You instinctively know that a financial services company *probably shouldn’t be running Google shopping ads like Nike is. And you don’t need a marketing guru to tell you that it *may not be appropriate for a family lawyer to be doing TikTok videos – tempting as that may be for some of us.
Professional services businesses differ from product-based or retail businesses in several important ways. And these differences necessitate a different approach to marketing – one that is more meaningful, respectful and patient. These principles especially apply to the following professional services business types:
- Accounting firms
- Financial services companies
- Law firms
- HR consultancies
- Engineering consultancies
- Business advisory firms
- Medical, dental and allied health practices
Before we jump into a discussion of HOW professional services businesses should approach marketing, this article takes a step back to discuss WHY professional services businesses need to approach marketing differently.
Difference 1: Intimate in Nature
Generally speaking, there is a high degree of “intimacy” involved in services like legal consultations, accounting, or business advisory. Often, sensitive or confidential information needs to be exchanged in order for the service to be effective. This makes trust not just a nice-to-have, but an absolute essential for professional services businesses – far more important than for a product or retail businesses where customer-brand relationships are more transactional, straightforward and less personal.
Difference 2: Intangibility of Services
Here’s another quirk of professional services firms. Unlike physical products, services are intangible and therefore harder to quantify. What’s the value of a nugget of legal advice? How much benefit is a client getting from business advisory services delivered by their accountant? Lots for one client, less for another. The fluidity of this intangible value creates the need for the service provider to better articulate their value proposition. And this isn’t about coining the perfect pitch or sentence. Rather, it is about first understanding the outcome the client is craving, and then helping them see that it is attainable with your service.
Difference 3: Sales Cycle Complexity
Professional services often involve complex and longer sales cycles. Generally, the lead requires multiple interactions before a decision is made. Think about how someone selects the right lawyer to represent them in a divorce, or the right financial planner to help them attain financial freedom – these decisions are never made lightly. An impatient or salesy approach exudes a lack of professionalism and also puts undue pressure on even a warm lead. Wisdom and restraint here is critical.
Difference 4: Importance of Personal Branding
In professional services, the consultant herself / himself is often the product. It’s less about the technology or system or IP that is being used in the provision of service. So much of the value and customer experience boils down to the consultant that is delivering the service. As such, building personal brands are essential. Many professional services business consultants struggle with the idea of being the face of the brand. “Thought leadership” is thought to be crude / distasteful and viewed with disdain. But being able to embrace this idea of personal branding is critical for business growth.
Difference 5: High Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV)
Clients in professional services often have a high lifetime value. This means that acquiring a new client can bring significant long-term revenue. An accounting firm that runs quarterly reports for their microcap audience will have a 5-year CLTV of $125,000 per client! RSPCA Australia tells us that on average, a dog is worth $25,000 to a vet. A financial advisor can earn over $50,000 from a single client over a course of 10 years. What all of this means to a professional services business is that a higher upfront investment in client acquisition might be justified.
Difference 6: Heavy Reliance on Referral and Word-of-Mouth
Word-of-mouth and referrals can be the most important growth channels for professional services business. This largely has to do with the ease of inherited trust – when an existing client refers you onwards, the fresh lead inherits the trust of the original client. Their story sells it – which makes it easy for you. But, the only downside to relying on word-of-mouth is that it is largely a passive tactic. A business with growth aspirations can’t afford to wait around for the ebb and flow of referrals. Hope is not a tactic. The best professional service businesses actively catalyse referrals.
Professional services businesses need to think different
The marketing tactics that work for most product and retail businesses will not work for a professional services business. Owners need to approach things differently.
From the unique intricacies of client trust to the complexity of sales cycles and the importance of personal branding, marketing for professional services demands a more nuanced approach. This article has peeled back the layers to reveal WHY such a specialised focus is crucial, laying the groundwork for this deep dive into the HOW – tailored marketing strategies for professional services businesses. In that article we pivot from understanding these key differences to actionable marketing tactics that could transform your professional services business and help you grow.