Digital marketing and the lead generation challenge for a consulting firm

I don't want to market and sell, I just want people to buy!

Ever found yourself saying that? It's not uncommon - I mean, who actually wants more marketing!

Generating leads in a consulting firm can be challenging 

A challenge that can seem insurmountable - certainly within a quick enough and affordable timeframe.

Often it's because firms don't do much marketing at all. They wait until it's too late.  And in the scrabble for immediate results, most firms simply end up doing what they've always done. 

That means networking and cold-calling. Or, to put it another way, the resort to finding a needle in a haystack. Some call it 'hope marketing' - hoping that you just happen to bump into someone who is ready to buy! But you know how the saying goes:

If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got!

Now don't get me wrong, in-person networking and cold calling remain entirely valid lead generation channels. But the opportunity digital marketing affords is to make even traditional marketing channels more successful!

You can learn more about our approach to marketing a professional services firm in our blog article here. But before we get into the specifics of a marketing strategy and tactics, let's examine the 5 most common lead generation challenges in a B2B consulting firm:

01 Over-Reliance on repeat business

Your existing clients are hugely important. And, of course, the opportunities for further projects and revenue from existing clients is far higher than with new clients.

However, as important as existing clients are, it's nigh on impossible to grow a consulting business with existing clients alone. Even worse, relying solely on repeat business could in fact be the path to a slow and gradual decline.

There’s often a double-whammy too!

The consulting business that's over-reliant on repeat business is typically reliant on the majority of its revenues from a tiny number of clients too. And when - not if - they lose one of those crucial clients, the impact is significant and painful. 

There are many more consulting firms in this situation that you might imagine. This is why consulting firms must exploit digital marketing now. Not only to attract new clients, but to also engage and help maintain existing clients. 

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02 Hoping for referrals

Let’s be clear, referrals are one of the best new business opportunities your firm will ever have. That’s because you instantly inherit trust from the referrer with the prospect, and the need is often qualified too. Yet despite their importance, too few firms have established programmes and processes to encourage referrals. 

Worse still is that referrals are entirely unpredictable. 

If you're relying on referrals alone, a more apt term would be to say that you’re reliant on hope!

Whilst you absolutely should seek referral opportunities, you mustn’t rely on them. Here are 4 ways you can utilise digital marketing to support and encourage referrals:

  1. Use email marketing to regularly encourage referrals from existing clients
  2. Use social media to identify mutual connections and referral targets 
  3. Use content marketing to demonstrate your expertise and build trust in prospects through educational content  
  4. Ensure that, once referred, prospects can immediately learn of your services and capabilities through a conversion optimised website supported with testimonials

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03 Unsure of where to start with digital marketing?

The biggest risk with digital marketing is throwing baby out with the bathwater! That is, thinking it’s a decision between digital marketing or traditional marketing channels - such as networking, public speaking and exhibitions.

This is a mistake.

Both traditional and digital marketing are equally valid and important. 

Sure, some firms see greater success with one approach over the other, but the world of marketing is forever changing. You can’t rest on your laurels as what worked last year can’t be guaranteed to work this year. Don’t forget, there are few things in life less predictable than clients!

So where should you start your digital marketing journey?

There are many different digital marketing channels to choose from. Despite what others might suggest, they all take time to deliver the goods. You can (and often should) fuel the fire with paid advertising, but for that to work effectively there is still some ground work that needs to be done. 

As Stephen Covey said in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

Begin with the end in mind.

This is why a strategy is essential. Marketing is a long game, and by selecting the right channels and approach, there exists the potential for quick wins along the way. The most successful digital marketing will utilise a combination of channels to take your prospects on a journey from stranger to client.

However, a common mistake is to deploy a marketing channel with little or no expertise, and upon your first failure, to determine that the channel doesn’t work for your business! 

Marketing is all about embracing failure. Learning from it and adapting fast. Too many firms approach marketing with unrealistic expectations. 

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04 Too time or resource constrained to market properly

Leading on from unrealistic expectations of outcomes, especially after having left things too late, is that most firms are too time and/or resource constrained to support effective digital marketing.

