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In this video blog, Lee Frederiksen will talk to you about how to develop a digital brand, and it’s broken down into two parts. This is the first video in the series where we will cover your business goals.
Hi. Today, I want to talk to you about how to develop a digital brand, and it’s broken down into two parts. Today, I’m going to do part one.
So the first thing is always start with your business goals. You know, your digital brand doesn’t do you any good unless it helps you accomplish your business goals. So focus on what do you want to do. Do you want to develop a certain type of client? Do you want to grow your firm? And that’s got to be your context.
The second thing to do is research your target audience, and the things you’re really interested in here is what social media are they on. How do they use a digital brand? How much are they doing online search? This helps tell you where you need to focus your efforts on your digital brand.
Number three is really important, and that is synchronizing your differentiators and your brand position between your traditional brand and your digital brand. Let me give you a small example.
Suppose you are a very traditional firm, but someone decides our digital brand needs to be fun and wacky. Okay. That’s going to be a problem because your digital brand is probably your biggest single visibility source, so you want to make sure that your digital and your traditional brand are synchronized, they’re in line with each other.
If you want to dig deeper on developing a digital brand, I suggest going to the Visible Firm Course at Hinge University. There, you’re going to learn exactly step-by-step how to go about accomplishing a better digital brand.
In this video blog, Karl Feldman will explain some of the common missteps that we see with a lot of our clients and in the market when it comes to website navigation.
Let’s talk about some website navigation no-nos. Hopefully, we’ll come out of this conversation with some go-gos. But we’re going to hit some of the common missteps that we see with a lot of our clients and just out there in the market when it comes to website navigation.
Being data-driven, we see a lot of examples and we’ve got a lot of analytics that drive our consideration when it comes to website navigation. So, what we’re going to cover here today are just a few tips of common missteps, common pitfalls that, hopefully, you can avoid when you’re thinking about navigation or even adjusting navigation on your website today.
So, number one is a common and tempting challenge. Promotional content finding its way into your Resources section. So, if you think about professional services and what we’re trying to accomplish with thought leadership, one thing that we know from our research is that audiences don’t really love being sold to.
So, they’re going to a Resources section to be educated, to understand what expertise you bring to the table and how you might think about solving their specific problems. Now, that’s not to say you don’t pepper that with some calls-to-action and links to places for audiences to raise their hand. But don’t be tempted to put in promotional items, like events or news items.
Think about it with this simple rule. If something is about you or your firm, that should go under news. It should go under the About section of your navigation because that’s what users are looking for in that context. Second, redundant or unclear navigation.
We still see a lot of websites out there that have things like home navigation in a top-level menu. Users have been trained to go around that. If you think of all of our experiences with Google or any of the top websites that you use, there have been iconography that’s been developed over time, simple navigation, knowing that clicking on a logo will take you back to home is pretty universal.
And in the same thread, items that you want to promote, you don’t necessarily need to double up on those in your navigation because what that leads to, when we do user experience research, we see confusion. So, it’s unclear where a user is going to land if you have the same thing appearing in multiple places within your navigation.
Navigation is also not a place to brand specifically. So, going along that same line of clarity and understanding where are you going to land as a user through navigation, it’s really important to use really clear language to describe the different sections within navigation.
Try and steer away from proprietary internal language, even if it’s a cool brand for something, resist the urge to use that in your navigation. Remember that your users may not know anything about you or your brand. So, it’s really important to think of what language is really going to resonate and provide clarity to them as they navigate through your website.
From a functional perspective, you want to avoid things like what we affectionately call the Pac-Man scenario. If your menu behaves like a video game, and you’ve got to have level 10 skills to navigate and find your way through a maze of options, that’s probably too complex.
You want to try and break down your content and navigational structure to be as simple as possible. And remember that, users can then bucket and refine their search once they land on pages that have a little bit more contextual information to guide their journey. Last, but definitely not least, don’t skimp on mobile experience. This is a trend that we see rising year over year and, in fact, accelerating in the online space.
Mobile experience is huge. Just think of your own experience and how much content you consume on your phone or tablet. And you can apply that experience to the same thing that your users are facing. So, make sure to think about what content is most important to share in a mobile scenario, and what’s going to create a nice experience.
The types of navigation at work when you have a fine control like a mouse, aren’t necessarily going to be great when you’re trying to scroll through on a phone with your big thumb. So, keep that in mind. Google and other search engines are continuing to really favor engagement and speed in the mobile experience because they’re selling more and more mobile advertising, and that’s where the users are migrating.
So, keep that in mind, both for search engine visibility and also user experience, and what is most relevant in those different contexts. If you’d like to learn more about this, I encourage you to check out the Visible Firm Course on Hinge University. There’s a lot more information there on this topic and others that are related.
Post merger or acquisition, most leaders are focused on the quantifiable steps of the integration such as cutting costs and streamlining efficiencies. While that’s all well and good, I’m going to walk out on a limb here and suggest a slightly novel prioritization of tasks – why not put your people first?
At professional services firms, people are your product and, to invoke a cliché, your most valuable asset. But what does that mean?
Your firm’s singular mix of talents, personalities, skillsets and leadership are key components of your brand and contribute to your reputation. As you integrate with a new entity, it only makes sense to preserve the best parts of the culture you have worked so hard to establish.
Here’s a post-merger or -acquisition integration checklist that starts with your people, as it’s critical to retain their loyalty and expertise.
1. Culture. If you are undergoing a merger or acquisition, you’re in a bubbling cauldron of change. Whether two cultures are co-mingling, or one has literally acquired the other, there are probably more similarities than meet the eye. Suppose two competing industry giants are thrown together. Chances are, their missions resemble one another, but the expectations set by management are very different.
If a merger or acquisition is to succeed, a new culture must emerge. If you look for the best elements of both cultures you can develop a workplace that is both familiar and fresh to everyone. But how do you uncover these elements?
A little internal research can go a long way. Survey your employees and identify the common themes in each group. Ask what they liked most and least about their work environments, the way they delivered services and their firms’ management styles. Compare the responses and themes from both organizations. Then see if you can develop a culture that includes elements of both.
While it may be impractical to build a new internal culture from scratch — one organization’s established culture is likely to dominate — the merger or acquisition is much more likely to be successful if you can accommodate all parties to some extent.
2. Employer brand. Your recruiting and retention efforts have never been more important. In a time of change and competing priorities, how do you ensure your employees feel valued and supported? Happy employees provide quality service, while disgruntled employees can be less committed to that end result.
After a merger or acquisition, usually one of leadership’s first thoughts is to cut costs. This instinct to take away is what threatens employee morale, work product and client experience. Why not focus instead on the employee experience and retaining your best people?
Don’t rush to decisions — listen to your employees and what is important to them. And never take the small things for granted. Work-from-home Fridays might be the reason many people took the job and taking away that perk might be the reason they leave. If your employees feel they are at risk of losing the parts of their job that they value the most, you’ve got a tough road ahead of you.
And just as it’s important to retain people, it’s important to recruit, too. No one wants to work for a company that has a revolving door of talent. Constant turnover is not attractive to potential candidates as it is a sign of instability and turmoil. The employer brand you portray now will directly impact your ability to scale.
3. Internal Comms. Be the liaison your firm needs you to be. Your goal should be to build a culture of transparency and rapport. How — and how clearly — you communicate now will play a direct role in the success of the integration.
