Most professional services firms claim to know that their most valuable leads for new business are current or former clients. Yet the majority of the marketing budget (both in money and unbillable hours) seems to be spent towards acquiring new 'leads'.
Partly, this is understandable. Especially with the arrival of online marketing, the rise of media exposure as a marketing tool and new PR 2.0 tactics like social media, firms can no longer concentrate their efforts on one or two channels. There's websites to be maintained, business brochures to be printed, e-newsletters to be produced, etcetera. All these marketing efforts require more management than they used to, and they risk usurping all the available marketing time and money.
It's not that firms don't want to market to existing clients, it's just that they're not sure how. And: they don't know how to measure the marketing efforts. There are a few steps that your firm can take to make sure that marketing efforts to existing clients aren't smothered by the efforts to find new clients.
In professional services, it's not uncommon to spend hundreds of hours on pitches to win new business. And yet a lot of managing partners seem to hope that the marketing to new clients can happen on "billable time". This is a mistake. Also, there's a tendency to prefer to spend some money on existing clients, instead of time. But it's not enough to wine and dine a client from time to time, or take them to a soccer game. It's fine to be friends with your client, but it's more important to be an excellent business partner. Rather than invite them to lunch, why not give them things that you know they value and and need: your knowledge, your expertise, and most importantly, your time.
On your marketing budget and calendar, try to insert a few of the following tactics:
Offer to attend internal meetings off the clock, to provide strategic and technical support to the client. Your firm might cringe at the idea of "giving billable time away". You may fear that the client will think that you're desperate for new business. This is not true: most clients will just be happy that you express an interest in their firm, their sector, their challenges.
Won't this cost the firm a lot? Not necessarily. Attending client meetings is an investment that promises a healthy return. Not only will you learn about the client's business, their concerns and goals, which will make it easier for you to advise the client when you are working them. You might also discover new needs that open business opportunities for your firm.
Additionally, you will get to know more people within the client's firm: their boss, the supporting staff (the ones who have to put you through to your client!), the junior managers (who will one day become senior managers!). Expanding your foot print within your clients firm is important for the sustainability of your client-vendor relationship.
Be careful, though. Like in good newsletters or seminars, the point of attending an in house meeting is not to sell new business. Your client is trusting you enough to invite you into his house. It's bad form to try selling stuff once you're in. You promised to give your time and knowledge, so give plenty: roll up your sleeves and try to be useful. If you spot new business opportunities, make a note to broach the subject, but don't do it at the meeting. You can do it during an informal debriefing over coffee or lunch afterwards. Even then, tread lightly. Point out your concerns, but don't push. Give your client time to digest your new information.
Professional service providers are knowledge centers. As such, it is in the interest of the firm to conduct market research that is relevant to your clients. Original market research will help you understand your clients and their marketplace, but it can also be a very powerful marketing tool to improve relationships with your clients. It will show them that you are continually investing in new knowledge (your raw material). It will enhance your status as an expert.
Market research also provides great possibilities for online and offline PR. Since original market research always contains news, it will almost certainly be of interest to the trade press or business press. Best of all: market research about your clients and their competition will not end up in the section about your own sector (where only your competitors might read it), but in the trade press about banking, HR, automotive industry... where your clients and other prospects from the banking, HR, automotive industry will read it.
In this way, your budget spent on research for your client(s) can also serve as an inbound marketing vehicle to attract new clients.
Many professional services firms offer seminars. They are a mix of a networking event, a sales opportunity and an academic event. Your clients recognise them as such, and will send your usual contact to it. If you want to be seen to go the extra mile, why not offer specific, immediately useful training for a wider selection of your client's staff?
It is more unusual than organising seminars, and will therefore have the benefit of being noticed. Also, it offers the opportunity to widen your footprint at the client's firm (junior executives, colleagues of your client, maybe even his boss).
Accessibility should be one of your highest priorities as a professional services provider. As a professional services provider, you want to be the person that people call first when they have a problem - any problem. Make sure that you use your contacts to help clients whenever possible, with whatever problem that is remotely in your area of expertise. Refer business to them. Help them out when they are recruiting. Don't forget to deliver when agreeing to help them. Give plenty (as much as you can afford to give), without asking yourself if you will receive one day. The benefits will come.
Marketing is often seen by partners in professional services firms as a number of distinct projects: the website, the brochure, the seminar,... It is not. Marketing is a continuous process. Every contact with an existing client is a marketing opportunity.
You should be as excited to get a call from a client on a routine matter as you are about a new prospect walking into your office to talk about a huge new project. Actually, you should be more excited, because the chances are a lot bigger that your existing client will one day task you with a huge project.
If you liked this blog post, maybe you're interested in our monthly newsletter. About once every 4 to 6 weeks, FINN sends a newsletter with free PR and marketing advice to our contacts. In it, you will also be kept informed of our free webinars and whitepapers on PR and marketing topics. Of course, we will never give away, rent or sell your e-mail address to third parties. All our e-mail communication includes an unsubscribe link.