Content Marketing: A New Tool in Your Old Toolbox

If you’ve read anything about marketing strategy in the past year or so, you’ve probably noticed the term content marketing making its way into a lot of headlines. Also known as in-bound marketing, content marketing is creating or re-publishing relevant and valuable content online in order to attract and retain clients. Content can be anything from a whitepaper to a video clip to an article or info graphic.

What makes content marketing attractive to most firms is the idea that it can be used to lure the attention of clients and prospects, educate them about how you help solve their issues, capture some information about them and, when they are ready to discuss a solution with you, encourages them to contact your firm. Thus, the term in-bound marketing — meaning prospects that are ready to do business contact you directly. If you’re like many professionals and have an aversion to sales, the idea of prospects calling and asking you to do their work holds a lot of appeal. It sounds like the silver bullet. The holy grail. The coup de grace.

And, because there is so much buzz around the term content marketing, it’s tempting to think that it’s a new invention.

Content marketing is garnering a lot of attention — for good reason. It can be a very effective marketing tool. It certainly needs to be a part of a firm’s marketing mix. But it is only one of many tools that leading firms will implement as the battle for market-share wages on. Firms that place all their emphasis on publishing content may be missing the point. Content marketing isn’t new. There are new platforms — online outlets, more sophisticated email marketing systems, and automation tools to make getting content out to your target market and collecting lead information easier and timelier.

But all marketing — regardless of the distribution channel — is content marketing. The most successful firms have been content marketing all along.

Presenting a seminar or webinar to an interested audience relies on valuable and relevant content to position you as an expert. Mailing a newsletter via (gasp!) snail mail relies on content. Asking questions during a sales call and discussing solutions and benefits in a way that is meaningful to the person you’re addressing is essentially delivering content. EVERYTHING in marketing should have a value-add basis. If it doesn’t, you’re wasting your time and resources.

Also, prospects have different preferences when it comes to communication. As old-fashioned as it may sound, some prospects still prefer to receive communications in a printed format and not all your prospects are utilizing electronic media to the same extent. A mix of channels is your best bet in reaching the most prospects.

While it may sound like content/in-bound marketing will have people knocking down your door to do business; most in-bound leads will still require proactive follow up and working the sales cycle. Improving the quality of your opportunities is also dependent on your ability to market your content to the right audience. The fundamentals of defining a target audience, understanding the issues relevant to that audience, communicating with that audience, tying your solutions to their needs and articulating the benefits of working with you to solve the issue may sound like and old-school approach. Don’t abandon the fundamentals in favor of a — approach. It’s only through applying these proven fundamentals from your marketing tool box that your new tools yield results.

Instead, figure out how to incorporate new tools into your marketing mix. How can you use social media to promote your events? How can you turn a conversation with a client about a challenge they are experiencing into an article you can post on LinkedIn or a blog? Then, make sure you have a plan in place to promote your content to your target market. This integrated approach will yield not only leads, but quality opportunities for your firm.

Seven Tips for Finding the Right Calling Partner

Telephone lead generation — calling those prospects with which you would most like to do business to schedule an introductory meeting — can be just the tactic to rev up your firm’s ROI on marketing activities. But getting partners to make the follow up calls, whether following up to a mailing or following up with e-marketing activities or recruiting to an event for your firm, can be difficult at best. Even if your firm has a full time business development professional, savvy marketers understand that those professionals’ time is often better spent face-to-face meeting with interested prospects than dialing from inside their offices.
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Make 2013 Your Year to Grow

New Year. New Goals. How will you find growth this year? There are lots of new tools out there to help you market your firm and grow your top line, but sometimes the best new tools are the old tools implemented in a different or better way.

Grow Your Client Relationships
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Busy Season Year Round

Sometimes it’s difficult to look past our own busiest times of year and think about business development. For professionals who also sell it can be one of the biggest challenges to maintaining consistent growth. But, the most successful firms are those that take their own busy times out of the equation and adopt a more year-round approach to growth. (Which, incidentally, is also usually more market focused.)

