“Which marketing channels are most effective for claiming themes and winning new clients? How do online and offline instruments compare in effectiveness and costs? And does that differ per sector or theme on which you focus? " At the request of the commercial team of a large law firm, I looked into it.
Because I believe that these questions are common in more firms and organizations, I made a video and a blog about this with 3 topics:
- 3 common - but bad - ways to choose marketing channels;
- 5 principles for optimal use of channels;
- My personal top 10 channels.
When I was asked to get started with the effectiveness of channels, I was not immediately enthusiastic. If you take yourself seriously as a marketing expert, you can't really answer this question, can you? After all, the trick is to nail the optimal mix for each situation. Otherwise everyone would only use the most effective instruments.
On the other hand, I think it's too easy to dismiss the question as 'impossible' or 'nonsensical'. Even if there is no single answer, it is still a very valid and important question.
While you can measure the effectiveness of instruments extensively in sectors that primarily work online, this is still difficult in professional services. Of course, you can see if a blog was viewed much or how many people participated in a webinar. But how many new customers or turnover this generated is often difficult to say. Usually there are multiple factors. Not only the different tools that the marketing team uses, but also what the lawyers, accountants or consultants do (or do not do) themselves. Isolating the effect of one channel is virtually impossible then.
How you should not choose marketing channels
Unfortunately, I still come across examples of what not to do in consultancy, law and accountancy firms. These are my top 3 don'ts when choosing marketing tools:
1. Because our competitors do too
A partner comes across a podcast from a competitor on LinkedIn, tells this to a few colleagues and before you know it, the marketing & BD manager can explain why they don't do podcasts. And before you know it, a question becomes a request, or rather an assignment. This as an example of a pattern that many marketers have to deal with.
Is that bad? As such, it is good if everyone keeps a close eye on what is happening in the market and provides internal feedback on this. The problem, however, is that, partly influenced by differences in hierarchy or 'internal status', this often goes hand in hand with pressure. As a result, there is a real risk that instruments are used that sub-optimally match the goals and strategy of the own organization, and besides are not at all original or distinctive.
Are you not allowed to do anything with what you see from competitors? Certainly. There is nothing wrong with this if people bring this to the attention of the marketing manager, without him or she being immediately accountable for it.
Some partners like to walk 'the top route' and go straight to the chairman of the board or CEO. In such cases, it is crucial that he or she does not immediately respond substantively, but asks to advise the marketing manager or replies that he or she will share it with the marketer. In this way, it remains possible to make a professional assessment, whereby the board/management can make a decision based on information and advice from the marketing (and business development) manager.
2. Because the boss likes this
I have noticed that a remarkable number of lawyers, accountants and consultants love hockey. Chance are therefore that the chairman or CEO will visit the hockey field every week. Then it is not surprising that he or she would like some advertising from the firm along the field, right?
This need is certainly conceivable and it may also be a good idea to place advertising along this field. The question is whether this would also be a logical choice based on the objectives and strategy of the organization. And the risk of arbitrariness is high. If the CFO's daughter plays the violin, why not sponsor the orchestra in which she plays?
There are often many good ideas, for which there is quite a lot to be said. The problem, however, is that you do not determine from your objectives which channels are most effective, but start with the channels themselves. And with almost any channel you can explain how it contributes to your goals, so you end up with a mix of suboptimal, incoherent - and therefore ineffective - channels.
Individual relationship management
When I was director of marketing, communication & sales at EY, I regularly had conversations with partners who were convinced of the importance of sponsoring an association, business seats, participating in a charity dinner and the like. In such cases, it is often primarily about relationship management. That is why we agreed to leave such considerations to the partners, provided that they are in line with a number of marketing principles. The advantage is that the partners themselves make an assessment of costs versus expected returns, while the marketing team can focus on the business priorities that have been agreed with the board. Everyone happy!
3. Because we've been doing this for years
When choosing initiatives, there is a great tendency to start from the plan and budget of the previous year. It goes without saying that the annual tax seminar, the traditional relationship magazine and a long-term sponsorship should continue. Only obvious mistakes are up for discussion. The result is that the mix of initiatives is probably not optimal. And in the absence of a budget increase, there is hardly any room for new initiatives.
A radical way to counter this is 'zero based budgeting', where your starting point is not the previous budget but 'zero': doing nothing. Although this approach certainly has advantages, I recommend that you only do this in exceptional cases, for example in the event of a strategic change of course, or if the marketing approach needs to change radically. Many instruments are only effective if you use them consistently over a longer period of time, not to mention problems with contractual agreements and the like.
I recommend always applying a Stop-Start-Continue-Change assessment (related to SKS: 'Stop / Keep / Start) to the previous budget plan. If you agree on what part of the budget you want to reserve for new initiatives, you prevent actions from running on automatic pilot while still guaranteeing sufficient continuity.
