By: Linda Russheim (Founder and Director of HT Financial Marketing and Monica Ralli (CMO of The Hay Group)
In professional services, creating and sustaining long-term relationships with clients is ultimately a business’ most critical challenge. With multiple mediums and devices competing for your audience’s attention daily, the new era of marketing is all about an integrated conversation with a client. Organizations must truly understand their audience, which means allowing clients the opportunity to engage and interact with a company. In this way, their preferred behavior can surface and a deeper understanding is gained by both client (in relation to the offerings) and the business (in relation to client behavior). This integrated conversation provides the business with a line of sight from prospect to profit. This is valuable in itself, but becomes even more powerful as a way for marketing departments to demonstrate their impact beyond lead generation to sales, revenue growth and ROI.
From an internal perspective, it is imperative that the marketing, sales, IT, and finance departments are fully aligned. Marketing automation is the catalyst for this, allowing for better understanding of prospect and client lifecycles. With this understanding, businesses can develop the appropriate ‘trigger’ for when action should be taken and by whom. Marketing can nurture customers through the sales funnel more efficiently and in a personalized manner, leading to increased lead generation – thus providing sales with Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs). In turn, sales can then focus their time on their best prospects to close deals, resulting in increased conversion and a significantly reduced cost of sales. From a financial point of view, this is an attractive proposition.
Recently, one of our clients – a global professional services company that invested in marketing automation as part of their digital transformation – moved to an inbound marketing model. The company overall had to be persuaded that what was happening in marketing would have a deeper impact on its overall business. In order to prove this, the marketing department was going to be held to a number of key performance indicators (KPIs) to justify the investment in marketing technology and automation.
In this model, targeted, compelling content was created and shared with clients and prospects to foster an ongoing conversation. This ongoing conversation provided an opportunity for clients to engage in multiple ways, leading to a greater exchange of client information that provided the company with a better understanding of who they were trying to reach. Content creation and distribution are critical differentiators in professional services and help lead to long-term client relationships.
The company underwent both a mindset shift and operational shift in marketing in order to learn how to develop campaigns that would resonate with specific audiences. In this way, they were able to create integrated conversations – a focus and approach that previously was not in place.
Over a period of time it became clear that lead generation could offer the company some clear benefits:
- A more relevant and focused conversation around specific campaigns that led to consistent brand recognition in high-growth audiences.
- A clear view of the client behavior through all stages of engagement and value to the company from prospect through to MQL, sale, revenue, and ultimately profitability.
- Reduced cost-of-sales by engaging the salesforce on MQLs that had a greater probability of converting to sales.
This more valuable conversation with clients and subsequent measurable results also elevated the marketing discussion in the boardroom gaining support from both the finance and IT functions. Discussions were centered around the client in a way that allowed relevant behavior to correlate directly to numbers.
This process wasn’t seamless. Data clean up shouldn’t be underestimated nor should be explaining the concept of a ‘digital heartbeat’ to those outside marketing! There were challenges around moving to a data-driven client base, focusing on conversations with clients who had and were engaging with the company. And surprisingly the change in mindset for marketing to align around a singular engagement strategy and not multiple activities required an extensive re-education process.
Although the company is still on the journey to complete the full marketing automation integration, its first pilot campaigns are showing very promising results. Specifically, there are improvements around client engagement and positive internal alignment between the marketing department and sales and finance. For the first time, all are aligned around the same objective.
Many professional services firms and financial companies, have yet to appreciate that prospects and clients need time to engage and seek an integrated dialogue with the company. If tracked, their journey from prospect to loyal repeat-business client can yield multiple opportunities for the company in providing an exceptional client experience as well as strengthening the company internally with a common focus across a single issue – clients.