How Every Stepping Stone Helps Your Firm Gain More Clients

by Dave Simon, 16/4/19

Marketing is difficult for professionals.

  • Ironically, many professionals' deeply focussed training takes them further away from marketing than most realise when they come to practice.

  • Professional services are inherently harder to describe in many ways, which means that writing for websites, leaflets and adverts is immediately more difficult.

  • Many firms delegate or outsource marketing work, usually focussed on advertising (including social media), which is unfortunately the most expensive aspect - and yet the marketing message describing the firm, its professional services and its people is the vital information for would-be clients researching your website.

So 'Normal Marketing' cannot attract the new clients you want, as I have described previously.

A new approach to marketing just for professionals

Marketing is defined as “the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably”. It's results emerge some weeks or months later, effectively meaning that it creates the future client flow you want.

Every business has to encourage customers to engage to get to the benefit they want. Low-effort approaches like 'build it and they will come' only work with startling novelties. 99% of businesses have to do more than that.
The question is: how?

Encouraging enough clients to cross the river of doubts, difficulties and distractions will achieve security and profit for the professional firm. The river is the rush of everyday life – family, friends and other companies' adverts.

Marketing manages this process of crossing the river.
Doing it well in the face of changing river conditions (like the blossoming of internet, BREXIT and regulatory changes, etc) is an ever-evolving challenge.

With the definition above in mind, I think it is vital to keep in mind that your marketing intervention stretches all the way from first-enquiry to loyal-client returning with repeat business.

It can also help you manage the profitability of the relationship by either reducing costs or increasing revenues, or both.

Marketing manages the whole sequence

Stepping Stones Help Clients Cross The River Of Doubt

In general, marketing people set about attracting clients and organising suitable stepping stones for them to cross the river of technical and psychological difficulties to a win-win agreement.

Because they do it more often than clients, they are the professionals. They get to know the currents, rocks and sandbanks in the river. So they make more decisions about how to set out the stepping stones, navigating to safety and security to make clients' journeys more attractive.

But some firms rather rely on the client's own motivation to get across the river. This could be because they believe that:

  • a client will do it all themselves if they are desperate enough
  • the firm can't afford the time or resources to organise stepping stones
  • other forces such as referrers or regulations will do it for them
  • they already open their doors as much as possible to ease clients' journeys
  • they are too submerged in their own difficulties to prioritise marketing

Put like this, we can see those firms losing clients to competitors.
They are relatively passive, waiting on their side of the river, perhaps waving encouragingly but not actively helping. If that doesn't work well enough, they may be tempted into being reactive, trying to set out new stepping stones for each new client. Unless these are very lucrative contracts, it will become a costly and exhausting approach.

Marketing is difficult for professionals

There are a raft of differences between the professional environment and that of more obviously commercial ventures who are used to being much more assertive in marketing.

The environment has changed. The internet has given so much more information to potential clients that they can judge which firm seems the friendliest, the easiest to understand, or the closest. And they are likely to act on these judgements rather than seeking the firm with the best skills and knowledge to assist with their concerns or opportunities.

And attitudes are changing. In law, perhaps regarded as the most stable profession, an industry report finds that the balance of power in the client/lawyer relationship is shifting:

What clients really want

It is now likely that every professional firm in the country has a website to attract clients. They will long have had adverts, leaflets and networks. But these are one aspect of marketing – the more obvious advertising side of it.

There are other aspects that also need managing, preferably systematically, to build long-term security.

The ambitious firm needs to understand and develop the full range of marketing tasks involved. Not all are easy, not all are popular. Some take funding, others take time. But for success they all need commitment. And for a professional firm that delegates marketing, the partners/owners need to make that commitment. Clients do not arrive by accident!

Marketing helps the firm achieve its goals

Your goals may fall into these three profit-boosting regions:

  1. Increasing Your Sales Volume (within a fixed marketing budget)
  2. Cutting Your Costs (while keeping staff and suppliers happy)
  3. Raising Your Prices (without worrying your clients)

One approach we use in consultancy is to highlight focus areas within these areas: mini-goals.
In our initial discussions, for instance, we check 5 focus areas within the Raising Prices region, 8 areas in Increasing Sales and another 5 in Cutting Costs. Then we can turn to the 'How? Question' and recommend actions that we know have worked for others.

