Answer the question behind the question to win more business

Answer the question behind the question to win more business

To close more business, specialists who are expected to sell (aka – firm partners) should start to listen for the question behind the question when reading RFPs and in prospect meetings.  Often a seemingly simple question has more meaning and by addressing the underlying issue, you’ll allay their concerns, differentiate from the competition and win more business.

EXPERIENCE

Prospect“How many other companies in my industry do you work with?”

This question is perhaps the most common and perhaps commonly not thought through well because it seems “obvious” from the inside.  This issue is why professional services firms market by niche.   By having a tailored description of your services and reinforcing articles and other resources on your website, prospects feel that their company will be well take care for and that your team.  You’ll also pass through the pre-contact filter whereas firms that don’t have niche industry info on their website may never know about the prospect at all.  Believe it or not, this self-investigation process accounts for a large portion of the process and eliminates more than half of the possible service providers!  (I read that somewhere – ask me if you want me to dig up the exact statistics.)

What’s the question behind the question?  This one has a few that you can address.

  • Do you know what issues are specific to my industry so that you’ll be able to give me good guidance?
  • Will your team be learning on the job? (And am I paying for that?)

When addressing this issue in a proposal, it’s important to make mention of how you have addressed issues that the prospect is facing or that you know are coming their way through new regulations.  You can include how many years of experience your team members have (but please don’t add them up – saying your team has an aggregated 52 years of experience is just weird!)   But also consider that if you don’t have direct experience with exactly the type or organization or their needs you can gain their confidence by talking about how you’ve done the same work for different organizations.   I recently helped a CPA firm think through this and to change their thinking from “we haven’t done exactly this before so we won’t win this bid” to “we have great experience in the prospect’s issues, just not applied in this way but I know we can serve this prospect well.”  Changing their thinking gave them confidence and they won a major new client.

 

PRICE

“Why is this service so expensive?”

This question might not always be asked out loud but it’s probably thought almost every time.  A large portion of professional services are “need to have” not “want to have” so there is inherent price sensitivity.   Professional services also tend to be expensive because your services are complicated and because you’re highly educated and highly experienced professionals who (rightfully) command a high billable rate.  And let’s not forget the technology investment and risk you take on by signing-off on the work.

What’s the question behind the question?

Clients don’t understand what goes into your work since they don’t see it happening.  They don’t know how long you’re spending on something or how efficient you are at it or what technology you have so that it’s actually taking less time than it could.  Whatever you can do to help prospects understand the effort, the VALUE, and the IMPACT of your work, will be beneficial to you both.

For example, an estate planning client got this price question because a well-known online provider is considered a viable option in the minds of the general public.  How could the “same” estate planning documents cost more from a local firm than the online provider?  And why bother paying more?   The answer is that the local firm would examine over 150 issues and include the correct legal wording based on the client’s exact circumstances where as the online provider would give the generic response or wouldn’t delve to that level of detail at all.  The significance of this is that if the estate plan documents were ever needed in court or at a hospital, the one from the local firm should help the client in the expected way, whereas the documents from online provider may not.   The answer to the question behind the question is that they’re really not comparable services at all and that “expense” can be paid upfront or at a higher rate to fix or unravel the problem later!  Add to that, a local firm can help you keep your documents updated year-after-year as your life changes whereas the Internet is not going to follow-up.  Outdated documents can be just as harmful as no documents depending on what they say…. You may find yourself relying on an ex for medical decisions if you don’t stay current.

 

Experience and price are two top-of-mind issues for prospects.   Understanding a prospect’s REAL reason for asking these questions will help you to address their concerns at more than the surface level and will help you win more business.   If you want help thinking through these questions or other commonly asked prospect questions, reach out!   Good luck!

Why Professional Services Firms Need a Video Strategy

Why Professional Services Firms Need a Video Strategy

I talk with more lawyers, CPAs, insurance specialists and other professional service leaders than most people.   Not one advisor had ever said they went to law school or studied for the CPA exam so they could write articles or – even worse – get in front of a camera for a website video.  That said, I’m going to take the unpopular stance of trying to convince you that it’s important enough to work on expanding your comfort zone.  Incorporating video into your digital marketing strategy is a powerful way to move your business to the next level. Here are just a handful of the most compelling reasons why your firm should embrace this here-to-stay trend.

