Why Normal Website Marketing
Won't Work For Professionals
by Dave Simon, 11/01/19
Many professionals' deeply focussed training takes them further away from marketing than they realise.
In practice, tempted to emulate 'normal' marketing, they may be disappointed.
Normal fundamentals of marketing don't work easily for professionals.
In the legal profession for instance, “Marketing is an area that always suffers. It tends to be something people put on the back burner.” LexisNexis finds . The Solicitors Regulation Authority says that website development is the most important aspect of and yet it “is still only delivering a relatively small number of new clients – nearly half of firms polled found less than 10% of them that way”.
Unsurprisingly, as a result, 54% of firms are disappointed with the quality and/or quantity of new enquiries.
Standing out from a tight-knit group is always difficult!
But some manage it.
Accountancy firms with well-written profiles are seven times more likely to inspire action in the reader. That's a huge 700% difference!
“Our advice to consumers is to make decisions about the legal services you use based on a balance of considerations. Price is of course important, but so also are the range and quality of services you get for your money, and the client protections offered by the provider.” (Law Society, 6/12/18)
But evidence suggests that only around 10% of people buy on price alone.
Therefore the Law Society's other two considerations must be more important to the other 90% of clients.
Adding just two well-known features of good manners seems to make all the difference: welcome and invitation.
First, let's understand the problem.
Marketing was probably one of the first professions!
Even 6000 years ago, marketing was at work – probably before it had a name.
On papyrus posters in Egypt, and wall paintings in India it announced sales of products. This was well before trademark signs were painted in the European Middle Ages, the printing press was developed in 1439 and the first website invented in 1991.
So the fundamental stages of marketing are well-established:
- Get Attention – unread adverts gain no sales!
- Promise an Advantage – it's got to be worth-while.
- Prove It – 80% of readers scorn unproven claims.
- Convince People they will Gain – will they personally benefit?
- Ask for Action – the difference between advertising and educating.
Nowadays, websites, emails and social media have joined the posters, leaflets, articles etc. used to convey these messages. This is routine for most businesses: the effort to find new customers has always been essential.
Of course, every business is different. Each wants to be individual and stand out from the crowd. And there are different products and services to advertise. And there are probably many different ways of working with customers to complete transactions, too.
The Five Steps of 'Normal Marketing' Don't Fit Professionals
Professional firms are very different to 'normal' forms of commerce.
- There are elements of traditional marketing that often can't be used
- The professions have difficult-to-describe aspects of their services
- The emotion-laden client is usually more sensitive about what to expect
So the professions cannot design their marketing materials exactly as other businesses do.
“Our marketing methods are changing”
In the olden days, professionals used to 'hang out their shingle'. Without any produce to take to market, this was their way to 'set out a stall' and invite buyers to approach them.
Little has changed from village markets and fairs in some ways. But nowadays websites have replaced shingles.
Change is unavoidable. And it gets costlier every time you look. Yet not keeping up can cost more!
This article explores some of the reasons professionals may unintentionally have inefficient marketing and what they could do about it. (I discussed some specific website issues in another article: "Is This Why Your Website Isn't Attracting The Clients You Want?".)
Is your marketing focus up-to-date?
“Our markets are changing too”
Many professions are undergoing changes too – some are internal improvements, others are forced through external pressures. For example:
- Accountants are having to adapt themselves – and their clients – to the Government's implementation of Making Tax Digital and real-time tax returns, to BREXIT, to cybersecurity, and on the horizon, a possible technology takeover?
- Financial Advisors are adjusting to changes in technology and novel types of services, falling fees, over-regulation, and a natural loss of experience as the senior generation of advisors retire.
- Chartered Surveyors are under pressure from changes in stamp duty, regulations in estate agency and Brexit uncertainties even though there is high demand for housing.
- Solicitors are experiencing a “seismic shift” to a client-driven market, expecting prices to be constrained, productivity to rely increasingly on technology, and competition between firms to increase – particularly with the new Alternative Business Structure companies.
- And Architects seem to feel they are an increasingly marginalised profession with Brexit uncertainty pausing many commercial projects, outstanding fees becoming more problematic and fee competition becoming “nothing less than intense”.
All this change takes up time, effort and budget.
And in consequence, marketing developments are often postponed, despite the growing need.
But as the market changes, so should your marketing! Otherwise existing clients will fear you are out-of-date and new clients will not see your relevance. They will move on to your competitors.
Normal Fundamentals Don't Work Easily
The nature of professional work makes marketing difficult.
Here I describe some understandable responses from professionals to those five traditional stages.
“Getting Attention doesn't come naturally to us”
Professionals are generally conservative by nature. They feel uncomfortable with self-promotion. And they often dislike talking bluntly about 'marketing'.
