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.
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.
It’s coming. Voice search SEO is gaining traction because it is easier to speak to a voice search assistant than it is to type on a mobile device. If a quarter to one-third of your website traffic are mobile users, consider optimizing your site for voice search. Voice searches are conversational and often involves a question. This changes how your web content should be written, including page headlines.
2. Website ADA Compliance
Our Lead Designer and Web Developer, Robert Wasiluk, recommends making sure your website is ADA compliant. With 19 percent of the U.S. population identified as having a disability, major search engines as well as adaptive screen readers employ web crawling methods according to the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines). Don’t miss out on these potential clients/referrals.
3. Leverage CRM and Marketing Automation
Few firms are using their CRMs or automation tools to their full potential. Start with the basics: fully invest in the eblast tools within your CRM of choice or an outside product like MailChimp or Constant Contact. The tool Zapier can even help connect these outside tools to your CRM. (We are not paid to suggest these tools; we just happen to use them ourselves!) Try to automate frequent communications that will save time for your team, from calendar scheduling to monthly or quarterly marketing communications.
4. Revisit Former/Inactive Contact Lists
Last month, Ingenuity sent emails to former clients, some from several years ago. The result was two new proposals! Never underestimate the value of staying in touch. If you are an association, customize a message to inactive members. Firms can tap into their database and sort by date of engagement.
5. Personalize Your Messaging
In a world of big data that tries to answer every consumer whim before you even know you want it, your messages as professionals must also add a personal touch. Write like a human and have your firm communications come from a human. Individual social profiles and automated emails from partners and executives get far better engagement and open rates.
Clients are willing to share about their experience with your firm in many different ways including word-of-mouth, online reviews and testimonials. Standing out in an increasingly digital world can be challenging. In this video, Dawn Wagenaar, Principal, shares five tips to create brand loyalty and get more referrals.
If you prefer to read this content, the video transcript is below.
Clients will share their brand loyalty by word-of-mouth, but also through online reviews and testimonials. Do you want more referrals? To stand out in a more digital world, here are five tactics to improve your brand loyalty and perception
Number one: Branding messages.Teach your team to talk about your firm in a consistent way that shows how clients gain value. If you do not have consistent messaging – or your messages are outdated – it is time to do brand research and create fresh messages.
Number two: Customer service standards. – Does everyone know when email or voicemail should be returned? Is it within 24 hours, by the end of the day, within 8 hours? Should cell phones be in client meetings? Should you bring an agenda to the client meeting? What type of message should you leave on your “out of office” if you are in CPE for the day? If you have consistent standards around how you work with clients and provide timely service to them, your referrals will go up!
Number three: A welcome kit. Even after you win the engagement, you are still selling and building trust. Send new clients a welcome kit with details about their project, who will be on their team including bios with photos and contact information, a list of services you provide, social media they can follow as well as a service representative unrelated to the engagement team. Send clients this kit and welcome them to the firm.
Number four: A client service retreat and training. – Your team wants training. They want to know what great service looks like in order to perform beyond expectations. Train your staff on providing great client service, and discuss ways to improve service based on current client and team issues.
Number five: Secret shopping your digital presence. – Hire someone to act as a prospect and visit your website, look for directions, call your office, visit your firm and see what kind of follow-up happens. Does this experience reflect what you think happens during a prospect’s exploration of your firm? If it does not, you will see areas to improve your brand positioning and attract new business from referrals.
From first impressions to amazing client service, these tactics will help you create brand loyalty and a referral machine.
Creating a strategy around your tradeshow investment can help you attain quality leads that bring new business to your firm or association. In this video, Dawn Wagenaar, Principal at Ingenuity Marketing Group, shares three techniques you can apply to tradeshows you take part in. These are tried and true techniques that Dawn herself uses when Ingenuity attends tradeshows. Tradeshows can be hugely successful and should be integrated into your marketing strategy.
If you prefer to read this content, the video transcript is below.
Many of our clients attend and sponsor tradeshows. Their goal is to get new business, but few of them build a strategy around their tradeshow investment. In this video, we’ll talk about the pre-planning and communications that should take place, techniques to get people talking to you during the tradeshow, and how to follow up effectively and build your pipeline.
First – create a timeline. Work backwards from the event date and figure out everything that has to happen and schedule it out. From the pre-show communications to the social posts during the conference to even the post-event communication and follow up.
Second, create a theme or something that will interest your prospects to visit your booth. Last year at a conference in Portland we had Voodoo donuts with a tie to the story of their company and why story telling is so important. Over the years we have done everything from a photo booth, to chair massages, to a Harley Davidson to video games. Now I know we are a marketing agency so we can get away with some of that but I think you get my gist. Be interesting…what will make the prospects come and talk to you.
Third, create the communications pieces –pre, during and post. Are you going to have a website landing page, social posts, send a post card ahead of time or send emails? This is vital as it is the promotion of your booth. Don’t leave it up to the tradeshow or conference you are exhibiting at. Take matters into your own hands!
And finally, follow up. Before you leave, put time on your calendar for following up with all the leads that you had fruitful conversations with in hopes of scheduling a call or meeting. The goal is to schedule another time to chat so that you both can determine if it’s a good fit and if you want to move forward with next steps whether another meeting, an estimate or proposal.
Tradeshows can be hugely successful and these tips will ensure even more success. Good luck!
You have to do the work in business development to get results. One of the simplest, but also hardest things to do is to follow up with prospective clients. You don’t want to bother them. You don’t know what to say. You assume they will contact you when they’re ready. All of these excuses only lead to lost clients. You have to follow up! Here are five tips to make following up easier and more effective to stay in front of your leads and get business.
Is your website providing you with digital leads? Have you personalized your digital marketing strategyfor prospective clients? In this video, Christine Nelson, communications consultant, shares three ways to use your website to get digital marketing referrals and why personalization is the most important component in attracting digital leads. Your leads are looking for you! Implement these strategies so they can find you now.