already know if the project came in on time and on budget, so why ask clients that?
Ask them about what they appreciated most during the project and what might have displeased them. Ask if you’re on the same page about the value you delivered or if they have other ideas. And finally, ask how likely they are to refer you to other clients, and when there might be new work coming your way.
Train your PMs to share client feedback with marketing and business development. If your marketing team doesn’t know about how your firm saved a client thousands of dollars through a new choice of materials or an alternative design approach, they can’t share a success story to attract new business.
Plus, PMs can feel proud talking about their “wins” on a short video or sharing a client compliment in a case study. Even if you have an NDA, smart marketing people know how to discreetly share that competitive feedback and communicate your firm’s value to clients and prospects. Client feedback and stories are the most memorable ways to do that. And who is closer to the project’s value and deliverables than the PM?
Why is client feedback so important for AEC repeat business? You can’t assume that clients will choose your firm every time. These industries are too competitive.
Instead, proactively ask for the feedback through your debriefing process. Discuss the project internally, and then take that information on the road to discuss with your clients. They will appreciate that you spent time talking about their project, and you will appreciate having time with them that isn’t solely focused on a proposal, a problem or a deadline.
We highly recommend a post-project celebration, too. Cheers!
Virtual networking provides countless advantages to boost your business development strategy. Not only can you form long-term relationships with potential clients and business partners, but you get to connect at your own convenience.
Taking advantage of virtual networking allows us to connect with anyone from anywhere. There’s no longer a limit to how far we will travel to meet prospects, or a need to coordinate travel days into our busy work schedule. It also allows us to connect with others in different time zones, and then take our children to soccer practice later in the afternoon. The new virtual world we live in allows professionals within any industry to maintain a personal and work life balance.
Virtual networking is here to stay simply because of the convenience factor. Here’s how to take advantage of this new way of doing business.
Virtual Networking Can Still Be Personal
Just like you would talk about weather or traffic when meeting a prospect in person, you still need to add these casual conversational pieces into your virtual discussions. In other words, don’t make it all about work. Ask about a painting or photo someone has behind them during the video conference call. Ask them questions about their weekend or their hobbies. Side conversations like this make networking fun, memorable and personable. It’s these types of conversations that allow you to form long-lasting, valuable relationships with potential leads that turn into loyal clients.
Add variety to how you connect with your prospects.With the year 2020 behind us, you’ve probably heard or experienced what we often call “Zoom fatigue”. It’s true that being on video or on a long call can be exhausting, especially when you’re trying to separate personal and work life. Ask your prospects if they prefer to meet on camera or over the phone today. Who knows, you may find prospects in your local area who would prefer to meet at a coffee shop.
Other ways to stop top-of-mind with prospects is to share resources. After knowing your prospects interests and appetite for your services, share podcasts, blogs, videos or other resources you’ve found to be helpful. Connecting like this via email allows you to be seen as a valuable resource, helping the potential client to understand certain topics or gain industry insight.
Virtual Networking Adds Flexibility to your Work Schedule
We now have the opportunity to network with people far and wide, whenever it works best for our work or personal schedules. You may find that fitting virtual networking into your busy work schedule is easier than ever. Maybe for you, scheduling multiple video conference calls in one afternoon allows you to cross multiple necessary discussions off your business development to-do list quickly and efficiently.
It may seem difficult to initially connect with new prospects. Once you have their contact information, offer a brief 10 to 15-minute phone call. Brief phone calls remain less intimidating than video conferencing. This phone call can be used to get to know what the prospect’s needs are, what they are looking for and how you can help. From there, having a follow up discussion via video can be a more beneficial use of time and provide an opportunity to share informed insight to what specific services or information the prospect is looking for.
Connecting virtually also allows you have to have multiple resources at your fingertips. When meeting virtually with a potential client, you can have their website up on your computer screen while you ask questions about their operations. Maybe you even skim through their LinkedIn profile during your discussion to speak to specific work-experience or skills the prospect has.
One of the keys to networking is your follow through. Even when connecting virtually, follow up via email or phone to check in with the lead. Ask how they are doing, if they have any questions for you and maybe even bring up a topic of conversation you had together during the call. This is another opportunity to connect with the prospect on a personal level, and form a loyal working relationship with them.
When connecting virtually, be attentive. Give the prospect your entire attention by being in a quiet room with limited distractions and good phone service or a strong internet connection. Silence phone or computer notifications, just as you would in an in-person business meeting.