There are four main methods for prospecting. Some you can work into your schedule even when you are busy serving clients. Some you should think about for once your busiest time is through. But a mix of all should be implemented consistently to help even out the peaks and valleys of your growth results. Planning ahead helps make sure you’re getting the right mix and helps you be more effective at implementation.

  1. Who’s Your Friend? You’ve just finished. or are doing a lot of work for a lot of happy clients, right? Now is good time to call and ask for referrals. Thank them for any referrals you receive and touch base again to let them know the outcome. Be sure to follow-up right away with the referred company. You can do this while you’re meeting with and delivering value to your clients.
  2. COI Development: Develop relationships with centers of influence or evaluate current relationships you have with COIs and see if they are willing to provide any sales leads. Get back to this activity shortly after your busy time is over.
  3. Get Involved! If you’re not already, become active in local community or industry groups. Membership in area associations is a great networking tool. This personal marketing effort should eventually transition to sales, don’t just wait for referrals. After you’ve established relationships ask about your prospect’s business—and how you can help. Once you’ve checked in and picked up with your COI relationships look to broaden your efforts with this type of activity. Most community and industry groups publish an annual calendar of activities so you can look ahead and decide the activities that best fit into your schedule.
  4. Dear Prospect: Acquire a list of companies that meet your target criteria and send a direct mail piece. Follow-up with a phone call and set appointments with interested prospects. As long as you are willing to do the follow-up and work the sales cycle, direct marketing can often be a fairly quick and effective method for generating leads.

Use this big-picture approach to planning your prospecting activities and spend less time thinking about what you should do to grow your practice, and more time growing it!

‘Tis the Season

No, it’s not the holiday season, yet. Although that will be upon us before we know it. It’s lead generation season! Itâ’s time to reap the rewards of all the time and money you’ve invested in marketing and positioning activities throughout the year. All those endless mixers, tradeshows, golf outings, ad campaigns, social media efforts, etc. have led to this.

Marketing and sales, while two separate and distinct disciplines are directly related. Marketing without sales leads to large investments of time and money with little return. Sales without marketing leads to low close rates and lots of frustration on the part of the sales force (partners). A balance is ideal and transition from marketing to sales is critical. See the following illustration:

Marketing (blue line) activity is high when your prospects are just starting to get to know you. Activities that help with this are listed at the far left.

Sales (red line) activity starts after a certain period of marketing. Typical “sales” activities are listed at the far right.

Activities in the middle can help you transition from marketing to sales–assuming you take the necessary step to get face-to-face with a prospect so you can start the process.

Late summer/early fall is one of the most productive seasons for proactive telephone lead generation to help transition your firm for three reasons:

#1: Many of your prospects are starting their budgeting process.

#2: If you’ve been marketing throughout the year, your firm is well positioned to transition to sales by scheduling face-to-face meetings.

#3: Seasonal services such as tax, employee benefit plan audit services and financial planning are top of mind for CEOs/CFOs in the fall.

Now is the time to start planning how your firm will accomplish that transition to sales. Whether you choose to make the follow up phone calls internally or to outsource, make sure callers are prepared and understand the objective of the follow up call. (Setting up meetings is radically different from selling solutions on the phone.)

Remember that the follow up call also serves as an extension of your firm’s brand, so make sure it’s conducted in a professional manner by a well prepared caller. Prospects will sense anxiety or lack of preparedness with the acuteness of a shark sensing blood. This can reflect negatively on your firm.

Also, be sure the person who will be following up with the leads understands the objective of the first meeting. Meetings from proactive phone follow up feel different from meetings from a referral. Engage in pre-meeting training to ensure the person going on the appointment is prepared for the difference.

With a little time and effort to follow up while the iron is hot, your firm can reap the rewards of lead generation season.

Boring concept. Big payoff.