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6 Reasons your Current Clients are your Best Prospects

6 Reasons your Current Clients are your Best Prospects

Sometimes you just need to get cashflow, well, flowing.  When that’s the case, I usually recommend turning to your current client base.  Your current clients are your best prospects.  Why?  Because it’s not very likely that 100% of them are receiving 100% of your potential service offerings.   Surely you have good intentions, but cross-selling to current clients isn’t usually done with as much clarity of intention as it could be, which means you’re leaving money – and client satisfaction – on the table.  There is likely some great service that you’ve started offering lately or that you’ve gotten good at and think that more people/companies could benefit from.    Here are six reasons you should get organized, and start selling to current clients. (more…)

What’s your New Year’s Marketing Resolution?

What’s your New Year’s Marketing Resolution?

The New Year’s holiday brings to mind a renewal, a fresh start, a time to reflect and look ahead. New Year’s is known as a time when we set goals for ourselves – “Resolutions” we decide to call them somehow implying that we’re committing – resolving – to make them happen. While the tried-and-true health related resolutions are admirable, are you considering making a New Year’s Marketing Resolution? (more…)

Dora’s Map to Partnership for Rising Stars

Dora’s Map to Partnership for Rising Stars

Have you ever watched Dora the Explorer?  My two year old went through a Dora phase a few months ago… and to my surprise, I had an epiphany!

Dora does an amazing job of making it excruciatingly clear what’s going to happen through repetition and inclusion of the viewer in the story as it is planned and as it unfolds.  This is what leaders in professional services firms should be doing with their rising stars on their path to partnership. (more…)

Local SEO:  How Prospects Find Your Professional Services Firm Online

Local SEO:  How Prospects Find Your Professional Services Firm Online

What is “local SEO”?  It’s how well your site ranks in search engines when someone is trying to find services near them.  Example searches include phrases like:  “real estate lawyer, Boston” or “payroll company in Massachusetts” or even “bookkeeper near me”.   (or “outsourced marketing near Framingham” wink!)

The readers of this blog are, by and large, looking for clients within driving distance of their office, not nationally.  Therefore, you care a lot more about the traffic to your website that is from people searching within a 50 – 100 mile radius.  So, how do you get more website visitors who fit that profile?  Focus on “local SEO”.

Baseline Local SEO Practices:

  • Cover your bases with basic SEO best practices:
    • keyword-rich meta data on each page and blog post
    • lots of links between different pages on your site (especially service pages and partner bio pages)
    • fast load-time for desktop and mobile
    • calls to action on every page with “goals” tracking in Google Analytics
  • Embed a Google Map to your Contact Us page as this helps Google know where your office is.
  • Mobile friendly (that the pages look good and that the navigation works well on a phone screen). This is especially important because Google Maps using your embedded map and suggests your site when people search for ‘near me’ or ‘near current location’ on their phone.
  • Claim Google Business listing and make sure it’s up to date (and consistent across all places where you’ve claimed your business such as Yelp, YellowPages, or any other industry directories.) It should match what is on your website, too. Since things can change, set a calendar reminder for every 6 months to check on the listings.

Bonus Local SEO Practices:

  • Google Posts – Google gives preference to posts made from Google Business accounts
    • Posts expire after 7 days so keep on it! (Write them in advance and then set a calendar reminder to post weekly)
  • Ask clients to review your firm on Google and Yelp. There might be other local or industry specific directories that are worth some effort as well.

Write blog posts that include geographic terms:

  • People care about their communities. So, when your people get involved in an area nonprofit, write about it!  Include the name of the organization you supported or the event you attended, why it was meaningful to your firm.  In this post you are going to include the LOCATION of the event or organization so that Google sees that keyword and has more confidence in your location.  If you can get a quote from someone at the organization, even better.  The caution here is that you want your blog to full of information that your reader cares about so too many “about us” posts can be off-putting.  For Google to feel like it knows what the blog post is about, the length needs to be 300 words.
  • You can also write (anonymous or not) case studies. Include the industry of the client (also a great keyword!), and the LOCATION, then talk about the issues and your solution.  Again, this needs to be 300 words.
  • Partner with firms in related fields to co-write articles or share your content on their site. Everyone needs help writing content, so any firm should be eager to share or collaborate on high quality, original content. At the bottom of your article, be sure to include a link to the author’s bio and location of your firm.