Do yourself a favor and don’t skip over the introductions. It’s critical that your new family operates as one — and that close-knit dynamic doesn’t happen overnight. The key is to make sure you are covering your bases. Nothing can be more detrimental than if one part of the firm feels favored over the other.
Storytelling can be a powerful tool. Each organization needs to learn about the other, so consider asking each side to share stories about notable client engagements, important internal events — whatever experiences will help the two parties coalesce and bond. How you share these stories will depend on the size and structure of the firm, but try to encourage individuals to tell stories in their own voice, whether spoken or written.
And make sure your communications are thoughtful and strategic. Your plan won’t work if your message is unclear and doesn’t deliver the intended impact.
4. Branding and marketing. Unless a merged or acquired firm is taking on the identity of the dominant brand, a merger or acquisition presents a great opportunity to reposition your firm or do a brand refresh. But first, you need to understand how the two firms are perceived in the marketplace and internally amongst employees. Brand research can identify opportunities in the marketplace that will inform your new positioning. Use the occasion to strengthen your reputation and increase your visibility. A stronger brand will resonate not only with your clients but also with your own employees – moving your closer to that unified brand culture.
5 Situations when M&A can Hurt Your Brand - YouTube
5. Business Development. If you don’t shape the narrative about your firm, your clients will create their own story, one that won’t necessarily reflect who you are. Make sure your people are on the same page and are saying the same thing. Identify messages for each of your audiences and equip your business development team to answer the hard questions.
6. Processes and procedures. It’s no accident that I’ve saved this one for last. Only after the integration is complete will you know what operations and procedures you need to support your marketing objectives and culture. While a lot of effort and expense can go into the operational systems and procedures, their impact is often overestimated. When the post-merger integration is complete you want to end up with systems and processes that support your strategy, marketing objectives and culture. They may come from either firm.
People are the building blocks of every professional services firm, so you’ll want to make sure they are taken care of. While leadership will always remain focused on the quantifiable aspects of a merger or acquisition, you can undermine the success of an M&A growth strategy if you don’t put your people first. Without the right people — happy, highly motivated professionals — the integrated firm isn’t likely to achieve the efficiencies and synergies that the merger or acquisition promised. But if you take these six factors into account, your odds of success improve dramatically.
Download a free copy of the book Inside the Buyer’s Brain to learn how to build a powerful brand to help your firm close more sales.
For more hands-on help on becoming the next Visible Firm®, register for our Visible Firm® course through Hinge University.
How Hinge Can Help:
Develop rebranding strategies that better connect with existing clients and prospects. Hinge’s Branding Program can help your firm stand out from the competition and build a brand that drives sustained growth.
7 Steps for Developing a Personal Branding Strategy - YouTube
In this video blog, Liz Harr will be sharing seven secrets on how to develop a personal branding strategy.
Hi, in this video blog, I’m going to be sharing some secrets on how to develop a personal branding strategy. It’s something that I talk to a lot of professional services executives about, whether they have their own show and they’re flying solo, or whether they are in a large firm and just need to cultivate a brand around themselves as an expert.
So, it’s something that we talk to a lot of people about in professional services. Now there are seven steps that I’d like to share with you when it comes to crafting a personal brand strategy. First and foremost, you have to start from the ground and figure out where you are. And what I mean by that is, determining where you are today, where you want to go, helps you figure out what you need to do to get there.
Do you aspire to be a global household name or do you want to break out of regional territory and become a national player? Those are the types of things that are really important in figuring out. And then on top of that, understanding your competition will be a layer on top of those goals and helping you figure out where you sit versus where you need to be.
Now, once you figure that out, then you’re ready to think about your expertise platform. It’s really difficult, in fact, almost impossible to craft a personal branding strategy around being a jack of all trades. So, figuring out how you are specialized and how to talk about that is the second step that you would take.
Then you need to think about your audience. Now, think about the roles that your decision makers play within their own companies. Who are their influencers? The influencers is another real important audience that you want to think about as you’re crafting your personal branding strategy and figuring out whom to be visible to.
Fourth is to figure out, what are you going to talk about? What are you going to be an expert in? This is, of course, your angle. And I think the best way to do this is to think about the services that are important to you and your firm as you grow and scale. You may have 12 or 15 services, but which are the ones that you think are really important to your growth?
And then, over on the other side, think about the things you know from your research, and from the dialogs you have with your audience, about the things that are important to them, the things that are keeping them up at night. It’s the intersection of the services that are important to you and the things that are important to your audience, the intersection of that that helps you identify those finite set of issues around which you should be speaking, writing, and networking.
Fifth is, know your skills. If you do some due diligence and look at your real strengths, be honest about your weaknesses, this helps you see what you’re coming to the table with. Do you love to speak but you get writer’s block when you have to put nose to grindstone and write a piece of thought leadership?
Well, this is very helpful to know when you’re crafting your personal branding strategy because you may want to do things like what you’re watching today, a video blog, if you enjoy speaking, but you don’t like writing. So, knowing your skill sets is really critical. And I don’t want to get too far to the end, but it helps with the final step. Before you get to that final step, once you’ve thought about your skills, then you need to think about what tools do you need to allow this personal branding strategy to really come to life?
What do you need on your website? Did you find that your audience likes to learn digitally, and so, webinars, or podcasts, or video blogs would be a good way for you to start educating and letting them know about your expertise? Then you would want to invest in those types of tools. Once you have figured out your audience, you’ve done an honest assessment of your skills and you’ve thought about what tools you need to bring your personal branding strategy to life, now you need to do it.
But you likely won’t be able to do it on your own. This is not a largely DIY type of scenario. In some cases, because of your skill set, you’ll find some natural places where you can take this on and do it on your own. In other cases, you may need to consider outsourcing some of the skill sets. Depending on the goals that you have for your firm, you may want to hire and groom these skill sets organically.
But you’ll likely have a mix of DIY, with the outsourcing, with the hiring, and build a team that helps you bring this to life. Some of the skill sets that you’ll be looking for, you know, it isn’t just about writing, it isn’t just about speaking, what about the design that goes behind anything you publish?
What about the design on your website? What about measuring analytics and using metrics to see how far you’re mapping towards your goal? Those are the types of skills that you want to surround yourself with as you’re building your toolkit. So, if you found this helpful and want to learn more, I’d encourage you to go to our Visible Expert Course in Hinge University.
Today’s professional services firms face challenges from many directions. Increased competition and commoditization of services put downward price pressure on services even as talent shortages drive up costs. And the advent of artificial intelligence and automation threatens to undermine some firms’ core service offerings.
It should come as no surprise, then, that many voices have suggested the adoption of alternative pricing models to reflect new approaches to building and capturing value. This post will focus on one of the most promising of those approaches, value-based pricing.
Value-Based Pricing Defined
Value-Based Pricing is a pricing strategy that attempts to capture the extra value that a particular client segment associates with a particular feature or benefit of your firm’s service. It requires that your service offering is different in some meaningful way from your competitors (i.e., differentiated) and that potential clients value that difference.
Value-based pricing rests on two key concepts. First, the value of a service is subjective and will likely vary for clients in different circumstances. Further, a given service may be perceived as more or less valuable depending on how it is “framed” or explained. This point is particularly important for professional services, since many clients have little understanding of the real business value of the services they buy.