Principles for choosing marketing channels
One cannot say in general which marketing channels are effective and which are not. After all, this depends on the objectives, target groups and strategy of the organization. For example, a tax consultancy that wants to strengthen its position with wealthy individuals must use other means than an accountancy firm that wants more start-ups as a client.
Nor is it simply about choosing the most effective instrument, but about an integrated approach in which different instruments reinforce each other.
I can give a number of starting points to arrive at an optimal mix of instruments:
1. Based on strategic objectives and target groups
It is of course a no brainer that your resources must be in line with your objectives. If there is a particular need for new customers, you are more likely to look at lead generation resources. If you do not do enough with your current customers, you are more likely to focus on account management and loyalty, for example.
Yet in practice things go surprisingly wrong here. When I start working with a new client, I often ask about their key marketing and sales initiatives, as well as their strategic goals. It is remarkable how often I come across initiatives that do not logically match the objectives. This often involves initiatives that have been running for years, or a personal 'hobby' of certain partners or leadership members.
Furthermore, you must of course choose channels based on your primary target group (or 'ideal customer'). Which media do they follow? Which events do they attend? Do they participate in webinars? Are they active on social media, and if so: on which platforms? Who are their 'influencers'? These are all examples of questions that determine with which instruments you can effectively reach the target group.
2. Channels at brand, relations, sales and clients level
If you want to grow, you have to make sure that you serve current clients well - or rather excellently. This not only ensures loyalty and thus revenue retention, but also more revenue per client. With channels in the area of sales and acquisition you work on more customers as well as more revenue per client.
For the vast majority of lawyers, consultants and accountants warm relationships are the foundation for acquiring new cients. That's because their target group doesn't just buy based on knowledge or information. In addition to 'know', there also needs to be 'like' and 'trust'. Relationships are therefore crucial, both personal and online (for example from LinkedIn).
Both developing and acquiring relationships are much more effective if you represent a strong brand. Doors open sooner if people know and respect your organization, which also makes it easier to build relationships. And the backing of an organization with a good reputation provides confidence, so you get to business sooner. I experienced this myself when, after years at KPMG and EY, I started my own company: if people don't know your organization, the commercial process takes a lot more time and energy.
So ensure a marketing mix that contributes to the development of brand, relationships, sales and customers.
3. Tailored to the breadth of the target group
One of my clients focuses on a number of specific market sectors, including municipalities and national government. While the Netherlands has more than 350 municipalities, the number of organizations in the national government is limited - and generally larger and more complex. Moreover, there are more similarities in the topics that are high on the agenda of municipalities ('client issues').
Although there are of course major differences, for example between Amsterdam and Schiermonnikoog, a relatively large number of marketing activities can be aimed at municipalities as a group, for example subdivided by large/medium/small or by region. Think, for example, of instruments such as a newsletter, a research and whitepaper, or a conference. However, many government organizations are so large, complex and different that an approach per organization is often more effective. We call this Account-Based Marketing (ABM). This can even go as far as developing marketing and sales materials that are completely tailored to one organization.
What I want to illustrate with this example is that the effectiveness of marketing channels or instruments is also related to the breadth of your target group. In the figure below I have indicated indicatively for a (non-exhaustive) range of instruments whether they are particularly suitable for broad target groups or more for a specific target group.
4. With mix that supports all phases of the buyer funnel
The decision-making process of buyers of professional services takes place mostly online. People are less and less open to push communication and want to orient themselves before having personal contact with a service provider. Not only should they have heard of you and know what you are doing, they should also trust you and feel positive about you. That does not happen suddenly. And also the timing has to be right. For example, someone is only open to an M&A specialist when there is a (possible) merger or takeover.
That is why it is important that you remain structurally visible and relevant to your target group. Tools such as content marketing and channels such as LinkedIn are ideally suited for this.
According to the so-called 'Rule of 7'people need an average of 7 positive interactions before they are open to doing business with you. Suppose you think this blog is good and valuable, then you are usually not inclined to contact me immediately. And you probably don't want to be approached by me either. That requires trust and a warmer relationship. You also want to have a concrete idea of how I can help you; general information about marketing instruments is not sufficient for this.
This means that you have to use different marketing channels for the various phases of the sales (or buyer) funnel: the top (attracting new potential leads), the middle (developing awareness, trust and relationships) and the bottom of the funnel (identifying and exploiting opportunities). As you progress down the funnel, the relationship becomes more personal and the channels are more specifically tailored to specific leads.
5. And balance between consistency and innovation
Many marketing channels are only effective if you use them for a longer period of time. On the other hand, there are constantly new developments in the field of marketing, and there is a good chance that a lot will change within your target group.
