by Mike Donaldson, Carol Eversen, and Slade Kobran, CMOs at Chief Outsiders
Professional services have always been a people-to-people business, but now the industry is in a situation where professional interaction has radically changed. This represents a tectonic shift — in the services provided, the way they’re provided and business development efforts.
Same Clients – New Behavior and Expectations.
Over the past few months, many professional services firms have taken a hard look at what’s different and what they need to change to keep their revenue growth engines running strong:
- They’ve realized that without face-to-face meetings, it’s harder to understand their client’s current needs
- They’ve learned that the focus may be substantially reduced in some areas of practice — yet increased in others
- They’ve been forced to consider alternate business development strategies
From law firms to consultancies, client behavior has changed and expectations are different. Some are looking for flexible payment terms, some want to see new and innovative service offerings.
Given this shift, what can a midsize professional services company do to understand changing customer needs, express their value and sell their services differently?
Insight Gathering for Mid-Sized Firms.
To understand what’s changed with customers, businesses need to ask them. Gathering direct input and determining what clients are looking for will help CEOs know how much to pivot.
When collecting customer feedback, start with the biggest clients—those that have the best relationships with the company. Find out what’s impacting them now with digital survey tools to collect valid insights quickly. Insight gathering surveys should:
- Ask targeted questions — to the right people
- Ask for their opinion on new ideas
- Ask about their business
- What has changed?
- What’s important now?
This tactical approach is required to gain knowledge and given the pace of change businesses need to be agile when putting insight into action. Check back frequently with customers to keep the proverbial finger on the pulse of the market.
Develop Meaningful Value Propositions.
Fundamental questions to the value proposition are literally, “What do you do?” and “How are you unique?” Businesses must provide clarity around what they actually do backed by relevant proof points, which strengthen the firm’s position.
In the past, CEOs could meet in person and take time to explain their value proposition. Now, the message about how companies add value needs to be up front—clearly stated on the website homepage. A value proposition should address:
- What exactly does a business do?
- What are the business’s capabilities?
- How is the business different?
- Specifically, what’s unique about what the business offers?
- What do people believe about the business?
- Is the business talking about itself in a way that is credible?
New Rules for Remote Business Development.
Without face-to-face client interactions, professional services need to focus on top of the funnel activities that will drive new leads and conversations. One proven tactic is to publish thought leadership content relevant to current insights. This will equip sellers and executive teams with talking points for client conversations. As business development teams tire of Zoom calls and presentations, businesses need to give them new ways to engage people. Some firms have built virtual business development toolkits for their sellers, some have created COVID-19 resources to share with clients.
Content also needs to be designed for digital—strategically and thoughtfully placed to meet clients and prospects where they are now. Digital content strategies go beyond websites, ads and SEO — businesses also need a solid social media distribution plan. When developing digital content strategy consider the following:
- Who are you trying to reach and what do they need to hear?
- What can you say that they need to know right now? It can’t just be “buy from me” or “here’s information about my products”
- Why should customers listen to you?
The buyer journey for professional services is complicated — it’s a people business backed up by technical expertise on things that clients often don’t understand. At the best of times it’s challenging to differentiate offerings and form client relationships. With today’s environment, it’s even harder.
Across the board, professional services firms need to take a new approach to gather insight, express their value in terms of today’s market demands and ultimately, provide existing and new customers with services and information they want and need — where and when they want it.
Mike Donaldson, Carol Eversen, and Slade Kobran are CMOs with Chief Outsiders, the nation’s leading fractional CMO firm focused on mid-size company growth. They work with financial services companies to solve seemingly inextricable growth challenges.