The second key observation is that the cost of providing a service is only partially related to its perceived value. The client is the final judge of the value received and is often unaware of what is involved in providing a deliverable. This can lead to mismatched expectations between client and service provider. In fact, fear of “overpaying” is the second biggest concern of professional services buyers (after not solving the problem).
How a Value Pricing Strategy is Different
A value-based pricing strategy can be contrasted with three other pricing strategies common to the professional services marketplace.
Time and Materials Pricing involves calculating the cost of the labor (time) and other expenses (materials) and adding a markup to cover overhead and profit. This marked up rate is often referred to as hourly billing rate and may vary depending on who does the work. More-senior professionals, or those employed at firms with a stronger brand, typically command a higher rate.
Market Pricing, another common approach to pricing professional services, attempts to price a service at a rate that reflects the price commonly paid for this service at competitive service providers. This pricing model assumes that the service and benefits are comparable across competitors (i.e., undifferentiated). A firm may choose to be at the low end of the market to gain a pricing advantage or at the high end of the market (premium pricing) to capture the value of their brand or reputation.
Package Pricing is a strategy that offers a fixed price for a defined group of services. Sometimes called fixed pricing, this strategy can be used with or without value pricing. However, there is a natural affinity between package pricing and value pricing. Since clients are not being billed based on time spent, they are already focused on the overall value of the package. This makes value pricing easier to implement.
To understand how value pricing works, let’s start with a simple example. Consider an accounting firm that offers an outsourced bookkeeping and accounting service. Three local competitors offer this same basic service at around $1,000 per month. In a market pricing scenario, the firm would charge around the same amount to remain competitive.
However, this firm has observed that clients often ask what the monthly financial reports mean for their business. So the firm decides to provide analysis and basic business advisory services as part of their offering. This increases their cost by about $200 per month. In a time and materials scenario, the firm would simply raise its monthly fee to $1,200.
But by researching potential clients they learn that a segment of clients feels that the analysis and insight services doubles the value they receive. A value-pricing scenario would suggest that their enhanced package should be priced at $2,000 per month and marketed to that prospect segment that perceives the added value.
Now, lets assume that the firm acquires some new software that automates a number of routine functions, reducing their monthly labor expenses by 20%. Do they reduce their monthly fee by a corresponding amount? A value-pricing strategy would say no, as long as the automation does not impact the value clients receive.
But what if the new software offers greater functionality and delivers more insightful analysis? If clients recognize more value because you have explained and framed these new capabilities appropriately, a price increase would be in order. However, if this new value goes unrecognized or unappreciated, you will be unable to harvest that potential value.
Benefits of a Value Pricing Strategy
As you come to understand how value pricing works, it becomes quite clear that it has many benefits to offer the professional services. Below are the top five benefits, in our experience.
Both you and your client are focused on the same thing: the real business impact of the services. In a traditional hourly billing model you focus on the cost of providing the service. How long will it take? Who will do the work? Your client is focused on the value of the service. Will it be worth the expense? Will it really solve my problem? In a value pricing model, however, both client and provider are focused on the value received. Their interests are better aligned, which promotes better communications and outcomes.
It allows you to better capture the value of your expertise and insight. One of the cruel ironies of time-based billing is that it punishes fast and efficient professionals. The more skilled you are at a task, the less time it takes you to do it well. In a time-based scenario, a highly skilled professional might charge lessthan a bumbling beginner! This can add administrative and operational burdens, as the client may feel a need to micromanage your choice of resources. To some degree, different billing rates can offset this time discrepancy. But billing rates are only a crude reflection of the value a top-level expert can bring to a project. The right expert could add thousands of dollars of value in minutes. Value pricing frees you to leverage resources as you please. And perhaps more important, you can capture the full value of the greater efficiency and added insight that a highly trained specialist brings to a project.
It adds predictability to pricing. No one likes “billing surprises.” When competently delivered, value pricing should have no unexpected charges. Scope and price are agreed upon before work is started. If a material change occurs, the price can be adjusted accordingly (with a change order, for instance). From a psychological perspective, this arrangement frees the client from avoiding important questions or discussions simply because they are afraid of incurring hourly fees.
It encourages you to leverage technology and optimize processes. Why would you invest in time-saving technology or systematic process improvement if it only reducedyour revenue? A value-based approach eliminates this problem. Instead, it incentivizes you to embrace every margin-boosting improvement in process or technology that does not compromise the client deliverable. Further, if the technology or process improvements add more value, even better.
It reduces common billing questions and disputes. Just because your charges are accurate and well documented doesn’t mean they don’t annoy clients. “You charged me (insert the hourly fee amount) just to photocopy a document? That’s outrageous!” If you currently use time-based billing, some variation of this conversation is probably painfully familiar. Value pricing eliminates these conversations. The client does not see hourly rates or time and task details. Annoyance avoided.
So in light of all these benefits, why isn’t value pricing more widely practiced within the professional services? The answer is probably because there are significant barriers to overcome when implementing it. Here are some of the most common ones and some strategies to get past them.
It requires a change in core administrative processes.
Sometimes a firm’s administrative processes can present barriers to value pricing. If your billing system automatically generates invoices based on tracked time, there may be internal resistance to adjusting these processes. Similarly, if your firm compensates staff and/or equity partners based on billable hours, value-based billing could turn that model on its head. And even if the required changes to your system are relatively minor, you may encounter resistance simply because many people dislike change.
To counter this barrier, focus on educating affected people on the benefits of a value-based pricing strategy. The upside typically outweighs any associated costs by a wide margin. Also consider positioning your initial moves toward value pricing as an experiment that can be adjusted or expanded as you gain experience.
Many professionals are unsure how to calculate the value of their services.
This is a very common issue in many professional services industries. Unless executives and billable staff have prior training and experience with value-based pricing it can seem arbitrary and downright risky. This often creates anxiety and hesitation.
Training and successful experience will typically overcome this concern. And of course, it is incredibly important to have a systematic process to follow for establishing your pricing. Below, we describe the model that we use at Hinge and recommend to our clients. It minimizes the seeming arbitrary nature of value pricing while preserving the ability to be flexible as you encounter various business situations.
It requires a rethinking of the entire business development approach.
Business development is no longer just about describing what you will do and how long it will take. You must now consider the full impact of your services. Do they actually solve the business problem at issue? What is the value of solving those problems? Does your approach add value over and above what a competitor would do? How can you demonstrate that value? Does the potential client trust that you can deliver on your promise?
Each of these questions could have a significant impact on the price you can command for your services. Many professionals will need a new way of thinking about the process of business development and an opportunity to develop the skills needed for success. You need to be a good listener as well as a strong presenter. Your proposal will need to be convincing to justify what may seem like a premium price to the selection team. And above all, you must believe in the value you can create. If you don’t believe in the impact of your approach, it is unlikely that the prospective client will either.
Some potential clients will not accept value pricing.
Not every potential client will appreciate the benefits of value pricing. And even if they do appreciate it, they may not be in a position to act. Some prospective buyers simply can’t afford premium pricing. Or your designated contacts may be reluctant to request the additional funds for fear of putting their career at risk. And just as you may have internal policies or processes that make administrating value pricing a challenge, so to may your potential client.
While you may be able to overcome some of these challenges, you may not be able to conquer them all. You will have to accept the fact that value pricing will not work in all situations. Having said that, the upside is so substantial that it outweighs the loses you may experience. Track you closing percentage and compare it to your pre-value-pricing baseline. Take note of the margins on value-priced and non-value-priced projects, as well. What you will likely discover is that the value-pricing approach delivers superior results.