Yet encouraging the right people to ask for appropriate services in a timely and profitable fashion is too important to be left to chance. It has to be done. Somehow.
All the same, it remains hard for professionals to stay energetic with this. They tend to put together adverts, leaflets and websites, and then wait hopefully...
How do you attract attention?
Of course, in any firm, it's likely that there will be some extroverts among the introverts. It's a useful psychological range of character. Never-the-less the group as a whole will wish to retain a brand of being fairly quiet compared to commercial sales-people. They will try to avoid being seen as pushy, shallow and sales-motivated.
This means your biggest danger is not attracting attention to your website. Any form of advertising that does not get seen cannot do its work. Getting a website built is only the first stage.
Second biggest is the danger of your website not being read through enough to get fair consideration.
There are so many adverts all around us these days – we meet around 5,000 ads per day. We get very good at tuning them out, perhaps we need to, to stay sane! That means that special techniques are necessary to hold the attention of the people you want to attract - your Ideal Clients.
The third danger is omitting aspects of your service that potential clients might want to know about. They will assume you do not do those things and then look elsewhere. That's a tragedy!
Useful Info': Attention-grabbing, and holding, techniques can be quite subtle. Loud and intrusive is not necessary. It is a matter of aiming at what your Ideal Clients are already interested in.
Practical Pointers: New Strategies To Attract Attention To Your Marketing
“We can't Show Advantages the way others do”
Imagine walking through a farmers market, browsing for your food shop. You would look at everything, perhaps pick up some veg and test its firmness, and maybe sniff the fruit to detect its odour. And then you'd compare with several others while hefting it in your hand as if to weigh the decision...
You are examining the promise of what the produce will deliver when you eat it later.
But professional services are invisible because:
- Clients cannot know in detail what they pay for
- Often the outcome cannot be guaranteed in advance
- And professional colleagues offer the same services
You will find it very difficult to show the advantages your firm offers.
With invisible products, your brand is more important than ever. But the average strength of a brand seems to be declining as more firms get professional websites and crowd the market.
How visible are your services?
And your competitors' marketing messages are becoming very similar and 'me too', so clients are seduced away by tiny differences.
Useful Point: Your people are NOT invisible. You can present your staff as easy-to-meet and good-at-team-building. With well-worded true stories, you can show real-life, unassailable advantages.
Practical Pointers: Unusual Ways To Promise Attractive Advantages To New Clients
“Providing Proof of our promise to help is also difficult”
Qualified professionals have knowledge and skills that their clients don't. And they often have permission to do things their clients cannot do. That is the basic advantage you offer. The qualification itself is awarded as proof that you can provide the service.
But, that makes no basis for a layperson to make a choice between firms. It says all firms have qualified experts. It shows no advantage from your firm. Clients may as well go to the cheapest, or nearest... or use any touchstone of their private preference. The risk of a poor match between needs and skills looms large.
And second, clients need proof that your claims are true in terms they can understand. The qualification means little to them – especially post-nominal abbreviations.
Potential clients don't understand enough of your profession to judge the differences between firms and individuals. But professionals understand the territory well enough to make some very sharp distinctions with neighbouring competitors. And it can be a bit too easy to misjudge the gap between those two viewpoints.
Complicating matters are three more influences on the situation:
- Most professionals have a conservative tendency to understate the differences. There is a professional courtesy issue – “we are all colleagues after all” - that demands impartiality.
- Most professions have confidentiality policies that surpass commercial norms. The ethical rules of the profession give little choice, and seem to inhibit some marketing techniques – perhaps more than they need to.
- And there is often an aversion to appearing pushy in case of seeming uncaring,desperate or greedy.
Do you mind the communication gap?
This all makes for a major communication problem.
Between service provider and service user there is a gap that can stop hesitant lay-people. In healthcare, this calls for a good 'bedside manner' to explain technical things in lay terms. It is essential that the client understands what is on offer, or self-preservation will turn them away.
Yet another cause of the problem is that website design is an art-based discipline. So website text - your message - is often contributed by the firm. That means written by committee, which is likely to produce results some distance away from professional marketing methods. (I'm being a bit blunt here!)
While it's true that the fee-earners are experts in what they provide, their training has not been in writing easy-reading and welcoming ways to convey that information to the general public.
Useful Factoid: Three is the magic number. Rather than search for one amazingly impressive fact, you can use three separate smaller, easier-to-find proofs to show three separate advantages you provide.
Practical Pointers: Easy Proofs To Reassure Your Would-be Clients
“We can't easily Convince People they will Gain”
After your promise and your proof, you need to remind the potential client that he or she can personally benefit too. You are relevant, accessible and the best option to explore in more detail.