Last month we posted about the importance of database maintenance — with some guidelines on effective data management. We made the point that most companies realize they need to segment their target market, but “segmentation” goes beyond just identifying the type of companies you want to target. Not flashy, but pretty darn important.

Shortly after we posted our commentary, we came across a cool report by ITSMA and the good folks at* that details the lead generation best practices of high performing companies. The report is full of great strategies and tactics you can employ to generate more leads and get a higher return on your marketing investments.

Among other things, the report found that the highest performing companies take segmentation a few steps further to figure out the title of the decision maker(s) for their services, and the names of those individuals at each company.

This finding is in complete alignment with our experience.

We’ve really seen those additional steps make a tangible difference in direct marketing campaigns. We worked with a client who was skeptical about investing the time and budget to research the names of individuals at their target list of companies. Like many firms, they thought they had a pretty clean list already. But, they were willing to test the scrubbing process. So we divided their list in half. On one half we called to update contact names. The other half we used “as-is”.

The “scrubbed” list produced 2.5 times more appointments (qualified leads), and the total cost per appointment was 50% lower, even with the added cost of scrubbing the list!

So, yeah, we scrubbed the rest of their database before embarking on their year-long lead generation program.

This is just one highlight of what can be found in this great study. Click here to find out how you can get access to the full report.

* Lead Generation Benchmark Report: How the Best Firms Fill the Pipeline, 2010 ITSMA &

The most neglected part of your business development strategy

I received an email from LinkedIn recently with a subject line indicating that nearly a third of the contacts in my network changed jobs in 2010. It got me to thinking about the most critical and neglected component of most firms’ business development strategy — database management.

Your database may contain all the companies that reside in your geographic footprint. If so, you must use your defined target market criteria to zero in on those companies that would be the best fit for your firm as clients based on industry, size, ownership, etc. But that’s only step one.

The mantra of professional services firms is: “Ours is a relationship business“. Does a relationship happen between entities? I have a mortgage, but when I need something I don’t call “the bank”. I call Dave. When Dave left the bank, I moved my business with him.

Your database should contain updated information about the individuals at the companies you would most like to have as clients. And maybe not just one individual, but several who play different roles in the decision to hire your firm — influencer, decision maker, gatekeeper, etc. That’s step two.

Now, consider the fact that those individuals are not static. They don’t stay where they’re supposed to, and if you look away roughly a third of them (by my admittedly unscientific measurement) may take off on you. How can we prevent this from raining on our business development parade? More importantly, how can we use this as a business development opportunity?

If your list is already out of date — meaning you haven’t made any efforts to clean it up in, say, the past six months — a good exercise is to have someone call each company and ask if CFO is still the CFO, the CEO is still the CEO, etc. Make these changes and add any new contacts you discover to the list. Yep, that’s step three.

Within the target list, you probably have a handful or two of individuals that you would like to get to know on a deeper level — and who you would really, really like to land as clients.

Social media (as we have recently discovered) can be an excellent tool to help keep this targeted prospect list updated. When you receive those messages indicating that someone in your network has updated his/her profile — don’t ignore it. As a matter of fact it’s a good idea to check in on your network at least a couple times a week to make sure you don’t miss anything. If you see someone has changed positions post a congratulatory note on their profile. Better yet, call him or her with congratulations and offer to find out more about the new position and employer over lunch. And don’t forget to update your firm’s marketing database with any new contact information. Steps four, five, six, etc…

If your targeted prospect leaves it’s not only important to follow that person, but also to make sure you know who his or her replacement is. You can probably find this out by a quick phone call to the company’s receptionist.

Promotions within the same company can be treated similarly. Ask this person how their role has changed. Are they overseeing any new areas? Do they have additional decision making authority? Again, makes sure your list is updated internally — especially titles. Receiving something in the mail that doesn’t acknowledge his/her accomplishment is pretty off-putting to a lot of people.

All business development efforts, whether virtual or not, are fundamentally dependent on keeping your data updated. Implementing a few of these ideas will profoundly improve the results of your business development efforts.