The ROI of an online community for professional services marketing
Professional services firms can be tricky to market, and many partners struggle to see the ROI. Could online communities make things easier?
Marketing professional services firms in theory is very straightforward. A knowledge-based service. A firm full of experts with centuries of collective experience.
However, it can be a real challenge. Client work must come first, and inevitably marketing falls down the priority list. This is exacerbated by the fact that many partners just don’t see the ROI.
Oftentimes, the networks of the partners mean that there is a steady flow of clients regardless of marketing investment. But this isn’t sustainable. With an increasing focus on transparency and objectivity, how much longer can ‘little black books’ and personal connections be relied upon for driving new business? All knowledge-based industries today require a digital footprint that can be pointed to as evidence of authority.
Professional services don’t just sell expertise however. They sell relationships too. Both are needed to thrive, and this is precisely why online communities can be a game-changer for providing ROI in professional services marketing.
Simple, accessible value creation
Partners and marketing services can have a less than smooth working relationship. Marketers have to do a great deal of chasing and occasional begging. Partners feel harassed.
A very simple to use platform which ensures that partners can self-publish - one that is automatically brand coherent - would reduce this friction. Marketers can then optimize for SEO and promote, generating traffic, leads and eventually, new business.
This cannot be done through Wordpress, which is not secure enough for multiple authors to access. More sophisticated CMSs which have the right security levels and directory authentication require a level of user expertise which simply will not happen across the partner body. Online communities bridge the gap between partners + business services and make life much easier for all involved.
Partners are selling their expertise and advice. The more marketing can raise the profile of their thinking beyond their existing networks and establish them as thought leaders in their specialism, the more it will be worth.
This will also help to fuel other marketing channels such as speaking engagements. Events organizers are often seeking real experts to include on their agenda. Online communities provide a showcase for their talk tracks and areas of expertise.
Reducing sales cycle + client acquisition costs
Partners are measured on new business and, unless there is a critical trigger incident, the sales pipeline is long and competitors are fighting over the same potential client base.
An expert community reduces this sales cycle drastically. By curating a year-round community of potential clients, when a crisis happens, the firm is already top of mind. There is already some kind of a relationship between firm + client - we aren’t beginning from zero.
Improving client retention
It goes without saying that retaining clients is far cheaper than acquiring new ones. A study by Bain & Company and the Harvard Business Review found that just a 5% increase in client retention can increase profit by 25- 95%. A year-round online community of clients allows Parners and other client handlers to proactively support clients, customize communications efficiently, and be super responsive. Essentially, building trust into the client relationship.
An online community that the whole client team can access is also more efficient. Rather than lengthy email chains, more junior members of the team can respond to questions and signpost clients to relevant expertise.
Reducing event spend
Events in professional services are usually synonymous with marketing. However we all now know that getting people physically together in a room is not always possible or practical.
Online communities with a virtual events component allow you to gather prospective and existing clients at the drop of a hat, for a discussion on a timely issue or update. Attendees don't need to be constrained by timings or location. Crucially, firms don't need to fork out for room hire and dinner quite so often to generate awareness and uncover new business opportunities.
Getting buy-in as a marketer
Adopting online communities in professional services firms has huge implications for bridging the gap between client services and marketing teams, as well as reducing operating costs. But partners and client services need to trust marketers to deliver. Across the partnership, there will be some who are influential who will want to work with you in marketing their expertise. Find them, and use them as a great example of what could be.
Partners can be like a pride of lions - they only hunt when they are hungry. If plenty of challenging clients are taking up their time, they aren't necessarily hunting. Other partners doing something new and different that delivers results is sure to change that.