Lastly, consider adding a call to action at the end of each blog… if you’re looking for local SEO or other online marketing services for your professional services firm in Greater Boston, contact me!

You can also read my other articles for professional services firms on SEO and SEM!

 

Robotics and AI are Coming:  Information Synthesis Will Future Proof Your Professional Services Firm

Robotics and AI are Coming:  Information Synthesis Will Future Proof Your Professional Services Firm

Simons Marketing Information Synthesis Professional Services CPA Lawyer Insurance“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely”  said E. O. Wilson, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize born in 1929.  He’s living proof of his own theory as he is also a 2007 honoree of a TED Prize in 2007 – still notable and modern at 78 years old!  Well done, sir!

Professional services firms need to embrace this idea of being “synthesizers” of information for clients.  Robotics and AI are taking over the data dumping and basic analysis.  And thank goodness!  We have more data than ever, and the pace of data creation continues to increase.  Clients feel the data overload and just want someone to help them get to the point so they can make good decisions.

Instead of marketing the final deliverable – an insurance policy, financial statement, or estate plan – focus on helping the client understand the critical thinking process that goes into the creation of the final deliverable and promote the knowledge sharing that follows your information synthesis.  After all, you started with a pile of information (hopefully using robotics and AI in your favor), and then sorted, evaluated, considered, questioned, analyzed, prioritized, synthesized, and finally understood the critical factors so that you could deliver a document that is easy(ish) to understand and share with others.  That’s powerful!  If you’re promoting the final document, you made it look too easy!  And people don’t want to pay for easy.

Promote what the client will be able to do as a result of having gone through this process.  That’s where the true value lies!  Insurance policies, bookkeeping reports, and estate plans (etc.):  Done right, they are the synthesis of information, critically examined based on years of experience in a specialized field, delivered with careful communication so clients can understand their options and make wise choices.  Your marketing should promote them this way!  People will pay for this!  Don’t be bashful!

Here’s the tough part – it’s a training process for your prospects.  They’re going to market looking for “insurance” or “bookkeeping” or “estate planning” so, of course, we need to make it seem like this is what we provide.  But when we get the chance to talk with them, it’s important to then change the dialog to center around the “synthesis” of information.   Think of it as “data in, knowledge out.”

Information synthesis is why a marketing strategy based on differentiation and specialization (niches) is so important.  Your clients want to know that you understand their business better than they do so that you are able to bring them new ideas and perspectives.   You can’t do that if you’re spread too thin or the Jack of All Trades (Master of None)!

Information synthesis is why your proposals are so important.  A proposal is the final document a prospect receives.  It’s intended to convince someone that your firm is best suited to helping meet a need and that your fee is justified.  Be clear that it’s justified because of information synthesis!

Information synthesis is why your consulting practice should get your primary attention – and why you should bill for your ideas.  In your firm you’re surrounded by people who have very similar levels of intellect and knowledge.  I think professional service providers often forget that they really do know a LOT more than the average person in their area of focus.  This has value when shared!  Don’t give it away!

Information synthesis is why you need a robust thought leadership program (blog/newsletter) to showcase your knowledge.  Gen X and Millennials are tech-confident self-educators so they will review what you have (or haven’t) written about and make a judgement about your knowledgebase.

Most importantly, information synthesis is why professional services firms won’t be eliminated by robotics and AI.  Firms should focus on providing elevated services using robotics and AI as tools when needed.  In fact, by promoting your use of robotics and AI, you’ll differentiate your information synthesis from their data sorting.  Client will then understand the difference and remain willing to pay for it.

