How to grow your professional services firm – Part 3

Not too long ago, buyers would do their pre-purchase research the old fashioned way – word of mouth and brochures and directories. Not anymore. The internet has completely changed how buyers go about purchasing professional services, and your firm can benefit big time.

What today’s actively searching buyers are likely to do is skip the phone calls and introductions and go directly online. So you have to show up. If you aren’t where they are, you’re not in the game. The second thing prospects do when they find websites and firms that might solve their problem, is to whiz past the sales fluff to the meat of the story, and find out WIIFT – what’s in it for them. So you have to show them how you can help them solve their problem.

But relying solely on your website to do that poses a few problems, not least of which is, how do you know who they are and what they were interested in?

Part 2 of this three-part post ended with two questions: 1) How can you make your content more visible, and 2) How can you transform this increased visibility into leads and sales? Let’s start with the visibility question. How can you make your thought leadership content more visible? The simple answer: give your prospects something worth reading.

But that’s too simple, so let’s back up for a moment. There are actually two ways to achieve online visibility: via paid search (Pay Per Click) or via unpaid (organic) search. I’m going to focus on the unpaid side of things since the wallets of most entrepreneurs aren’t bulging with cash, and PPC can be expensive unless you know what you’re doing. (Keep in mind, too, that by no means do I dispute the effectiveness of print advertising, billboards and other offline media, but these posts are targeted at smaller and medium-sized firms that would rather use the web than a wad of cash to grow their client base.)

Whether prospects are searching for solutions through Google or Bing or Yahoo or any number of search engines really doesn’t matter. All that matters is this: if you’re not easily findable, if you don’t show up on the first few search pages, you don’t exist (at least in the prospects’ eyes).

So how do you become “findable” through search? By creating content that is valuable, visible, relevant and timely.

You give your content real value by producing insights and tips and tools that are practical and actionable. But don’t make the mistake of trying to sell your services at the same time because it’s your knowledge and insight they want at this stage, not a promotional pitch. You will turn them off if you create an advertorial when they don’t yet know you. But if you continue to provide valuable and relevant content, they’ll come back for more, and a relationship can develop. (More on this later.)

Content can include white papers, industry reports, insights, analysis, and comments about the latest industry trends.

Make your valuable content visible by optimizing it for SEO (Search Engine Optimization). This simply means making it as findable as possible. Two major ingredients are needed to make your firm findable. They are: content and keywords. We have briefly discussed content. Keywords are the words and phrases your prospects are most likely to use when searching for solutions to their business problems, so choose them carefully.

There is an art and a science to this, but you can steal many of the keywords you need by studying your most successful competitors’ websites. Closely examine the wording of the titles and subtitles they use and the content of the articles you’ll find on their site. You can then test the effectiveness of your keywords through Google Adwords Keyword Tool or free software like Wordtracker.

Useful tips on getting findable can be found here and here.

For more in-depth information about getting found by search, I would suggest reading chapter 11 of Feed the Startup Beast: A 7 Step Guide to Big, Hairy, Outrageous Growth (McGraw-Hill). But be forewarned: I happen to be one of the authors.

Now, let’s assume you have begun creating valuable content that is both visible and relevant to your prospects’ needs. What do you do next? This leads us to the second question: How do you transform your increased visibility into leads and sales? In other words, how do you go about monetizing your newfound visibility? The answer: by capturing and engaging your prospects.

Assuming you are targeting the right prospects with the right content, you are gradually building up what we call an engagement ladder that is filled with useful content.

An engagement ladder staggers the content you’ve produced so that it best matches the prospects’ needs – where they happen to be in their personal decision cycle. Think of your content as a series of offers. Some of them will be valuable enough to a percentage of your prospects that they will voluntarily disclose their identity (email address, etc.) in order to download. Once they stop being anonymous, they can be tracked and sent additional content that matches their location in the decision cycle.

For tracking purposes, your offers should be presented on a separate landing page instead of directly on your website.

In our book, we call landing pages engagement pages, because it better defines their purpose. Prospects may land on a page you have created for them, but what’s the point if all they do is land for a few moments and then move on. You want your landing page to engage them enough that they will stop and read and download whatever it is you are offering.

The idea is to routinely capture prospects into your marketing funnel, then engage and qualify them with timely offers until they get to know and trust you as a reliable source of industry or market intelligence. It’s a truism that prospects won’t become customers until they know, like and trust you. Again, more in-depth information on how to capture and engage prospects can be found in Feed the Startup Beast (chapter 7).

To summarize as briefly as possible: Don’t sell, engage. To engage, you need to be visible. To be visible, employ keywords that are relevant from the purchaser’s perspective, not your own. Develop valuable content that helps your prospects solve problems (and, not coincidentally, showcases your expertise). Search engines like Google reward in depth content. Lure your prospects with great offers so that they disclose their identity and their needs. Then tailor all your future communication with them to match where they are on their personal decision cycle.

This has been (by necessity) very much a Coles Notes version of the process. There is much more, of course, but these three posts have been intended to pull back the curtain so that you can understand the bigger picture and thus focus your marketing efforts more wisely.

When prospects are searching for solutions to their problems, you have to show up. When they find you, you have to show them WIIFT – how you can help them solve their problem. When they’ve found you, you have to give them a reason to stay and get to know you and trust you.

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