We get it. Life happens, and sometimes you will need to reschedule virtual meetings. Even though virtual networking is convenient because we can do it from our couch, the airport or the local coffee shop, being appreciative of the prospect’s time is critically important. Don’t forget to communicate in advance if you must reschedule.
The advantages to virtual networking are limitless. It brings ease to your work day, adds flexibility to your business development strategy and expands who you can reach for future business opportunities. If you haven’t added this into your business development strategy, what are you waiting for?! Take advantage of these opportunities, yet keep the foundation of networking skills in place. With these tips in mind, your business development strategy will reap the benefits of virtual networking long into the future.
What is one of your favorite brands, and how did you get hooked on the product or service? It’s likely that word-of-mouth was your referral. Think about it! We talk about products and brands with our coworkers, family and friends all the time. Our loyalty to certain brands or products supports business development.
Here’s an example of brand loyalty and how referrals impact the branding process.
You and your family have always purchased Chevrolet vehicles. You decide to look for a fresh perspective and seek advice from a coworker for your next vehicle purchase. Based on their advice and feedback, you purchase a new Ford SUV.
You end up loving the new amenities and low-maintenance fees the Ford SUV provides. Your brand loyalty has changed! You plan to inform your family members of how much you’re enjoying your Ford vehicle, knowing their brand loyalty could switch just like yours did.
This is exactly what Ford wanted to happen! Building reliable vehicles that people want to talk about and share is all part of their branding process. This can be part of your brand loyalty process, too!
How can you build referral sources that ultimately support your business development strategy?
Engage with your current clients
One of the most efficient ways to attract future clients is to utilize your current client base, allowing them to tap into their networks for you. It’s likely that their business connections are also your target audience or potential referral base.
One way to encourage engaged conversation with your current clients is to offer a survey or assessment. Surveys provide an opportunity for you to better understand your clients, but also help your clients give you referral information directly.
Make sure to follow up after you have received survey responses. This tells your clients that you appreciate the feedback. During this follow-up step, they may be more likely to make an email or personal introduction.
Tips to connect with referrals
Always collect your referral’s email address to easily follow up and connect. Frequent follow-ups allow you and your business to stay top of mind with your referral sources without taking up too much of their or your time.
Keep the emails focused on what’s new with your firm or association, what services or events you’re offering and the ways you can assist them with their own clients. Your goal is to show your clients that you care and by doing so you will build brand loyalty through these emails and keep your firm top of mind.
What happens next?
You received referral contact information, engaged with those referrals, and now they have started working with you. Hooray! You have reached your goal. Or have you?
The process isn’t complete just yet. Give the referral source a quick phone call or write a personal note, thanking them for their referral. Better yet, depending on the size of the prospect they referred you, you may want to send them a gift such as a gift card, a bottle of wine or something they would enjoy. This is a great way to increase brand loyalty even further and start the referral process all over again.
Ultimately, if you can refer business back to your referral sources, that’s a slam-dunk branding gift that they will remember the next time their clients have a need!
Over time, you will see the trickle effect of your referral program! Your new clients will begin to share their own referrals, which can further establish your brand positioning.
One thing is certain — things don’t always go as planned. Adding a few new elements into your business development strategy may be the push that helps your professional services firm attract quality leads during times of disruption.
We get it! Certain goals get pushed aside during a busy season, during the acquisition of a new company, and when a global pandemic strikes. The good news is that these disruptions present business development opportunities for attracting more people to your brand and message. Here are a few small, but effective lead generation tactics to continue receiving referrals and gaining new business during disruption.
Host a virtual event
Create a referral reward program
Create an online assessment
While the world continues to demand opportunities to connect virtually, how can this be an advantage to attract new business? The chance to attract quality leads through virtual or online platforms becomes increasingly important when turning those leads into returning clients. This is true not only for CPA firms, but equally applies to other service organizations, including those in charge of marketing for an association, as well as legal professionals and engineering firms.
HOST A VIRTUAL EVENT.
Creating an event for current and potential clients to see what your team has been up to, or where you’re headed, is a great way to encourage engagement with your firm. Offer a workshop or webinar where your clients can learn more about your organization and industry trends. Hosting a virtual event provides the opportunity to stand out as an industry thought leader! Invite speakers to join your event who have a deep insight into certain topics that will get your crowd buzzing on the new content.