It demands a higher level of project management.
Time and materials billing can hide a lot of project management inefficiencies and missteps. If it takes more time, you simply charge for more hours. In this scenario, the client bears all the project execution risks. (No wonder they are so nervous!) With a package price or value price model, however, that risk is assumed by you. (Now look who is nervous.) You also inherit the nearly universal problem of “scope creep,” in which the client’s needs evolve as the project unfolds and they want more than originally bargained for. If these adjustments fall outside the original scope, you may need to adjust that scope. Generally, this adjustment is handled with a “change order” that spells out any changes in scope and their associated additional costs.
In many ways, this value-based arrangement is a benefit. It forces you to focus on the project delivery process and relate it to the value delivered. In our experience, it tends to improve both efficiency and the client experience. But it does take dedicated effort and training to make sure you have a methodical project management process that keeps projects within scope and achieves the desired outcomes.
Step 1: Understand the business issues your service is meant to address.
Start by understanding the business context that your services address. Go beyond what specific services clients are requesting and try to understand the “why” behind the request. Is there an unusual urgency? Is this an essential step in a larger business strategy? Understanding this business context will help you determine what you need to accomplish (see Step 2) and the real value that your client will receive (see Step 3).
Is this a regulatory requirement that triggers a natural instinct to minimize costs? How can you approach it so that you can add real value beyond a simple check the box exercise?
Is this a situation where anxieties are high and finding an approach that will reduce them will add real value? Remember that value is subjective and is ultimately judged by the client. While it may seem trivial to you, this kind of emotional relief can be very valuable to a client.
Is this a growth opportunity where the upside potential is key? Think in terms of increased revenue and profits over time.
Is it a cost reduction or efficiency play where potential savings are the driver? Here again the metric will likely be cost savings or increased efficiencies expressed in economic terms. Think of the savings extend out over time.
Step 2: Calculate your costs to deliver that service.
How will you address this challenge? What is your approach and how will you staff the engagement? To many professionals, this step will feel very familiar, especially if you are used to giving estimates or doing fixed-price projects.Consider similar projects you have done in the past. What did it take to achieve the results you are trying to achieve here? Try to be realistic about what will be required. Take into account this particular prospect and their unique situation. Give yourself a little “wiggle room” in case you are being a bit too optimistic.Then calculate the cost using your billing rate, including overhead and a reasonable profit margin. If you do not have billing rates, take your direct costs and add a sufficient margin to cover overhead and profits. This is your floor. It is (or should be) the minimum that you will accept to do the job.
You might think of this as sort of a package price that does not yet have a value-billing component added. Now we’ll turn to the value add side of your pricing calculation.
Step 3: Estimate the value of fully addressing the targeted business issues.
Start this step by adopting your potential client’s perspective. What is the value to me (the client) of fully achieving the real results I’m seeking? Think back to the first step. If I knew for sure that the proposed approach would work as described what is that outcome worth?
Consider cumulative benefits over a realistic time frame. Include both the tangible and intangible benefits. Now, this is the area where many professionals falter. They feel out of their depth when trying to assess subjective value.
There are alternatives to consider. If you are constructing a package that you want to offer to multiple clients, you may want to do some research on the perceived value of different possible service combinations. This type of research is a common practice in many consumer-focused marketing organizations. Research will reduce your risk and give you a more objective starting place for your pricing decisions. It is an approach favored by many of our clients when making these decisions.
Step 4: Adjust the value price to fit the current business context.
You now have developed your pricing floor by focusing on your estimated costs in Step 2 and your projected price ceiling by focusing on estimated value in Step 3. These are the range of prices to consider. Now it is time to decide what price to offer to the prospective client.
From your perspective you are trying to determine how much of the value you will bring to the engagement can be captured. The client is trying to determine the likelihood that the value you promise will actually be delivered. “Will I actually receive this much savings?”
When making these judgments consider these factors:
What is the probability that we can deliver the promised benefits? The lower the likelihood, the lower the price.
What is the emotional impact of the service we provide? Does it reduce anxiety and stress? Remove a serious threat? The greater the relief, the higher the price you can charge.
What is the client’s ability to pay what you want to charge? Is it easy or will it take a major effort on the client’s part? Even if the payoff is great, if a buyer cannot afford it, they are unlikely to move ahead with your offer.
You may be able to impact these factors by the way you structure the offer to the client. For example some firms will tie their fees to the results actually achieved. Let’s say you are reviewing a firm’s state and local tax filings to find opportunities for savings. The fee may be quoted as 50% of any documented savings. Or you might charge a reasonable base fee (calculated in Step 2) that will be paid no matter what, and set additional fees that will be paid upon achieving specific goals or metrics. This structure dramatically reduces the client’s uncertainty and perceived risk and makes it an easy sale.
Another common mechanism is to offer some type of guarantee. Here again you are removing perceived risk and making it easier for the client to accept your offer.
Step 5: Build the case for your value price.
Your goal with this step is to help the prospective client understand and appreciate the value that they will receive by working with you. Remember that value is based on the client’s perception, so you need to be able to help them “see the value” before you have started work.
The best business developers are able to paint a mental picture of how the client’s organization will be improved or transformed by your work. They can help the client anticipate the emotional relief they will experience or the joy they will feel when the desired outcome materializes. Case stories and examples are very helpful at this stage of the process.
But it is not just the emotional part of the proposal that is important. If you can present relevant analytics and past performance data, that may be very persuasive to others. It’s not emotion or rationale, it’s both.
And remember, often these purchasing decisions will be made by committees. So be sure to arm your advocates with the tools they need to persuade their colleagues that your value-pricing approach is the right one for them.
A Final Thought
The professional services landscape is rapidly changing. Technology, new business models and the threat of commoditization are eroding traditional ways of providing value to clients. Firms will need to find new ways to compete — and new ways to package, and be compensated for, the value they can deliver. Value-based pricing is well suited to this challenge.
Want to implement the perfect marketing program to complement value-based pricing?Join Hinge University and check our groundbreaking courses and training resources.
How Hinge Can Help
Need help researching your marketplace or developing a value-based pricing model? Learn more about our research services or contact us to schedule a free consultation with one of our high-growth marketing experts.
Any executive or marketing director working in professional services knows how rapidly change occurs in B2B marketing. And of the various spaces included in most marketing plans, B2B social media wins the superlative for most likely to change again tomorrow.
The world of B2B social media is frustrating — often leaving marketing directors disoriented because what was working three months ago doesn’t work anymore. Professionals building their personal brands face a similar challenge. An endless stream of new features… More ways to analyze data… Emerging platforms to join… How can you keep up? Inevitably this means that a good B2B social media strategy requires constant attention and experimentation.
But what if there were some foundations you could always rely on when building your B2B social media content strategy? In this article, we’re going to look beyond the unpredictable updates that each platform releases and focus on two evergreen rules that are here to stay.
Rule #1 – Be Human.
Professionals who spend time on social media are doing so for a variety of reasons, ranging from researching competitors to recruiting new employees. But one business purpose for being on social media stands taller than the rest — networking with people you know and people you want to know.
Put another way, the chief business purpose of social media is to connect and engage with people. These people include potential and existing clients, referral sources, other thought leaders and possible recruits. Social media is so effective because we are always curious about what certain individuals are doing, experiencing, learning and accomplishing. So if connecting with people is the driving force behind social media, why do so many firms neglect to humanize their brands in this space?