Generalisations and abstractions do not convince hesitant humans. You need to encourage individuals to make contact while the issue is still 'live' and while there is a suitable window in which you can act.
I explore the full pathway of at least twelve steps from first enquiry to loyal client in another article: "How Every Stepping Stone Helps Your Firm Gain More Clients".
But any professional service that you may provide could have an element of uncertainty. Often it is to reduce that very uncertainty that you may be instructed. To ensure a house being purchased is sound. To ensure that no tax issue is overlooked. To ensure a disagreement creates least damage.
In some cases, the situation is explicitly adversarial. In other cases it could escalate towards that.
You cannot convince people that you will win all battles for them. Besides being unprofessional, if you tried and failed, your reputation would suffer drastically.
So what advantage can you offer and prove convincingly?
Superlatives like 'best', 'fastest' or 'cheapest' are no longer enough. And vague self-awarded claims like 'leading', 'strong' or 'recognised' make little impression as most professional websites use them – and most people do not know what to make of them.
Useful Thought: Your most convincing point may NOT be about your training, practice or success. Remember where lay-people start, and provide human stories connected to the services they are interested in.
Practical Pointers: How To Convince Clients You Are Very Valuable
“Asking for Action is difficult for us too”
Normal marketing makes a point of asking potential customers to take action. All successful adverts, leaflets, mail order catalogues and e-commerce websites explicitly ask the reader to email, phone, send a coupon or click – to make the purchase.
But professionals may feel repelled by the thought of explicitly asking for action. It is as though the client's decision to engage the professional has to be done alone.
Is no advice really better than proper advice? In a few professions, regulations require clarity – financial providers must be clear whether they advise or not.
Clearly the essential is to avoid the feeling of manipulation – hurrying unwary people into conditions that may not be in their best interests.
But let's review normal transactions.
At the psychological level, it takes (minimum) two people speaking one sentence each. These are “Please may I...?” and “Yes, thank you”. It doesn't matter which way round it is.
How do you ask clients to instruct?
In an ordinary shop it is usually they buyer who starts. In a more expertise-driven discussion, it is often the expert.
So any natural face-to-face or telephone discussion about an enquiry is likely to reach an end-point where someone asks “If everything is clear, shall we...?” or “do you wish to...?”. It doesn't matter who asks: someone brings the conversation to a decision-point. Any such discussion that doesn't reach this end-point is purely educational!
I think the concern behind this hesitance to ask explicitly may be about informed consent. It is as though asking for a decision instantly cuts off the informing process too soon. It's true, there should be a respect for the client's process of understanding a complex and unfamiliar area. But, surely, not at the risk of overly deferring the essential decision-point.
Returning to written marketing pieces, doesn't it make equal sense to propose readers lift the phone or type an email? Cutting off that moment before people have clarified enough to be able to make an informed decision about engaging your services is contradictory, confusing and bad business! Yet I have seen leaflets with no contact details!
Suggesting a potential client find out more about your services, and when/where/how to do that, is surely right and proper. What is less obvious is the 'tone of voice' you do it with. Beyond providing factual information, reassuring the nervous potential client about the next step is proper client care.
Useful Action: Encouraging contact clearly and politely takes only a sentence or two on any publication. It is worth avoiding administrative form-filling instructions distracting the potential client's attention.
Practical Pointers: Ask Nearly-Clients To Actually Enquire – Naturally
A New Approach To Marketing For Professionals Is Needed
Marketing for professionals is different to marketing for commercial businesses.
The practical outcome of all poor website productivity is a disappointing number of suitable enquiries. This might mean too few contacts. It could mean too many enquiries that never go any further. Or it might mean too many clients who are very difficult to work with.
Maybe it is just unrealistic to expect anything better? And simpler not to try?
We challenge the acceptance of 'normal' results. As the SRA say (see the top of this article), less than 10% is normal – surely if accountants can boost that to 70%, at least double (20%) should be achievable for most firms?
There are answers to these conundrums – using little more than the English language.
At the start of new relationships, Invitation and Welcome are well-known forms of good manners. They are the most effective way to develop new relationships quickly.
Their absence may not be remarkable, but their presence substantially improves the warmth of the getting-to-know-you stage, with beneficial consequences for client and firm.
Find Two Familiar But Surprising Ways To Settle Website Visitors In.
Explore further in the following article “Overtake 'Normal Marketing': Small-but-powerful shifts in style”.
We will especially look at where quiet changes are best used in the sequence of action that almost all your potential clients will follow.
There I also introduce a new concept of Human Choice Optimisation (as a companion to Search Engine Optimisation) that can improve your website results. And in passing we note an often-promoted solution that doesn't seem to help much... but could make things worse.