To reach a magnitude of people, promote this event through your firm’s website, social channels, newsletter and blog. Hosting virtual events may influence even more people than is possible hosting similar events in person. Take advantage of the current trend to go virtual to reach even more people and gain trust from quality leads.
Don’t forget to press “record” when hosting your virtual events. Save this content and recycle it to attract another round of quality leads.
Put your current clients or referral sources in a position to easily refer new leads and promote your brand through a referral reward program. New potential clients value and trust recommendations from their friends or colleagues, so encourage existing clients to spread the word about your brand. Referral reward programs can be short or long-term and are wildly effective.
Creating a referral reward program is not only a great way to gain new clients, but can also increase participation for an upcoming webinar or virtual event. Offer up an incentive to your clients to invite a friend, such as a special drawing at an upcoming virtual event, to encourage current clients to recruit new business leads on your behalf. Think of what types of initiatives make the most sense with your industry or organization and will keep clients and referral sources engaged in helping your firm or organization. While it is unlikely these new webinar recruits will instantly become new clients, they will be excellent new additions to keep your lead generation funnel filled with qualified, engaged potential clients.
Continue to introduce new incentives and new content for other professionals to refer their clients and friends to you. Don’t forget that the best incentive for people to send referrals is when you refer a potential client to them, too! Work on your cross-referral relationships to support each other in new business growth.
GET TO KNOW YOUR LEADS.
Creating a business development strategy around a new referral program or virtual event presents exciting opportunities for your firm to learn more about potential future clients. When obtaining information from referred leads, make sure to ask them questions about themselves. Asking questions helps you gain information to keep them coming back for more. Here are a few ways to throw short, effective assessments into your business development strategy:
Create polls in your virtual webinar series or workshops
Add questionnaires at the end of presentations to see what topics people would like to hear about in the future
Add short survey questions into your email or newsletter blasts to learn more about your leads and loyal clients
Build a web assessment that is industry focused and invites visitors to self-qualify their need for services by identifying their biggest challenges or pains.
With your goals in mind, ask questions that will lead you to information that supports follow-up conversations with leads and prospects. Over time you will also have the opportunity to show how you’ve changed your business development strategy and produced new content based on how your clients and prospects answer your questions and assessments. This demonstrates to your clients that you’re listening. You are building a positive reputation that supports an effective lead generation funnel even during times of disruption.
Remember to always collect an email address! Having an email address provides the opportunity to stay connected to quality leads through email campaigns and newsletter blasts. Your leads can stay connected to the events and content you produce until they are ready to work with you. Sending your content through email and social media will also help your brand stay top-of-mind as a thought leader in the industry.
Recently, we had the opportunity to develop a Client Accounting Services (CAS) business toolkit for public accounting firms. It was designed with best practices to help firm leaders get their ducks in a row to launch or grow a CAS practice.
Some firms get by with offering a version of CAS without proactively branding and marketing it. That’s fine if you don’t believe it can be a true profit center. However, industry advocates such as AICPA and firm leaders who formally pursue CAS experience faster growth and client retention. That’s because the whole firm participates, and their clients experience the real value and benefits of outsourcing their accounting and CFO functions.
In fact, the AICPA has reported that CAS practices that surpass the $2 million mark are different because they have dedicated staff (from accountant to partner level), and the firm actively offers these services to current and new clients…they market it.*
Here is what we learned when discussing niche-marketing strategies with the recipients of our CAS business toolkit: It needs to be treated like a real niche practice. And that means it needs:
Staffing and budgeting;
Consistent marketing, and
A team trained to talk about its value and benefit to clients.
Often, firms get hung up in the marketing component because they assume that clients just know that they offer QuickBooks ProAdvisor team or outsourced accounting or controllership services. After all, they are a public accounting firm! But CAS is not your grandfather’s accounting service.
Know Your Target Audience
Prospects – cold to warm
Existing clients – warm to hot
Referral sources – cold to warm
Who are your prospective CAS clients? What is the size and characteristic of a business that will find outsourced CAS appealing? Detail out the kind of client you want who will bring you $3,000-$7,000 a month as a baseline.
Determine referral sources that can send clients to you. Next, create a plan with talking points about why CAS is the right fit for many of your existing clients.
Build Your CAS Niche Marketing Strategy
Set a financial and staffing goal for your practice. Where do you want to grow the practice in 12 months to 3 years?
Take that goal and break it down into measurable objectives for brand visibility, growth among existing clients and attraction of new CAS-specific clients. What marketing activities will you need to reach these objectives?
