If you want to grow faster and be more profitable, study the firms that are already doing it. That’s the simple logic that has guided our research program into high-growth, high-profit professional services firms.
One of the early findings was that high-growth firms tended to focus more resources on online marketing than did their average growth peers.
This led us to conduct a study of 500 professional services firms and how they went about online marketing. Here’s what we found.
What High-Growth Firms Do Differently
What we learned is that the high-growth firms not only grow faster (Figure 1)
…and are twice as profitable (Figure 2)…
We had both the average-growth and high-growth firms rate their use and effectiveness of 15 widely used online marketing tools. The resulting effectiveness ratings are shown in Figure 4.
In almost every instance, the high-growth firms saw more impact from the tool than average-growth firms.
After using these results to craft online marketing programs for professional services firms, we have come to favor some over others.
Here is our Top 10 list and how they are deployed in real world situations.
Top 10 High-Growth Online Marketing Tools
1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
While SEO may seem like old news to many consumer products marketers, it is anything but that in the world of professional services.
What makes it such a valuable online tool? It’s not just that potential clients are searching for specific services (although they certainly are), it’s also that they are searching for information and perspective on business challenges.
This allows professional services firms to help define the problem and showcase their thought leadership. It is a perfect fit and a great way to start new relationships with potential clients and referral sources.
And where does all that new content live on your website? That’s right, on your blog.
High-growth firms have learned how to use their blog as a way to attract potential new clients.
This is especially effective when they optimize each post for relevant keywords to attract those early-stage leads where the firm is just exploring the problem prior to settling on a possible solution.
3. Web Analytics
Here the high-growth firms have a big lead over their peers. They have figured out how to use web analytics to help them monitor and optimize their online marketing programs.
It’s hard to imagine how you could be successful without this vital online tool, yet many average firms simply don’t understand how to make it work for them.
4. Lead Nurturing
Professional services sales are almost always complex. This make the nurturing of early stage leads a key priority.
The most common tools are email marketing and the online company newsletter. Webinars are also widely used.
The interesting finding about these lead-nurturing tools is that there is a much smaller gap between the high-growth and average firms. Only in email marketing do the high-growth firms enjoy an edge.
Lead nurturing is a must-have, but don’t expect to gain a big competitive advantage unless your program is very advanced.
5. Premium Content
While these are quite common in professional services, the high-growth firms have managed to squeeze more out of them. They are often put behind registration to harvest fresh leads.
What makes them so effective is that they serve a second purpose.
At the same time they are generating new leads, they are also educating potential clients and helping them understand how you think about issues and what services might be useful to address their challenges.
It’s not just for recruiting anymore. The high-growth firms we studied also use it to share their content, such as blog posts or videos, network within their target client’s industry, monitor industry changes, and garner new leads.
And yes, they also use it to recruit new employees. You might think of LinkedIn as the Swiss army knife of social media tools for professional services firms.
7. Usability Testing
Many professional services firms offer a wide range of services to multiple audiences. This makes usability a topic of much interest to the savvy marketers in all firms.
While the gap between high-growth and average firms is not huge, there is an important difference. The uses of online usability testing involve not only the design of the firm’s website, but also the deployment of landing pages for the content offers that the high-growth firms use to generate the high volume of leads that they enjoy.
While LinkedIn gets the edge in terms of absolute effectiveness for high-growth firms, Twitter gets the prize for being the secret social media weapon of professional services marketing.
When it comes to social media, Twitter enjoys the largest gap between the high-growth and average firms. It is a great tool for sharing your content and an easy way to initiate contact with a potential client or referral source.
Close on the heels of Twitter, Facebook has an interesting role in professional services marketing.
First, because of its tilt toward consumers, Facebook is a great fit with those professionals who are targeting this audience as clients. Think family law firms, consumer-oriented accountants, or health professionals for example.
Second, some organizations also tend to be found on Facebook, such as non-profits or educational institutions.
Finally, Facebook is a great place to communicate a firm’s culture, so it is useful in recruiting as well.
10. Pay for Performance
One of the very biggest differentials between high-growth and average firms is found in the Pay Per Click (PPC) and banner ad online marketing tools.
While not widely used in professional services, these performance driven tools can have a big impact in the right situation.
When compared to sponsorships or display advertising, they are both very targeted and trackable. Successful firms use them to generate late stage leads by targeting services related keywords. They have also proven useful in distributing high value content such as ebooks and white papers.
Many average firms have marginalized these online tools by ignoring best-practices and driving traffic to their home page, for example. Such ill-advised practices may be part of the reason behind the huge gap.
There you have it
These 10 online marketing tools have been proven capable of giving your firm a competitive advantage. Use them the way the high-growth firms do and you might be on the road to faster growth and higher profits.
For more in-depth coverage, read about the research results here.