The single most important thing any professional service organization can do to ensure it’s long term existence is to create and maintain a systematic, ongoing business development and lead generation machine. New prospects are the lifeblood of every business and a steady flow of them will ensure your continued existence.
The Traditional Professional Services Sales Process
It used to be that if a prospective buyer was interested in hiring a new lawyer, CPA, advertising or public relations firm, the buyer had relatively few options to research the purchase before making a decision. Basically the buyer could do one of three things. They could ask friends and colleagues for recommendations and referrals. They could pay attention to the media both locally and nationally to catch news about firms. Or they could just start calling firms in the phone book.
From there, they could request a credentials kit or issue some kind of formal RFQ. This was both time consuming and opened the buyer up to sales calls from the firms now and in the future. The issuing of an RFQ is a pretty strong buying signal, and smart firms would jump on the opportunity to try and snare the buyer’s business.
Lastly, after creating a short-list, the buyer would have to interview each firm face-to-face. In the case of advertising and public relations firms, this might even include some kind of speculative creative or campaign presentation.
The Invisible Sale
But times have changed. After working with a number of clients recently to help them through RFP processes, I’m struck by one thing — they hate hiring new firms as much as firms hate going through the song and dance of getting hired.
Clients are loathe to issue an RFQ unless it is absolutely essential. They have not the time nor the stomach for the “pitch process.” Instead, like B2B buyers all over the world, professional services buyers are moving from the visible to the invisible sales funnel. They’re joining the legions of self-educating buyers who are hiding behind the secrecy of Google to do their due diligence and research prospective firms.
And the numbers are staggering. In fact, the number of B2B buyers responding to a recent DemandGen Study claiming to initiate contact with vendors only AFTER compiling a short list of candidates jumped from 24% in 2011 to 51% in the 2012 study. The study and others like it show that the number one resource for doing the pre-short list selection research is ONLINE.
According to this study and many others like it, if you’re company doesn’t have a robust online footprint, chances are you may be losing up to half of your sales opportunities and not even know it. It’s The Invisible Sale — the one you don’t even know you’ve lost.
How To Win The Invisible Sale
There is no silver bullet to winning the Invisible Sale. Why? Because that sale still involves a very visible element — you. Professional Services, like almost all B2B purchases still (and always will in my opinion) involve face-to-face selling to close the deal. Prospects want to work with folks they like, trust and feel will deliver great value. While you can certainly get a good sense of that from a company’s online content, it’s hard to know for sure until you’ve sat across the table from them and looked them in the eye.
But there are three key things every professional services firm should be doing right now to help them penetrate the Invisible Funnel and put themselves in a position to win the Invisible Sale.
First, stop thinking in terms of Top-of-Mind-Awareness and start thinking in terms of Top-of-Mind-Preference. One gets you in the consideration set and the second gets you to the front of the line prior to that all-important face-to-face meeting. To do this, you’ll need to move away from traditional shout and spray marketing and embrace something more elegant and relevant in today’s digitally centric world — Propinquity Marketing.
Second, get rid of your “look at us and how cool we are” website. That’s right destroy it and replace it with a Funnel Optimized website. The latter is built on the principle of helping vs selling and it’s designed to guide and in some cases force your website visitors down certain information funnels. Each of the funnels have different goals and outcomes but all are designed to work in concert to move self-educating prospects down the propinquity curve and ensure that when the time comes, your firm is “in that number” as we say here in New Orleans.
Third, start creating content at the right level. For most professional service marketers, online content is created at the blog post level. Blog posts are great Cobblestones, but creating a lot of them can get downright difficult if not impossible. Eventually billable work gets in the way of non-billable marketing effort and those Cobblestone pieces appear farther and farther apart until there is no longer a nice, easy path for prospects to follow.
Want More Information On How To Win The Invisible Sale?
If you’re going to be in or around Atlanta at the SoloPR Summit, this week, I’ll be sharing 45 minutes of practical, implement tomorrow ideas and tactics to help social media, public relations, advertising and marketing consultants and firms prepare to prospect inside that Invisible Funnel. Unfortunately, it’s sold out so if you don’t already have a ticket, you won’t be able to catch this presentation live.
But you’re in luck. Because you’re a loyal reader here, and I want to make sure you get access to all the best information we can provide, I’m going to record my presentation and if you would like to receive a fully recorded version of the presentation, just fill out the form below and I’ll send you a FREE copy when it’s ready (likely the first week of March). And yes, you can tell a friend, just share this post and tell them they owe you one.
In the meantime, just fill out this form and be sure to give us a VALID EMAIL ADDRESS and your REAL information please. We always like to know who our friends are so we can ask what they think of our ideas.