To succeed, someone has to take the lead on marketing and measuring your progress toward these objectives and firm goals. Your partners and technical people are too busy serving clients. They need a guide and ongoing activities to support practice growth.
Digital Marketing Agency Support
To make visibility with a CAS practice easier, take stock of your search engine optimization and website content. Are you actively seeking web visitors and leads for your CAS practice or leaving it up to chance? Leaving it up to chance means that your firm might pop up as a search result for CAS and it might not — even in your local market!
Make use of client stories and social media engagement to highlight your CAS team and their amazing knowledge that supports client goals every day. Do your research and ask for the business online as well as in person. What does that look like?
Offer CAS content subscriptions
Produce webinars or videos to share CAS features
Create an assessment to attract prospects
Develop an FAQ resource
In the beginning, you don’t have to do all of these. Just pick one or two. When clients and potential clients can self-serve and qualify themselves for CAS services, you are halfway to closing the deal. But your audience has to know that the resources are there and available 24/7. Marketing and team training points them to it.
Like clients who need CAS, your firm leadership may not all realize that outsourced marketing services can jumpstart your CAS practice growth. We are happy to answer your questions at Ingenuity. Contact Dawn Wagenaar for a consultation.
Engage New and Potential Members Through Social Media
Social media has so thoroughly penetrated our daily lives that you may have put your social strategy on auto-pilot. That’s a mistake. Follow these tips to make sure you’re maximizing your reach and relevance among audiences that don’t yet know you well.
Social media is now baked into most associations’ communications strategies. Your active presence on social media helps your association appear higher in search results across the internet, which can lead to higher visitor engagement on your channels. But that’s not all. Content that is relevant and focused on the visitor also adds value to your new and potential association members—people you need to engage effectively to bring them fully into your community.
Put yourself in their shoes. Consider what social media content would capture your attention if you were a new member or prospect of your association. Build those topics and resources into your social strategy, whether it’s legislative news, event reminders, fun images of member involvement, or features and benefits of membership. Invite new members to follow your channels and explain the benefits, and then maintain a regular posting schedule of communications so they get in the habit of seeking your channels for timely and relevant information.
Your social media strategy should include posts on individual leader profiles. When key leaders comment on topics of interest to members, celebrate member achievements, or highlight resources of interest, this significantly expands your relevance to new members and reach to potential members.
Conversely, less frequent posting and less engagement downgrades your social rank. if members don’t see your posts anymore, that’s not good.
Association Research Steps to Success
Here are a few more considerations for better engaging with your audience, adjusting your approach, or adding a new platform to maximize your visibility.
Know your audience. Address the pains and concerns of your prospects and members with a solution to solve their most pressing issues. To do this, ask yourself the following questions: What types of content resonate with them the most? Do they respond most to posts that highlight other members, or do they prefer topical articles or webinars and other event information?
Understand your current engagement. Conduct a regular analysis of your social media channels to identify the most effective channels and content. You may find that what works on LinkedIn does not generate the same engagement on Facebook or Twitter. Does your audience spend time on the social media platforms you are currently using? You will gain insights on how best to focus the strategy for each social channel if you dive into their specific analytics.
“When key leaders comment on topics of interest to members, celebrate member achievements or highlight resources of interest, this significantly expands your relevance to new members and reach to potential members.”
Be bold and try new things. If you are not sure about trying a new approach on Facebook or Instagram, test it out to see how your audience responds. Whether theylove it or it falls flat, you have tried something new and you now have clues on how to proceed.
Test out new content types. Posting links to your blog articles is great for your website’s search engine optimization, but adding a variety of content types can help capture the attention of your audience through their preferences. Some people prefer a video to a blog post. Some would rather listen to a podcast during their commute.
Social Media Technical Tips
A few technical hacks can boost your success with social media. Create actionable and concise posts on your social media channels, but maximize your post character count, use appropriate hashtags, and tag members to expand your audience reach and post engagement. Hashtags and tagging can expand your reach beyond your own followers. These are searchable features on social media, and clicking on one will show all the posts on that social channel that use that specific hashtag.
The goal is not to be unique in your selection of hashtags, but to use common ones so you appear in the feeds of a broader industry or professional audience. The exception to this is if you are creating a hashtag that promotes your brand that you also want your members to use. Then your members can become your hashtag ambassadors.