We will briefly touch on these as we progress though this exploration of productive marketing.

A different approach is to focus on sections of the river-crossing journey. I will use Bryony Thomas' framework as a stepping stone to explain my own approach.

Bryony has used her experience in the financial services to write a very readable book on this. She uses a different watery metaphor: Watertight Marketing. She explains six sections of the customer's journey and what a business can do to improve them. Each section has to be watertight to prevent the losses accumulating, resulting in too few clients reaching agreement with you.

Bryony's journey sections are: Awareness, Interest, Evaluation, Trial, Adoption, Loyalty. These labels alert you to the client's mental stages to help you to tune your marketing materials so they help clients in the right way at the right time.

Planning The Full Pathway For Performance

Here I will take an even more practical approach.

Our way to manage the potential client's journey is to break it down into client contact steps. This takes a longitudinal view of the client-attracting interaction.

Between first-enquiry and loyal-client, there are many steps.
We can identify twelve, at least.

Your whole sequence needs to work well. One missing step stops the journey. Several wobbly steps erodes confidence... and many will turn back to find a better pathway elsewhere. 
BUT NOTE: This is not because of the quality of professional services.

Putting all your eggs in one basket - only on just one step - brings several risks:

  1. disproportionate spending of time and funds
  2. distraction from other obstacles
  3. ignoring the last few stages and losing higher profit-margin sources

I can only recommend a thorough, methodical review-and-revise approach to every step, one at a time, in order. Does each step work? Does it lead easily to the next? Do they all lead straight to the nearly-client's wished-for destination?

Unless you are starting out afresh, you will already have a client contact pathway. This is the journey you expect the great majority of clients to take in approaching you, agreeing to work with you and perhaps returning again later. Refining what you already have is often the easiest method.

A practical framework for marketing

Many of these steps will be familiar administrative tasks. They are important to your professional management of the work. You will have written materials – publicity, records, forms, templates and so on.

But while some may be important, others might seem insignificant to your professional work. So some are handled by professionals, others by marketing managers or office staff.

However, my point is that if they are all so important to potential clients that they could interrupt the journey – and perhaps divert them to a competitor – you are well-advised to manage all of them together as a system. They may be telephone calls or face-to-face meetings. They may be written adverts, leaflets or website pages. They may even be the décor and design of a room your clients will visit.

All these steps need to work together. They all need to attract the first-time client. They need to comfort the emotional client. They need to feel supportive to returning clients.

This all needs coherent planning rather than piece-meal preparation.

We are aiming at providing what the potential client needs when they need it. Many steps will also provide for your needs too. Every stepping stone you create has to be fit for purpose: they have to be a big-enough, firm-enough and near-enough for the client's next step.

A positive attitude to marketing

Professionals can often feel somewhat cautious about marketing their services. Perhaps it seems to have a very different ethos to a professional training. But there are good things about marketing worth considering.

  1. Effective marketing sets out to make things easier for potential clients. The easier you make their journey, the more likely they are to enquire with you. For instance, I have seen solicitors' websites that provide an email contact address in very small writing, hidden amongst other official terms (perhaps because they don't want spam) which makes life very difficult for would-be clients.

  2. Marketing can help potential clients research the service that best suits their purpose. For instance, surveyors can easily offer a number of extra services, accountants can provide up-to-date tax advice, architects can illustrate alternative extension plans for home-owners.

Proactively Design Your Ideal Pathway

Here, it is important to be clear about exactly whereabouts on your side of the river you would prefer to meet your new clients. Is it just for assessment meetings? Is it for assessment, agreement and action? Or is it for a repeating cycle of suitable and substantial work?

I suggest that the most satisfying, profitable and secure place to be is having gathered numbers of long-term loyal clients. Trust will be high, fees will be justified, team-working will be powerful. Both firm and client will benefit most.

I recommend you prepare every step your potential clients must take to become loyal long-term clients, returning regularly and enjoying the working relationship with you. This is planning your full 'First-Enquiry To Loyal-Client' Pathway. It is more than simply doing your professional job well: this is 'client care' embedded into every step.