I therefore recommend using 10 to 20% of the budget for innovation: new initiatives and / or applying channels in a new way. Consider, for example, setting up content marketing based on (CRM) data about the phase in the buyer funnel where the lead is ('lead scoring'). Or the use of search engine optimization (SEO) and online advertising (SEA) to attract new leads. Or professionalizing the way in which client teams operate (account management and development).
My personal top 10 of channels
Which instruments do I find the most effective? I find that a very difficult question. After all, all channels and instruments have their role to play, and are more or less effective depending on the situation. On the other hand, I find this too easy and I therefore made an attempt anyway.
Stressing that you should certainly not ignore other instruments, I hereby give my personal top 10 with a brief explanation:
1. SEA and social advertising
Search Engine Advertising (Google Adwords) and social advertising (especially LinkedIn Sponsored Content) are often very effective to reach super-targeted people in the target group who do not know you yet, affordably. In contrast to traditional media, there is virtually no 'waste' and you can easily measure which activities are most effective.
More than 80% of the people first check your website before contacting you (or not). This applies to prospects as well as potential new employees. Based on their impression of your website, they determine whether to contact or drop out. Even if you don't have the ambition to generate leads with your website, it is therefore important to ensure that your website at least gives a good impression.
3. Testimonials and client cases
Many websites and communications are full of texts such as 'the highest quality' and 'the best people'. However, such claims are not distinctive nor convincing. People want to work with you on the basis of know, like and trust. Testimonials and client cases are a great way to dispel doubts and show you how to help clients, without patting yourself on the back.
4. Blogs and Articles
Nowadays potential clients have gone through most of the buying process online before they're open to direct contact. Therefore, content marketing is arguably the most important marketing instrument. But this is so broad that it is actually more a concept than an instrument. That's why I limit myself to the foundation here: blogs and articles. By regularly sharing valuable and relevant content with your target audience, you strengthen awareness and trust, and you lay the foundation for relationship development and lead generation.
5. Personal branding
Especially in professional services, people do business with people. That is why it is important that people associate your organization with people, whereby their personal brands and the (organizational) brand mutually reinforce each other. By using video you can further strengthen the power of personal branding: video makes people feel like they already know you personally, even if you have never met each other. The great thing is that it is not only about familiarity and content, but also about trust and feeling (how is the 'chemistry'?). Personal branding can therefore contribute at all levels: brand, relationships and sales.
Interviews, a specific form of content marketing, is in my top 10 because it cuts both ways. By having conversations with people who are authoritative for your target group, you build or strengthen relationships with top influencers and you gain new insights. By subsequently sharing such an interview, for example in the form of a video and blogs, you connect your brand and personal brands with his or her authority and network. This naturally contributes to recognition, recognition and trust.
7. Use of social media
The potential of social media, and for consultants, accountants and lawyers in particular LinkedIn, is enormous. This entails so much more than having a profile page and occasionally liking a message. In a separate blog I will discuss how to use LinkedIn effectively for:
- insight into what is going on with targets and prospects (intelligence, 'social listening');
- creating awareness, recognition, recognition and trust among the target group (content);
- building and developing relationships (online conversation and networking);
- generating and developing leads ('social selling').
8. Targeting and lead nurturing
As a lead moves further through the buyer funnel, the channels generally become more specific and personalized. And the costs per lead are higher. That is why targeting is important, so that you use instruments at the bottom of the funnel (for example physical meetings and round tables) for the most promising and interesting leads.
I notice that many professional services providers mainly - or even exclusively - create content for the top of the funnel (sharing general insights). That's great for attracting and engaging potential prospects, but it won't take them through the funnel. The result is that the step from marketing to sales remains (too) big. How to reduce this step, goes beyond the scope of this blog. That is why I will elaborate on this in a separate blog.
9. Face-to-face meeting
Even in a digital world, personal conversation and meetings are the most effective way to win clients and engagements. But also the most expensive. That is why the combination with the aforementioned channels higher in the funnel is so powerful: you only 'convert' to a personal meeting if you already know a lot about each other and have already built an online relationship. It is striking that a first meeting then often feels as if you have known each other for a long time already.
10. Account management
Current clients offer the best growth opportunities (cross-selling, deep-selling and up-selling) for most professional services providers. It is therefore remarkable how many organizations hardly manage the way in which individual consultants, lawyers and accountants handle client relationships and account teams. Acquisition may seem sexier, but it tends to be more costly and less effective than structured account management. In a future blog I will discuss how to go about this.
What are your favorite marketing channels?
So much for my ideas about effective channels and instruments. What are the most effective marketing channels in your experience? I would love to hear about your experiences. Thanks in advance for sharing!