By humanizing your brand on social media, we mean bringing a human touch to every piece of content you share.
For example, the articles you shared were all written by individuals. Have you tagged them in your post, highlighting their individual expertise?
And what about your firm’s news? Aren’t most of these updates related to the achievements of individual people? Have you shared a picture showing them in action?
And finally, are people on social media interacting with your posts? If so, have you responded to them? All of them? And have you reciprocated the interaction?
On this point we are inspired by the work of Mark Schaefer, who authored the book Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins. On his blog, Schaefer writes, “In the past, our businesses were built through an accumulation of advertising impressions. Today, our brands will be known, at least in part, though an accumulation of human impressions.” What Schaefer wants business leaders and marketers to understand is that the future of marketing is being driven by authentic human expression.
So when it comes to your B2B social media strategy, highlight the humanity behind your brand. Allow the voices behind your content to be heard and bring visibility to the individuals at your firm doing excellent work for your clients.
Want to know the fastest way to get ignored on social media? Publish a steady stream of posts about your service offerings and current promotions. Nothing leads to fewer impressions, less engagement, and fewer shares than self-promotional posts about your business. The faster you recognize this fact, the more successful you’ll be on social media.
This behavior is the equivalent of delivering a canned elevator pitch over and over again at a networking event to as many people as possible. Have you ever called one of these zombies to help you with your business? Have you been their referral source? Probably not. So if that kind of behavior turns us off in person, why would it not turn us off online? Well… it does!
When you share content on social media it’s always worth asking, “Could this piece help my audience?” Sharing helpful, relevant, and inspirational content makes you a trusted voice to your audience. Rather than being overly self-promotional, pushy, or boring, you will develop a reputation as a leader in the digital space. And at the end of the day, being a trusted voice to your customer is what we all want.
Messaging consultant Donald Miller reminds us of the importance of being helpful to our customers — or what he refers to as the hero of our brand story — when he writes the following:
“When we position our customer as the hero and ourselves as their guide, we will be recognized as a sought-after character to help them along their journey. In other words, your audience is Luke Skywalker. You get to be Yoda. It’s a small but powerful shift. This honors the journey and struggles of our audience, and it allows us to provide the product or service they need to succeed.”
By developing a mature and helpful voice on social media, you make space for your target clients to be the hero of the story — and for you to be their potential guide.
What to do:
Post helpful content you’ve written for your audience
Share relevant content written by other experts outside of your firm
Engage your audience with polls and comments about topics of their interest
What not to do:
Repetitively post about your service offerings and accomplishments
Directly message new connections with your elevator pitch
Only share content produced by your firm
Social Media - Define Your Business Purpose - YouTube
Missing the Forest for the Trees
If there’s one other evergreen fact to write about it’s this: social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook will continue to change. And while it is important to stay up to date on these changes and their implications for marketers and business leaders, don’t lose site of the principles that will establish your brand as a trusted voice. Those fundamentals rarely, if ever, change.
Too many professionals stress about staying up to date with a platform’s latest features, while failing to recognize that they are turning off potential buyers with their barrage of self-promotional, corporate, and pushy content.
It’s all too easy to get drawn into the mechanics of social media and miss its larger purpose. Remember to build those all-important connections. Humanize your brand by promoting the thought leaders behind the content that makes your firm so excellent. And be relentlessly helpful to an audience that is searching for trusted voices in a forest of noise. Keep these two rules in mind as you establish your B2B social media strategy and you’ll continue to see the visibility and reputation of your brand flourish.
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How Hinge Can Help
Does you firm need help setting up or delivering a powerful social media program? Hinge offers a full suite of social media planning, training and implementation services. Contact us today.
In business-to-business (B2B) and the professional services, there are many different paradigms in which to view marketing systems. The funnel model and the flipped funnel model in account-based approaches are popular today. This article focuses on viewing marketing from the customer’s point of view.
A customer journey map is a visualization of the stages buyers go through when interacting with your brand over time and across digital and traditional channels.
If you’ve been involved in buying a professional service for your organization, you know such decisions come with careful consideration. It is seldom a quick process to upgrade your software, find a new accounting partner, design a new office space, or market your business. These are not impulse decisions. You’re not picking a consulting engineer off the shelf on your way out of the CPA store.
Yet many B2B and professional services marketers today treat their digital brand as a dusty display ad. They cling to a far-off hope that buyers will stumble upon their website, understand a jargon-filled service offering, dig to the depths of the contact-us page to find an email address or contact form… and despite all of this still feel compelled to reach out on their own.
Instead, today’s marketers have tools at their disposal to re-frame their approach to marketing and optimize their customer journey.
The Role of Your Digital Brand in the Customer Journey
If you’re a B2B or professional service marketer reading this, you probably already have a mix that includes events, social media, blogging, video, webinars, and some sort of white paper available for download on your website. It’s probably automated to some degree by marketing technology.
But your buyers don’t care.
Ask yourself, ‘would you buy from your company?’ Does your brand come across as human on social media? Or is it a broadcast of ads and achievements?
Buyers today are in control and they don’t care about your ads. They have more content than they could ever consume right at their fingertips. If you’re not going to address their business issues, someone will.
It’s up to you as a marketer to arm buyers with the resources and confidence needed to solve their challenge. It’s up to you to make them the hero of their journey.
No two buyer journeys are the same and they’re never linear. A prospect could run into someone from your firm at a conference, then follow you on social media. Another could find you on a web search then read a blog post. A third could have been referred to you by a colleague. The combinations are endless.
But aggregating the data tells a compelling story…
The 4 Main Stages of the Professional Services Buyer Journey
Visualizing a customer journey map helps stakeholders understand their buyers, leading to improved decision-making. Improving the customer experience will accelerate your pipeline and generate more leads.
Our research suggests there to be four main stages of the professional services buyer journey:
Continue reading beyond the infographic for more in-depth analysis of each stage of the customer journey map.
Stage 1: Awareness of a business challenge
At this stage of the buyer’s journey, professionals are waking up and realizing they have a business challenge. For example, technical professionals may encounter a process that could be streamlined or automated, executives may realize their firm culture needs a jolt, or maybe they hear an expert speak on new laws or regulations in a seminar or podcast.
With the right marketing, you have an opportunity to influence target client awareness of potential issues facing their business. You can start by researching your audience to understand their top challenges and buying behavior. If you are able to truly understand the pain points of your customers, you will be able to speak their language and guide them along their journey.
Research conducted by Pardot shows 72% of buyers turn to Google during their research after the awareness stage. Our own research shows professional services buyers exhibiting similar behavior, with 66% turning to search engines at this point on their customer journey map.
Having researched your buyers, you are now in a position to create thought leadership around specific issues or challenges your buyers would be researching at this stage of their journey.
We asked the top B2B marketing experts what their one piece of advice would be to professionals looking to build their personal brand, and each of them independently recommended adding value and giving without expecting anything in return. This selfless, educational approach is a proven recipe to building a brand over time.
To match their marketing to this buyer behavior, more firms are prioritizing digital initiatives. In our recent 2019 Marketing Budget Benchmark Study, which we do jointly with the Association for Accounting Marketing, we found that more than 60% of Marketing Directors in accounting firms recommend increasing marketing spend on video, internal education and training, and search engine optimization in 2019 and beyond.
