Guidance for Your 2013 Marketing Plan

Key strategies and tactics to consider
by Randy Shattuck, The Shattuck Group

Dare I say it? The economy seems to be improving. As I speak with professional services firm leaders from across the nation, the outlook sounds positive. Many companies are planning to expand, open offices, hire staff and even add new services. This is almost fun again.

If you are like most professional services firm leaders, you are thinking about 2013 strategically. You’ve probably identified some key goals you want to accomplish and your marketing plan reflects those goals. If you haven’t completely finalized your marketing plan for 2013, I’d like to recommend some key strategies and tactics and best practices.

Strategies versus tactics

Just to be clear, a strategy is an overarching plan that is designed to address a major business goal, opportunity or challenge. A tactic is a point solution that fits within a major strategy.

Far too often, I see marketing plans that are a hodgepodge of various tactics without an underlying strategy that unites them. For example, content marketing is a strategy. Webinars are a point solution (tactic) to support a content marketing strategy.

The most important strategies

I think there are three critical business development strategies that every professional services company should seek to master in 2013:

1. Content marketing.

2. Marketing automation.

3. Consultative sale.

Let’s look at best practices for each of these strategies and some of their underlying tactics.

Content marketing

There is more content being produced now for marketing purposes than ever before. This is both an opportunity and a problem. The problem is that your content must rise above the rest of the noise in your industry. The opportunity is that if you provide real thought leadership, you can break away from the pack. So I’d like to provide some guiding principles for content marketing and thought leadership.

1. Make sure you produce thought leadership that is a must-read versus a might-read.

2. Strike the right balance for content formats: white papers, webinars, articles, videos, newsletters, blogs and social media.

3. Apply the right gating strategy to your content so that it produces real leads and allows your marketing automation system to produce the best results. A gate is the amount of information a website user has to give when registering for a piece of content.

To get the most benefit from these principles, follow these steps:

  • Build a profile of your ideal clients, the perfect clients for your company.
  • Build a list of their top goals, opportunities and challenges.
  • For each goal, opportunity and challenge, define your solution. How would you help them achieve their goals, exploit their opportunities and resolve their challenges? Be specific and create step-by-step lists.
  • Map your step-by-step solutions to content formats such as white papers, webinars, newsletters, articles, videos and blog sites. Build an editorial calendar.
  • Define the right gating strategy for each piece of content. A good guiding principle is that the more effort you put into developing it, the higher the gate should be.

Marketing automation

The most important thing to know about marketing automation as a strategy is that it is no longer optional for professional services firms. You absolutely must do this. If you are deploying a content marketing strategy without marketing automation, you are missing the boat. More to the point, your competitors are probably winning deals that you could have won if you had marketing automation.

I believe the most beneficial parts of a marketing automation strategy include:

  • Lead scoring. This allows you to identify leads as hot, warm, cool or cold based on a score. The score is a function of behavioral and inherent qualities of the lead. You can score their behavior: what they download, click on and pages they view. You can score their inherent qualities: title, company or job responsibility.
  • Lead nurturing. This allows you to nurture cool or cold leads until they are ready to enter real sales dialogue. Newsletters are an example of lead nurturing. But the best lead nurturing programs are automated follow-up campaigns where leads are, for instance, sent several emails after they download a white paper. The final email invites them to schedule a conversation.
  • Email marketing. For most professional services firms, email is still the number one outbound marketing tool. Marketing automation tools make it fast and easy to build email marketing campaigns of numerous types.
  • Integrated analytics. Flying blind is no longer necessary when marketing automation tools give you visibility across Web pages, webinars, registration forms, email broadcasts and media downloads. Some platforms have built-in dashboards that allow you to see all of these on one page.

If you do not yet have marketing automation in place, the list above serves as guidance for selecting the right platform. If you do have marketing automation, look at the list above and ask yourself how your tool or suite compares.

Consultative sale

A consultative sale is different from the traditional sales model where sellers talk almost entirely about their company, why it’s great and why the prospect should choose them. Instead, consultative sellers listen to the prospect, ask questions and come to understand deeply what matters most to them.

A consultative sale usually progresses along these lines:

  • Discovery. Where you ask prospects to identify their top goals, opportunities and challenges. In this stage, you mostly listen and take notes.
  • Needs definition. Where you articulate back to the prospect what you’ve heard and demonstrate how well you’ve listened.
  • Proposal. Where you unequivocally demonstrate that your services are the best possible solution to help your prospects achieve their goals, realize their opportunities and resolve their challenges.
  • Refinement. Where you refine your proposal based on any final feedback from the client.

The most important part of the consultative sale is the discovery process. As professional services people, we are judged by the quality of the questions we ask. Here are some guiding principles to consider for the discovery process as you go into 2013:

  1. Is every consultant or salesperson at your organization using the same discovery questions, or are the discovery interview guides being made up ad hoc? The more consistent your process is, the better the quality of information you develop in discovery will be and the more solid you appear as an organization.
  2. When did you last update your discovery questions? If it has been more than a year, it’s time to rethink those questions. A lot has changed in the last year, and your discovery process should encompass those changes.
  3. Is your discovery process uncovering your ideal clients’ most important goals, challenges and opportunities? There is a direct link between their available budget and their goals, challenges and opportunities. Your discovery process should uncover projects that they must fund versus might fund.

Building your 2013 plan

If your 2013 marketing plan includes a heavy emphasis on content marketing, marketing automation and the consultative sale, I encourage you to scrutinize your plan against these guiding principles. Apply these best practices and watch your results soar.

About the author

Randy Shattuck is a senior marketing executive and founder of The Shattuck Group, a full-service marketing firm that specializes in growing professional services firms. You can reach him at randy@theshattuckgroup.com.

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