It is, however, a delicate balance. You and your team are THE experts. You build trust and authority by turning your expertise into thought leadership digital marketing assets.

You need to utilise multiple channels to distribute and promote that content. What you cannot do is simply outsource the lot and expect great results. 

For example, there are plenty of companies offering blog writing services for peanuts. Yet when I write blog articles for this site, it normally takes me at least half a day to write about something that I have deep expertise in. I'll then spend between the same and double that amount of time distributing and promoting the content. 

You can't possible expect to replicate these efforts or results for tens of pounds.

The balance to be struck is where you and your team contribute to content - whether that's a social media post, a blog article, or a more in-depth lead magnet - whilst not being burdened with all the writing, preparation and distribution. The right balance should also mean that your team isn't expected to have to learn to write marketing copy. A skill which is very different to that of writing a consulting report. 

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05 Frustrated by the lack of results from your current marketing efforts

Finally, we get around to the frustration for those firms that have actually invested in marketing. Reluctantly for many of them. And, in fact, many firms feel that they've been burned from previous marketing investments and so become reluctant to invest forever more!

But why does this happen?

Firstly, there are really two ways to basic approaches to marketing:

  1. Figure out how to do it for yourself
  2. Outsource it to people that have already taken the time and effort to learn how to do it well and will do it for you

When it comes to the first option, I bet I can make a good guess at what your current approach has been! Hmmm, let me guess:

  • A few sporadic posts on Linkedin?
  • The occasional connection request sent to a stranger on linkedin?
  • A business exhibition (where you probably offered some kind of free gift because someone convinced you that's how you generate actual leads!!!)?
  • Cold calling? (Go on, be honest, was it a business coach that told you to do it? Did you hate it as much as I did - you can learn more about my experiences here)
  • Go networking? (Was the conversation with the florist you met worthwhile? What about the £15 you spent on a crappy breakfast to be sat next to someone you have no likelihood of ever selling to!?)

Look, I get why people try all of these things. Like all marketing channels they can generate leads. But only if you approach them in the right way. 

Now, let's tackle approach 2 - outsourcing. 

Back when I was a technology management consultant I always advised clients that they should never outsource something that they don't understand. It's a case of having the wool pulled over your eyes by vendors. 

Well, when it comes to marketing, things become a little more interesting. 

You see, the world of marketing is vast. Without giving it too much thought, I was able to come up with 52 ways to market your consulting business - one for each week of the year!

What's even more interesting is that most marketing experts don't actually know that much about marketing. What I mean by this is that, for the most part, outsource providers are experts in their specific niche. That might be search engine optimisation (SEO), social media marketing, social ads, copywriting, exhibitions, and so on. 

What they're seldom experts in is bringing it all together. Understanding how one thing - one tactic - should lead to the next. Knowing how to utilise marketing to take your prospects on a journey. To achieve the 3 primary marketing outcomes:

  1. Get known
  2. Build trust
  3. Generate leads

It's likely that if you've outsourced you haven't necessarily considered how that specific marketing channel will fit into your overall marketing strategy.

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In Summary

Marketing is crucial if you want to grow a B2B consulting firm. And, as legendary marketer, Mark Ritson said, 

To survive in business you must be able to market effectively in a digital world.

That means your marketing must embrace both traditional and digital methods. And digital marketing channels are fantastic to help fuel your traditional methods, like cold calling and networking. 

That said, It can be complex as there are lots of moving parts to align. 

The problem with marketing is that many firms start too late. So they have unrealistically high expectations (and need) for positive results, with an aversion to failure. 

The most effective marketing strategy is to go omni-channel, utilising multiple digital marketing channels combined with traditional marketing channels. 

Then to apply the 3 critical ingredients for marketing success:

  1. Be consistent
  2. Be persistent
  3. Be patient

You must determine the most cost effective approach to achieving marketing success. Whether it's to get your billable consultants doing all of your marketing (and providing the time, training, budget and inclination to become effective whilst accepting the reduction in revenue per consultant), or to leverage outsourced services that can relieve your team of up to 80% of the burden. 

If it's the latter, then click here to learn more about the digital marketing services available. 

Images courtesy of Unsplash and the following photographers:

Harrison Broadbent