  • It's true that a proportion of your clients will be once-only engagements

  • And some of your potential clients will not reach a working agreement

To an extent these are both unavoidable facts of life.
And occasionally this will suit you too – you may agree that you are not a suitable match for each other.

But I suggest your priority in developing this pathway is to work toward the best proportions for your operation. That means deciding what is the most cost-effective and likely the most profitable.

Clarifying your aims in terms of client acquisition, satisfaction and retention is vital. Because the “client is king”: they can take their money to your competitor - so you lose twice over!

Marketing leads to fees

Do you link marketing to fees?

Top line and bottom line financial results are derived from client behaviour. And that is encouraged (or not!) by your marketing behaviour. Good ROI is vital from your website, leaflets and adverts. And from the other eleven steps!

Your 'First-Enquiry To Loyal-Client' Pathway

To boost your client numbers (and raise your profitability if you wish), you can boost the cost-effectiveness of these contact steps:

  1. Website/leaflet/advert Performance – to attract, filter & guide Ideal Clients to the next steps
  2. First Response – to confirm relevance, build trust and encourage discussions
  3. Early Explanations – to confirm the match between what clients want and what you provide
  4. Product Offerings – to make it easy for people to know which services to ask about
  5. Explaining Prices – to ensure clients understand the great value-for-money you provide
  6. Offer to Meet – to build a trusting relationship, discuss details and encourage agreement
  7. Suitable Ambience – to reflect your value message to Ideal Clients to reassure them
  8. Deciding Assistance – to answer clients' questions if they want reassurances before agreeing
  9. Engagement Process – to systematise your 'contracting' process to increase its success rate
  10. Welcoming Process – to improve client satisfaction, cooperation and later retention
  11. Easy Payment – to ensure there are no problems at this end of the relationship
  12. Client Satisfaction – to prevent social media rants, and to gain return/renewal and referrals

These 12 steps are the backbone of your Pathway.
Other areas can be included, for instance:

  • In the first step, business cards, talks, surveys, sponsorships and all sorts of other publicity activities can also be considered.

  • And in the last step, client satisfaction feedback can be used to prompt improvement projects in all these steps. It seems that 80% of solicitors firms do not ask clients to complete client satisfaction surveys. I suspect all other professions are the same! – missing a great opportunity for productivity and profitability developments.

Every Step On Your Client-Attracting Pathway Must Work Hard

Your aim is to make every step work so well that your overall results show that:

  1. As many clients as you want arrive and agree to instruct you
  2. An optimum productivity results from work being matched to resources
  3. A minimum of potential clients do not reach agreement
  4. A maximum of renewing clients confirm how valuable your service is
  5. An optimum cashflow is achieved through dependable payments

While playing to your strengths is a workable strategy, bolstering your weak links is essential. These might be at the front end, to attract more enquiries – for instance, 10% of adults considered paying for legal advice but changed their minds.

Or they might be at the loyalty stage because the vast majority of dissatisfied consumers take their business elsewhere without telling the people who disappointed them.

Provide useful 'nudges'

One way to encourage the steps listed above to work harder is to employ a new psychology technique.
The 'nudge' is research-based psychology which uses indirect suggestions and positive reinforcements to offer a guiding hand for decision-making. Often they are simply rewordings of 'normal' questions or instructions, and they can be used ethically for everyone's benefit.

  • Nudging staff behaviour for client's benefit is often about document design. An alternative to education, policy-making or policing, it is usually easier, quicker and cheaper.

  • Nudging potential clients for their own benefit is also best done in simple ways – so for instance, using Google's finding that 70% of mobile phone owners like to use click-to-call.

Every Step On Your Client-Attracting Pathway Must Work Hard – the following article - goes deeper into these steps to help you review your Pathway and perhaps develop improvements. It is a longer read in order to provide useful description and small hints, and to keep the sequence whole.

Guiding hand

What helping hands do you offer?

How Do Choose Words And Phrases To Attract The Clients We Want?

Your website is the main 'front end' of your marketing Pathway that leads potential clients towards you.

It provides you with the chance to boost the performance of all subsequent stepping stones on your Client-Attracting Pathway. That can optimise the number and the quality of your clients, improving your productivity and profitability - and stress levels.

Check these 3 website updating projects:

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