When you tag new members, the posts can appear in the feeds of the members’ own connections. This tactic improves your brand awareness and could bring new prospects to your social channels. Additionally, when you tag others, they may return that action and tag you in their content. The more you engage with your social media followers by liking and commenting on their posts, the more they will engage with your association.
The one constant with social media is that it is constantly changing, with adjustments to search algorithms, user tools, and channel layouts. World and economic events may also necessitate fresh approaches to your social communications as you advance your strategy. Be the social resource your members and prospects turn to and prefer.
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.
Face-to-face networking and tradeshows have been quickly replaced by digital business development for professional services firms and associations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to continue building your pipeline and turning prospects into clients, it’s necessary to take a look at your approach and shift to a more virtual business development strategy.
Make Personal Contact
Picking up the phone or sending an email isn’t just a strategy of the past. It is still highly relevant today and, in many cases, can make you stand out when so many others are relying on less personal methods to develop their business pipeline. When the idea to call or personally email a prospect or client crosses your mind, be sure to do it right away because “later” can turn into a missed opportunity. Connect by asking how their weekend at the cabin was or send an article that relates to a previous conversation. It’s not about hard selling them on your firm but about connecting and staying top-of-mind to create brand loyalty.
Depending on your audience you may want to consider an email or direct mail campaign as a way to get in front of them. This could be a three-part email or mail piece series. Email is still a popular way to promote your brand and thought leadership; however, many organizations are finding this is the only way to get in front of your prospects during this time. This also means that your prospects are receiving more email than ever before.
To stand out from the email masses, you may consider sending direct mail. If your prospects are back in the office, this is a way to differentiate yourself and send something that might get noticed. Whether it’s an oversized postcard series or a unique branded card with a gift card to Starbucks to have a virtual coffee, this can set the stage to start a great conversation.
We have heard many professional services firms say their website serves as a digital brochure. They are not actively employing a strategy to use their website and social media for lead generation. For firms that saw the need to create a lead generating website before the pandemic, you are steps ahead of your competitors who didn’t have the same foresight. If you find yourself a bit behind in turning your website into a lead generating machine, don’t be dismayed. There’s still time to jump on board. A good SEO strategy incorporates all of your digital means of communication from your website content and email nurturing sequences to social media and video strategies.
Also remember to look at the back end of your website to ensure that you have quick page load times, no broken links and good imagery and design. There are so many elements that contribute to strong SEO rankings. You can be publishing innovative content but if all other SEO elements aren’t optimized, you may not be getting in front of prospects who are trying to find you right now.
LinkedIn is becoming more necessary than ever. It’s a way to expand your reach, especially when you aren’t able to meet people through tradeshows, conferences and other networking events. Through LinkedIn, you can meet new prospects, connect with clients and engage with people you otherwise may not have the opportunity to meet. Most of your connections would likely be willing to make an introduction to someone they know, if you just ask for it.
Here are a few simple tips to help you engage on LinkedIn
Have a complete profile on LinkedIn with a professional photo, a good headline and summary of what you do that uses industry keywords.
Connect with individuals who are your clients and connect with more than one person in the company.
Similar to business development you would do offline, show an interest in your prospects and clients. Comment on their updates, congratulate them on career milestones and engage the same way you would want people to do with you.
Follow businesses and engage with their updates. Be sure that you follow the business pages of all your clients and prospects. Be creative here…perhaps you proposed on some business last year and didn’t get it but you’d still like to work with the company. Follow that company, comment and show an interest in them. Then when the opportunity comes back up, you’ve remained invested and built up some report with them.
Join a few groups and take part in the discussion. Don’t push yourself or your firm. Simply answer questions and add to the conversation in a way that makes members of the group message you to find out more.
Think Outside the Box
With tradeshows and networking events cancelled, finding new and unique ways to connect with prospects is vital. This could be the time to implement a video strategy, webinars or create a few thought-leadership pieces. One of our clients has implemented a virtual town hall where they are inviting clients and prospects to take part and ask accounting questions about their particular niche. The first event is still coming up, however, this is the type of out-of-the-box thinking that is going to help fill the gaps. Not every idea will be a winner, but don’t be afraid to try new ideas.
Like any business development efforts, it takes time to develop nurture prospects and build relationships, and this is especially true in a digital medium. You may have to review your typical lead generation timeline and make some adjustments as you see virtual business development take more or less time. Keep track of what you find works so you can continually optimize your process.
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.