By Aaron Taylor
Partner & Co-Founder, Hinge
Historically, professional services firms have been slow to embrace new marketing techniques. After all, referrals and face-to-face networking have gotten the job done for decades. Why change now?
Well, we have a few pretty good reasons.
While researching our new book, Online Marketing for Professional Services, we uncovered compelling evidence that the marketplace is undergoing fundamental change. Our evidence is based on a survey of 500 CEOs, executives and marketers from professional services firms across the United States. We were astonished to find that firms that have adopted online lead generation techniques are growing up four times faster and are up to twice as profitable!
But that’s just part of the story. There’s a sweet spot where online marketing is particularly efficient at delivering higher growth and profits. Firms that generate between 40 and 60 percent of their leads online tend to achieve the highest rates of growth. Here’s the data:
The dip that occurs above 60 percent suggests that there is still a place for traditional marketing. In fact, a firm that wants to optimize for growth would want to generate between 40 and 60 percent of its leads through offline channels, as well. If profitability is your main concern, however, you would want to want to push online marketing as far as you can. While our study didn’t explore why online marketing has such a profound effect on growth and profitability, common sense suggests a couple of reasons.
First, the way people buy products and services is changing. The Internet has brought unprecedented power and convenience to our personal lives, revolutionizing the way we access knowledge and shop for goods and services. It’s only natural that business buyers seek the same power and convenience when they need to read up on something or shop for and vet service providers.
Second, online marketing is far more efficient than the old ways of developing leads and nurturing prospects. Online tools have much broader reach, work hard for you every day and night, and can be much less expensive to deploy. Automation, efficiency and speed. That’s a formidable combination.
Interesting stuff, but how does a firm go about transitioning from traditional to online marketing? There is a dizzying array of online tools. For the initiated, the choices can be overwhelming. Which are most effective? Where should you spend your precious dollars? Our study addressed these questions, too.
We looked at 15 of the most common online marketing tools and asked our study participants to rank them by effectiveness. We then identified which tools were favored by high growth firms. Finally, we asked a panel of 20 prominent online marketing experts to rate the tools, as well.
We discovered a significant discrepancy between the ratings of average growth firms and high growth firms. There seemed to be a correlation between the tools firms favored and their rates of growth. The high growth firms and the experts were fairly closely matched (though the experts tended to rate many tools even higher).
So which tools were the winners? We identified a core set of five that would form a solid foundation for any online lead-generation program:
1. Search engine optimization
2. Web analytics
4. High quality content (white papers, e-books, etc.)
5. Email marketing
Usability testing also scored very high, especially among the expert panel. If you are looking to up your online marketing game, start at the top of the list and work your way down. In our book you can find the complete list as well as a detailed explanation of how these tools work together to attract leads and turn them into clients.
In addition, our findings revealed that firms are beginning to invest more in online marketing, though the amount of commitment varies dramatically by industry. The tide is starting to turn. Those who embrace online marketing now will have a strong competitive advantage. And a tremendous head start.
For anyone interested in reading the complete story, Online Marketing for Professional Services Firms is available as free download from Hinge’s website. Or you can purchase a copy on Amazon.
About the Author
Aaron is a partner at Hinge, a branding and marketing firm specializing in professional services. Hinge conducts ongoing independent research to advance the effectiveness and sophistication of professional services marketing.