It’s encouraging that industries like accounting, engineering and management consulting are waking up to today’s digital buying behavior.
After buyers do their research, they start to get a better idea of what they can do themselves and where they may need help. If you were proactive enough to get in front of buyers early in their journey, you have an advantage over your competitors.
According to a DemandGen report, 52% of buyers viewed 8+ pieces of content from the winning vendor. And the same report found 61% buyers agreed that the winning vendor delivered a better mix of content appropriate for each stage of the purchasing process.
Marketers cannot be satisfied with a single piece of content in their mix. They must build a system that pulls relevant, valuable content from a hub or library and delivers it at the right stage of the buyer’s journey. For companies selling into big accounts, they may also consider an account-based B2B marketing strategy.
Furthermore, it’s essential for your brand message to be clearly conveyed on your website. Our research shows that nearly 90% of professional services buyers have ruled out a firm before even talking with them.
But the easiest place to start is by reviewing your website and making sure it demonstrates your thought leadership, experience, and subject matter expertise. Some firms even conduct a brand study to develop focused, concise messaging for their website and marketing collateral.
Stage 4. Making a selection
Once you’re having conversations with prospective buyers, they are deciding whether your experience and expertise will ultimately solve their challenge. They will ask about past projects, timeline, and whether you’ve encountered a problem like this before.
Our research from the Inside the Buyer’s Brain study shows that relevant experience and deep subject-matter expertise were the top things that tip the scale for winning firms in the buyer’s mind.
For firms looking to optimize this stage of the buyer’s journey, make sure business development and sales professionals can articulate a consistent brand message and highlight differentiators and a compelling value proposition. They should also be armed with relevant case stories and the ability to tailor proposals to fit the needs and sophistication of the buyer.
4 Stage Buyer Journey - YouTube
By optimizing your customer journey, your business can accelerate demand- and lead-generation, improve brand strength, and win more deals. But it all starts with a fundamental understanding of your target clients.
If you found this article helpful, please leave a comment and connect with me on LinkedIn and Twitter. If you would like to learn more about mapping your customer journey, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking to market your software or consulting services to the professional services market? Work with the Hinge Research Institute to bring a data-driven approach to your marketing.
Brand research gets to the core of what will resonate with your audiences—and is an integral part of what Hinge does for clients. Learn more about our research services or contact us to learn whether research makes sense for your professional services firm.
“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” These sage words from John Robert Wooden, who won 620 games in 27 seasons as the legendary men’s head basketball coach of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). I know, I am dating myself. So, what does this “Woodenism” (famous insightful quotes from the “Wizard of Westwood”) have to do with sales enablement?
This Woodenism was part of the philosophy that helped Coach Wooden win. Not only did his teams win 620 games, they won 10 NCAA titles during his last 12 seasons. It is that consistency that Wooden became famous for and it is why you should be interested in sales enablement.
What is B2B Sales Enablement?
According to Gartner, “Sales enablement is the activities, systems, processes, and information that support and promote knowledge-based sales interactions with client and prospects.
Forrester defines sales enablement as “A strategic, ongoing process that equips employees with the ability to consistently have a valuable conversation with the right set of customer stakeholders at each stage of the customer’s journey.
I like TOPO’s definition of sales enablement, “Sales enablement is the process of providing the sales organization with information, content, and tools that help sales people sell more effectively. The foundation of sales enablement is to provide sales people with what they need to successfully engage the buyer throughout the buying process. It allows a large number of sales people to achieve quota in a scalable, predictable, and repeatable fashion.”
Sounds similar to Coach Wooden’s outcomes, huh?
Predictable. Repeatable. Scalable. What is not to like?
More Than Just “Sales” Enablement
To be truly effective, this process requires ownership from both the sales and marketing teams. Marketing drives content while Sales focuses on communication and engagement.
But you also have to look at sales enablement beyond the impact on sales and marketing. You need to see the additional benefits to sellers and buyers.
On the seller side, the sales enablement process can play a big role in:
Recruiting and On-boarding: Again, it is all about predictability. Ensure that you are getting top talent by keeping the interview process consistent with reusable documentation. Also, provide repeatable on-boarding to get that top talent up-to-speed as soon as possible with content, training, resources, and more.
Continuous Training: Provide training that can be measured. Offer best practices from the industry or from sales leaders. Enable sellers to learn new technologies or sales strategies.
Performance Assessments: Have ways for sellers and managers to tweak performance without being too disruptive. Offer seamless feedback processes.
Coaching: Put sellers in a position where they feel comfortable taking advantage of coaching through videos, webinars, and documentation.
On the buyer side, the sales enablement process helps:
Ensure that the sales process maps to the buyer journey for better engagement
Personalize and customize content and communications to specific buyer personas to build relationship and trust
Give buyers a way to provide communication and feedback that can be leveraged by various individuals or departments for faster response or resolution
Sales enablement has been proven to work and sales enablement best practices are now available. Let me lay out a few statistics for your consideration.
According to Seismic, organizations with sales enablement tools or platforms experience:
350% increase in content usage
275% boost in conversions
65% more revenue generated by sellers
Aberdeen reports that organizations with successful sales enablement programs have:
32% higher team sales quota attainment
24% better individual quota achievement
23% higher lead conversion rate
25% higher growth
Whether you are in an enterprise company or a professional services firm, you have to admit that these numbers are compelling and would definitely help with your organization’s growth.
What Sales Enablement Metrics to Follow
A lot of times when I discuss strategies or processes with clients, they inevitably ask me, “That’s great, Kelly. I get it. But how do I measure performance and success?” Well, with sales enablement, I could go into great detail on metrics, but I think that Sales Hacker has done a great job of identifying 10 common metrics used with sales enablement so I will just promote their work.
Here is a quick definition for each KPI or metric from Sales Hacker:
Time to Revenue: This metric refers to the time required to close a sale.
Quota Attainment: The percentage of sellers in the team that consistently meet or exceed targets.
Sales Cycle: The average time duration it takes to close deals from one end of the funnel to the other.
Time Spent Actively Selling: The average length of time sellers actively spend engaging prospects.
Content Usage: Evaluates the efficiency of each communication material based on unique visits, amount of time customers spend on the content, and other quantifiable factors.
Sales Funnel Transition Rates: Specific transition rates from one stage of the funnel to the next (e.g., from prospect to marketing qualified lead, from sales qualified lead to won opportunity and to a closed deal).
Average Win Rate: The ratio of closed won deals to the total number of won and lost deals.
Attach Rate: The percentage of deals that include a go-to-market strategy with a partner.
Number of Closed Deals: The number of engaged/closed deals in a specific timeframe.
Product Mix: The percentage of products/solutions included in a closed deal.
This article was not written to be the comprehensive authoritative piece on sales enablement. Its purpose is to make you aware of sales enablement, its benefits, and how to measure it so that you would investigate it further and give it serious consideration to help grow your organization. In future articles I will go deeper into sales enablement tools, sales enablement best practices, and sales enablement vendor selection.
The memorable part of sales enablement is its ability to provide repeatable success…just like Coach John Wooden. Not only did he help his teams to 10 NCAA titles in 12 years—he had seven of those championship wins back-to-back.
I hope you will do more research into both sales enablement and Coach Wooden. Both may significantly help your sellers. Check out his Woodenisms. Which one is your favorite? Also, reach out to me on LinkedIn or Twitter if you have any questions around sales enablement or other B2B marketing topics.