Those are my thoughts today on this topic.  What do you think?  How can I help?  Enjoy the rest of the summer!  – Alison

Charitable Giving Is Decimating Your Firm’s Marketing Budget

Charitable Giving Is Decimating Your Firm’s Marketing Budget

CPA firms (and very likely other professional services firms) are devoting 10% of their marketing budget to charitable giving.  I’m frankly baffled by this as a strategic move as the expected ROI has to be near zero.   Let’s discuss why this happens, how to rein it in, and how to say Yes or No to a request.

Undoubtedly you have non-profit clients.  They will, as they should, ask their service providers to participate in their fundraising efforts at some point during the year.  When presented with this request, you dutifully review the sponsorship levels for the gala/golf tournament/dinner, and start the internal discussion about participating in the event.

Let’s unpack that from a marketing perspective.  In the Pro column, you are displaying your firm’s culture as one that has a commitment to the community while supporting a worthy cause and/or client.  This will be attractive to Millennial and Gen Z employees.  To me this isn’t how I would spend 10% of your marketing budget.  In the Con column, your spending is unlikely to result in any positive ROI in the form of new clients.  That’s a big deal.

So, what should you do?  There are a few paths forward.

  • When bidding on a NFP client, describe your firm’s decision process or expectation for charitable giving so that everyone is on the same page from the start.
  • Create a charitable giving committee internally that reviews all requests.  It can be really tough to be the one who says No.  Having a committee lets you “pass the buck” in a polite way when you get asked.   Tell the person that your committee reviews all requests and that by design partners have no sway.
  • One step further than the committee is to create a charitable foundation for the firm. Employees can contribute and vote on where the funds go.
  • Develop a Corporate Social Responsibility platform that will align your giving (and volunteering, etc) with your firm’s purpose.
  • Volunteer in addition to or in lieu of giving a monetary gift.

The most important thing to do is to put a lid on spending.  It can be really really hard to say No, especially when it’s a client request.  But saying Yes to a gala at $5,000 or $10,000 means saying No to something else.  And $10,000 goes a LONG way in marketing.   Consider making charitable giving 5% of your marketing budget instead of 10%.  You may not get ROI from your gifts, but your reallocated funds should, and that’s better.  I know that non-profits need our help.  If you don’t want to reduce your overall giving, then I think that’s great.  But please reduce/remove that line item from your marketing budget and put it into another bucket.  It’s not fair to ask your marketing person to be responsible for ROI if you’re not giving him/her the choice on how to allocate spending.

Large firms are already being highly strategic about when to say Yes to charitable giving requests.  They view charitable gifts as brand awareness and relationship marketing and they expect a lot for their dollars in the form of visual recognition, press releases, special treatment like intros to a guest speaker or early access, etc.

Start saying Yes to fewer organizations, but make a meaningful and lasting relationship with that charity.  Both sides will see it as a two-way relationship instead of a single transaction so that unexpected perks like a board seat, an invite to sit-in on a pitch with a government official, or something else may come along.

I hope you’ll at least reconsider your charitable giving as a result of reading this.  If you want help thinking through what path forward to take, please contact me.

Alison Simons Receives Boston Club’s Virtual Reality Award

Alison Simons Receives Boston Club’s Virtual Reality Award

It is awkward to write about your own award – but I would do it for any of you, so I should do it for myself.

I have been an active member of The Boston Club since 2011.  Having served on the Governance, Corporate Relations, Programs Leadership, and Marketing committees – many of those simultaneously so that I could liaise between them – I like to think that my time has made an impact.

In 2016 I had the idea that programming and member communications and relationship building needed to move beyond just in-person options.  So, under my leadership, the marketing committee worked with the technology committee to devise, design, and launch ROME, the Remote and Online Member Engagement initiative.

Essentially we allowed members to engage with Boston Club committees and programs digitally – through Zoom meetings instead of conference calls (admittedly not always a popular option) and to access programming through live streaming, video clips, blog posts, and Facebook Live.  The roll-out was led by my co-winner of the award, Stefanie Heiter (shown left in the photo).

Thank you for the kind recognition of the Virtual Reality Award.  It is always a pleasure to see ideas put into practice and appreciated by others.

If I can help your firm with new ideas, please contact me!