Recently, I responded to a question on David Maister’s website that asked the following:
“Do marketers, particularly those in professional businesses, actually know anything?”
He called for his readers to present any evidence that has made a real difference in the marketing of a professional service firm, based on the contributions from a marketing expert or the firm’s marketing department.
David Maister is essentially asking two questions:
1. What evidence can be offered that indicates professional service marketers really know how professional services are bought and sold? And…
2. How can this evidence be quantified to demonstrate a positive contribution to the said firm?
For the professional service firm, I believe successful marketing ideologies and quantifiable contributions are evident in the firm’s website.
We all know that selling professional services is largely based on the effective transfer of firm knowledge. It entails not only the knowledge of solutions and service lines, but the knowledge of its professionals, and the knowledge gained in terms of experience from previous clients and engagements.
When used properly, a website is an effective tool for transferring this information. No other medium is as accessible, interactive, or precise, in catering to different segments of the buying center.
So, what elements within the website reveal that the firm does in fact understand the principals of selling professional services and how can we quantify a positive contribution to the firm?
The first indication of this understanding, is the presence of a content-driven website as opposed to a ‘brochure-site’. Unlike brochure sites, content-driven websites are designed at providing meaningful information to educate the prospect, rather than just focusing on the firm itself. The very existence of a content-driven website demonstrates the firm’s basic understanding that information transfer is crucial in selling professional services.
From there, we need to state specific elements within the website that we feel effectively transfer firm knowledge and are identifiable through observation. For instance:
1. Is the site a knowledge repository? Can whitepapers, webcasts, webinars, etc. be easily accessed?
2. Are the professionals of the firm showcased on the site? Can data and details on each individual be found?
3. Can I find case studies and/or research of work with previous clients?
4. Is the site content organized in an intuitive information architecture that is simple to follow?
If these elements are prevalent on a firm’s website, it makes a strong case that they understand the fundamentals of a knowledge-based sale.
If you spend some time surfing the websites of legal, accounting, management consulting, private equity, and architectural firms, you would find that the majority of them lack the elements we have stated above. They are not commonplace for professional service websites.
Current, interactive, and well-written content is difficult to produce. These elements would not appear on a website haphazardly, or by mere chance. They demand dedication, conviction, and significant marketing department resources to ensure that the end product is engaging and knowledge-rich. To produce up-to-date case studies and whitepapers, continual pressure must be placed on the firm’s professionals to document their experience and work. Producing finished products from the collected data is a subsequent challenge, and accomplishment, as well.
Their presence on the website reveals the underlying marketing ideology that motivated the firm, and the adversity that was persevered in its development. They know that knowledge transfer needs to take place, and they take the necessary steps to make it happen.
Now that we have identified different factors that prove the competence of the marketing department, how can the contributions be quantified?
It can be derived in a number of ways. For example, this could include webanalytic data (the number of downloads, page views, online inquiries, content group analysis, etc.), used in conjuncture with prospect conversations and feedback during the sales cycle.