Let’s face it, marketing resources—whether part of a large or small team—only have a certain amount of bandwidth each month to build or strengthen their brands, generate leads or demand, enhance their customer experiences, or to reach all of these goals.
For many, the ultimate goal is to help increase/improve opportunity engagement throughout their funnels or pipelines.
Unfortunately, to achieve these goals, marketers often have to adjust, adapt, and accelerate their marketing strategies and plans. Reaching the right buyers (especially C-suite) is getting harder and harder. Traditional and digital marketing and sales tactics aren’t working as well as they once did.
Buyers may not be at your conference or stop by your booth. Conferences and trade shows are getting more expensive as destinations to attend or to exhibit.
Buyers are leveraging less referrals. According to a study from the Hinge Research Institute, Inside the Buyer’s Brain, Second Edition, the use of referrals as a search method has dropped by 15 over the last few years. Buyers are also making fewer referrals. The rate of actually making a referral is down almost 5% over the last few years.
Marketers must be as effective and efficient as possible with the resources, time, and budget that they have. This is where ABM can help. The Alterra Group reports that ABM shows a higher ROI than other marketing activities. ITSMA takes it further noting 87% of marketers that measure ROI say ABM outperforms every other marketing investment.
This is why a B2B, account-based marketing (ABM) strategy must be a priority for you. Why wouldn’t you prioritize account-based marketing tactics over other less effective, traditional and digital means? According to SiriusDecisions, 92% of B2B marketers worldwide consider ABM “extremely” or “very” important to their overall marketing efforts. Need more proof, read on…
“87% of marketers that measure ROI say ABM outperforms every other marketing investment.”ITSMA
Gone are the days of sending out one universal message to the world and expecting a high level of engagement and buying. Personalization and customization are the names of the game now to be effective. Today’s buyers and clients are savvier than in days gone by. They do research on everything. They read blogs, recognize automated messages, listen to podcasts and webinars, and more. They are enlightened. They conduct searches online and don’t ask for referrals as much. They want to hear from sellers who have done their homework and know their businesses, challenges, goals, etc. They want to talk with sellers who are genuine—sellers who can add value to their buying journeys with tailored, not canned responses. They are looking for trusted advisors.
Have you ever received an email or LinkedIn message from someone who was attempting to personalize but got your personal or company name wrong? I have this happen to me a few times a month. Needless to say, those sellers do not get very far with me.
Also, keep in mind that, contrary to your some of your team’s thinking, your products or services do not fit or appeal to everyone. Even, if by some small miracle, you do have that unicorn product or service, you should prioritize the audiences you are trying to reach. Focusing your messaging and selling will help your company or firm be more effective and is a key pillar of ABM. Before I go much further with B2B, account-based marketing, let me define what it is so that we are on the same page.
At Hinge, we believe that ABM is a scalable and layered strategic approach to marketing and sales that leverages different levels of targeted and personalized messaging to engage with a specific prospect or customer/client (account) during an experience or journey. The processes and tactics of ABM have been around for decades in one form or another. What makes ABM different is the technology now available to leverage account segmentation, behavior, orchestration, and reporting.
Our definition of Account-Based Marketing includes the alignment and orchestration of not only Marketing and Sales teams but the Executive, Sales Development, Customer Success, Product Development, and other teams that engage with prospects and customers/clients. It brings together targeted accounts, data-driven programs, and personalized buyer experiences into a coordinated outreach. Some call this broaden approach “Account-Based Everything” or “ABX.”
Many marketers came up through the ranks learning to develop and maintain a marketing and sales funnel or waterfall where the focus is placed on generating a high volume of awareness and leads at the top of the funnel, nurturing a portion of them into demand, and converting a smaller subset of that demand into opportunities and then closing them. With ABM, that funnel approach is flipped. As organizations such as FlipMyFunnel have promoted, with the flipped funnel, the focus is on targeting a small set of accounts, mapping and engaging key decision makers, and then creating relationships that lead to more opportunities and revenue. (See Figure 1.)
The traditional funnel focuses on number of leads generated and the number of leads passed to Sales. The flipped funnel focus on identifying key accounts and the number of meetings (engagement) with key decision makers.
Figure 1: The Traditional Funnel and the FlipMyFunnel Funnel
A Striking Benefit of B2B Account-Based Marketing
As I discussed earlier, ABM tactics often outperform every other marketing tactics. The ROI is dramatic and makes a compelling case for any marketer. But the differentiator that I think will capture the attention of any corporate or firm leadership team will be the significant impact on revenue.
SiriusDecisions reports in one of its State of ABM studies that “91% of companies using ABM were able to increase their average deal size.” Moreover, 25% of the respondents stated that their revenue increase was over 50%!
Independently, research from TOPO and the ABM Leadership Alliance, and reported in ABM in Action, shows that companies that have implemented ABM saw a 171% increase in their Annual Contract Value (ACV). (See Figure 2.)
From Gartner’s perspective, its research shows that ABM programs provide a 70% increase in opportunities created.
Figure 2: ACV lift after implementing ABM
“25% of the respondents stated that their revenue increase was over 50%.”SiriusDecisions
Don’t Skip Addressing Considerations
Hopefully, if you have reached this point, you are pretty excited about ABM and what it can do for your company or firm. Now, a shot of reality. To be successful at account-based marketing, you have to address a lot of considerations. That is why it is so important to start on our strategy now. Imagine you are custom building a new home. Your strategy is your blueprint. You wouldn’t invest a lot of time, money, and resources into building a new home if you didn’t have a detailed blueprint. Beyond that, what types of windows will you have, what will the flooring look like, how much tilework will there be, will there be smart house features? It’s all about the details and who will do the work. Will you be doing any of the carpentry, plumbing, electric, drywall, painting, masonry, etc.? Will you be using any contractors or specialists on this custom home? Will you have a general contractor to drive the blueprint/strategy? Even if you want to do a lot of this with internal resources, you should still use an ABM consultant to guide you through the strategy, help you apply best practices, and avoid known pitfalls.
The same holds true for your ABM initiative. You’ve got considerations such as buyer personas, target account lists, change management, playbooks, data management processes, account plans, cross-functional account team organization, content, offers, campaign design, personalization, events, account mapping, internal collaboration and communications, and more.
Then there are channel considerations. Email. Direct Mail. Account-Based Advertising. Social. Phone Calls. Inbound. Outbound. Metrics. Reporting. You don’t have implement all of these considerations, but I think it is well worth going through the exercise of addressing the considerations. Then you can scale your ABM program based on resources, budget, timelines, and more. It is best to start out with a small pilot program that you can grow and optimize in phases.
A Couple of Tips/Caveats
There is no doubt that a well-planned Account-Based Marketing strategy can have a dramatic, positive impact on ROI and revenue in ways few other marketing strategies can. However, be patient. Set realistic expectations based on your average sales cycle and the skill sets of your team members. While your strategy will be well-intention, it will not be coming out of the gate fully optimized. You will gain insights along the way. Changes will occur to the program—Just like with that custom-built house, you will find changes will occur to your ABM program. The exciting part is that if you stick with the program, you will eventually see the optimization kick in and the bigger payoffs occur.
