All content should be created with a purpose. For professional services firms, that purpose should be to guide potential clients through the decision-making process. But how do you tell if you are providing value every step of the way?
Your content should account for each phase of a buyer’s decision-making process. You want to take them on a journey, from a lack of awareness of your firm at the beginning, through to becoming an advocate of your services at the end. Understanding the buyer’s interests, mindset and motivations at each stage – Awareness, Research, Comparison, Action – will help you to help them.
Purchasing professional services is a complex process. There are often a range of stakeholders to consult or consider in B2B decision-making, from C-suite executives to department heads and procurement teams, third parties and advisers, who will all require different information. It’s a process that takes time and is rarely completed in a single session, as highlighted by a recent Google study of B2B buyers.
Our own analysis confirms that prospective buyers might be hooked through an interesting article or blog post, but conduct further research before returning for more detail, often several times, before contact is made. Providing bespoke content for your different target audience personas effectively signposted to guide them and welcome them back is therefore critical.
At this stage the buyer may not realise or acknowledge that there is a problem or opportunity. They are looking for firms to briefly share what they know of an issue and its implications for them – not what the firm does. News articles, blogs (including guest posts), social-media-friendly content such as infographics and key stats, and PR all offer the potential to attract attention. Engaging with industry influencers and encouraging them to contribute to the debate is a powerful tactic and will help to spread those ideas more quickly.
Even the largest firms often mistakenly focus on partner hires, latest deals, office moves and other internal news. Far more interesting to your target audience is genuinely insightful and relevant coverage of the market. Think topical, frequent, authentic and interactive.
By this stage in the buying cycle, the buyer has recognised a need and is actively researching potential solutions. They are looking for content around a particular service line, whether to help them solve a problem, find out what their peers are doing, or arm themselves with information that can help them get buy-in from other senior decision-makers.
Case studies are the most obvious form of ‘proof’, yet these are conspicuously absent from some firms’ websites, or lack the detail that can bring them to life. Professional services firms would do well to look at the compelling multi-format client stories produced by personal injury lawyers such as Irwin Mitchell.
Guides, research and other thought leadership that speaks to the client’s fears and pain points are also highly effective. The ‘big four’ accounting firms and larger law firms are generally strong here, particularly in the larger cross-jurisdictional areas – see for example PwC’s CEO surveys and sector insights – but you can still own a niche if it is rigorous, practical, insightful and visual.
Developing a body of bespoke content incorporating the most appropriate long-tail keywords for your specialist areas will enable you to punch above your weight in attracting consistent, relevant traffic.
By now, the buyer has identified a solution and is looking for potential providers. Buyers comparing solutions also want content that addresses their business problems. But they differ from those at an earlier stage in the process in that they have decided what solution they require and wish to know whether your firm should be on the shortlist.
The comparison or evaluation stage may be the first time in the process that a particular buyer is identified and can be actively engaged by your firm, so take the opportunity to tailor content to their individual needs where possible.
Specific service-related information works well here, such as overviews of how you can help, partner biographies and checklists. Although the information is about the firm, it should still be client-focused: partner biographies should include recent cases and work undertaken, for instance.
Forward-thinking firms are always looking to improve in this area, often using video to show more of the firm’s personality. Video is increasingly popular with B2B buyers, allows prospects to familiarise themselves with key members of your team and gives a stronger impression of what it might be like to work with you. Video comments and testimonials from clients are equally powerful.
The buyer has drawn up a shortlist of firms and committed to take action. You are at the final hurdle – it’s up to you to help them choose your firm and to reassure them that they have made the right decision. Think through the process from their point of view and be proactive in providing useful information that will enable them to picture a bright future. This might include more detailed contact info, FAQs, checklists and next steps such as the first 100 days of a new client engagement.
The main focus at this stage may be on a specific tender document or proposal. Although purchasing departments can impose rigid restrictions on required formats for responses, proper preparation throughout the process means the prospective client will already feel more favourably towards you. And if you are given more of a free rein on creative elements, you will have a bank of material to draw on for the pitch.
Content with a purpose
Internet usage and digital trends are fundamentally changing the buyer journey in B2B. Providing relevant content with a specific purpose to move buyers along each stage will ensure more of them beat a path to your door, becoming advocates of your services along the way.
Learn more about best practice content marketing strategy in our guide: Content marketing strategy for professional services firms.