Speaking of learning from previous tactics, I would recommend that you make sure that your company or firm has a strong brand, key differentiators, and solid positioning before proceeding to ABM. I have seen several clients move ahead only to hit a brick wall when target accounts did not engage—even with the higher level of personalization. Consider your brand a foundation piece to your ABM.
Another foundational piece is a good, high-performance website. The website, custom landing pages, messaging, etc. will tie directly to your other ABM tactics. Nothing stops a possible ABM deal faster than a website that is too slow, too hard to navigate, too vague, or too old (out of style).
Why You Need to Prioritize A B2B, Account-Based, Marketing (ABM) Strategy Now
The B2B marketing world is changing fast. ABM has been proven to work—and work well. You need to commit to ABM today even if you do not implement a strategy and program for a year or more. Planning now will ensure a higher level of success tomorrow. This piece was not designed to be a comprehensive guide to ABM. In fact, its purpose was to specifically focus on the compelling metrics and data to get you to raise ABM as a priority.
Use this piece to get excited and motivated. Keep in mind that your results may vary—especially if you have never created and implemented an ABM strategy before. Start discussions with different teams to get buy-in. Do research online or by talking with ABM practitioners or industry analysts. Now you know what is possible. In the near future I would like to address how to build out an account-based marketing framework. The key to ABM success is to coordinate and unify traditional and digital marketing tactics—and then execute, communicate, measure, and optimize.
Let’s continue the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter, or email (email@example.com).
“Companies that have implemented ABM saw a 171% increase in their Annual Contract Value (ACV).”
Your B2B website should be one of your firm’s greatest assets. Our High Performance Website Program helps firms drive online engagement and leads through valuable content. Hinge can create the right website strategy and design to take your firm to the next level.
Content marketing is changing the way professional services are bought and sold.
The Internet has become so much a part of our personal and professional lives, that it has changed the way businesses find and select service firms. Over the years, we have learned to turn to the web when we need a new accountant, lawyer, architect or consultant.
But the web is far more than a digital shopping mall for professional services. It’s also a rich educational resource. And educational content is the new currency of the professional services marketplace. Content marketing is the strategy that turns that content into profits.
To better understand what’s going on, let’s first take a look at some traditional ways services are sold and bought.
Traditional Marketing 101
In traditional services marketing, a firm goes out into the world and steadily builds awareness and trust—through networking, public speaking and word of mouth referrals. Eventually, someone who has had exposure to the firm and needs the firm’s services sets up a meeting to learn more. It may take many weeks or months before the relationship matures and a decision is made.
Or a business is in need of a particular service. An RFP is sent out to a broad swath of prospective service providers. Responses flood in. The buyer then spends the several weeks reviewing the proposals before scheduling interviews with the most promising firms. Many weeks later, a decision is made and work begins.
In both scenarios, the process of matching a firm to a buyer is fraught with inefficiency. The firms are not vetted until late in the process, which means a lot of time is wasted communicating with firms or prospective clients that may not be a good match.
Content Marketing—A Better Way
Today, a firm can communicate its expertise in a more direct and engaging way. And in the process, it can reach a much larger audience. Buyers get to know a firm and its approach to problem solving in a much more intimate way, so they understand what they will be getting before they make an inquiry.
The key to building these virtual relationships is content marketing, an online strategy that elevates thought leadership through the routine publication of free, valuable, educational content and using that content to attract new leads, nurture existing leads and build preference for the firm.
When a firm writes about topics that are relevant to its target clients, it accomplishes three things:
Demonstrates a deep understanding of issues its prospects care about
Engages its audience
The more often a firm produces relevant content, the more engagement it creates, and the more trusted it becomes. In many cases, leads that are nurtured through content marketing become “converts” to a particular firm’s approach or way of thinking. Sometimes they will even hire a firm they have been following without soliciting competitive bids.
Bottom line: a firm that builds a loyal readership has an easier time closing sales.
We find the most effective approach to content marketing is to provide a wealth of freely available material—no commitment, no registration, no cost. Most of this material will be short-format pieces, such as blog posts and articles.
So how do you get started? What kinds of content can you create?
For most firms, blogging is the easiest and most productive way to get started. Because blog posts can be any length and less polished than, say, a magazine article, they can be produced and published quickly. If commenting is enabled, blog posts also provide a great way to interact with your audience.
But blogs only scratch the surface. Here are some other important content marketing vehicles to consider as you retool your marketing plan:
Webinars. By themselves, webinars offer a good way to demonstrate your firm’s expertise, educate your audience and cultivate interested leads. If you record your webinars, they can be added to your library of content so that web visitors can view them at any time.
Articles and white papers. Perhaps the most familiar form of thought leadership, these medium-length pieces are still valuable. Unfortunately, they have a reputation for being dry. So do your best to make them an easy read.
Social media. Social media, especially LinkedIn and Twitter, can be important channels to speak directly to your audience, answer questions and promote your educational material.
E-newsletters. Many people prefer to receive educational content by email inbox. In return, you get their email address and the ability to expose them to more of your expert material.
Ebooks. For the ultimate credibility boost, publish an in-depth study of a topic. Usually, you will want to put something this valuable behind a short registration form.
Kits and guides. These medium-length pieces make terrific offers on your website, in pay-per-click ads and in email marketing campaigns. Put them behind a registration form so that you can collect leads.
There are many other formats you can use to package information, but these are some of the most popular and most effective.
At Hinge, we freely distribute our research studies, which is arguably the most valuable content we produce. We do so to generate valuable buzz and inbound links. We recommend such longer pieces require registration. That way the reader trades some basic contact information (sometimes little more than their name and email address) for the piece. The reader gets a valuable information and you build your list of leads. A fair trade.
What to Write
What do you write about? Won’t you be giving away your secrets? Well, you have to use your judgment here. If you have a proprietary process or technique that gives your firm a tangible competitive advantage, then you might want to keep that under wraps. Most firms, however, don’t have such an advantage.
Whatever your situation, there are almost always things you can write about that won’t compromise your competitive edge. In fact, most market leaders aren’t successful because they have a secret sauce. They are successful because clients and prospects perceive them as the most qualified choice. The best way to influence and cultivate such perceptions is to demonstrate your mastery of the material.
Writing is a lot easier if you have a pool of ideas to draw from. And an easy way to come up with ideas is to think about the problems you solve for your clients every day. You can probably think up a list of 10 or 20 issues without even trying. If you are having trouble, however, try brainstorming with colleagues. You don’t have to tackle big, philosophical questions. A practical answer to a common question can be pure gold.
For content marketing to work, the pieces you write have to be findable. That means being found on Google. As you write material, keep this fact squarely in mind. Learn how search engines work and what search terms you have a chance to rank for.
Don’t Drop Everything
Content marketing should be a major component of your marketing plan. It’s the future of professional services marketing, and it has proven its effectiveness. But does that mean you should abandon the tactics that have worked so well for you in the past? Absolutely not. At least not yet.
Professional services are defined by their people. That means there is always value in face-to-face interaction. The credibility you generate online through the quality of your content can be enhanced when people meet you in person.
Our own research verifies that firms that generated 40 to 59 percent of leads online tend to grow the fastest. At least for now, a balanced approach to marketing is probably your best bet.
Content marketing is at the heart of Hinge’s flagship Visible Expert℠ program. It is the leading marketing program for delivering greater visibility, growth, and profits. This customized program will identify the most practical offline and online marketing tools your firm will need to gain new clients and reach new heights.