- Marketing Your Professional Services Brand
Marketing Your Professional Services Brand
Kimble co-founder and CMO, Mark Robinson, has plenty of experience of marketing professional services, having successfully built and sold two consulting businesses. In the latest PS Insights podcast sponsored by Kimble, Mark discusses his approach to building a services brand.
For Mark, a key strategy is to focus energy on a specific area – “what you are famous for” – and to establish trust and expertise in this area. Productizing the services you have on offer is an important part of building your brand, as is ‘tuning to the market’ – understanding the problems your clients face and how they change over time.
Mark Robinson – Marketing in the professional services sector.
Doug D’Argenio: Welcome to the PS Insights podcast series sponsored by Kimble Applications. Professional services organizations strive for efficiency, success, and growth. This series is intended to provide key insights on how to achieve this from industry leaders.
Frances Fawcett: Hello, my name’s Frances Fawcett and today I’m talking to Mark Robinson about marketing in the professional services sector.
Mark is co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Kimble Applications. He has over 30 years experience in the IT sector, which has included working in Oracle Corporation in its very early days, where he witnessed a rise from start-up through to software giant.
He started his first IT consultancy company in 1997, without external investment, and by the time it was sold three years later, it had grown to, to 200 people in offices in the UK and the US. He then co-founded a further IT consultancy, which was sold some years later after growing to over 400 people based in the UK and India.
Mark Robinson: Hi there, great to meet you.
Frances Fawcett: Do you wanna tell us a little bit about what you’re doing now?
Mark Robinson: I’m in the very fortunate position of being able to evangelize the Kimble product. This involves meeting professional services leaders throughout the world, finding out their problems, and explaining to them how Kimble can help overcome their challenges.
Frances Fawcett: Building a brand takes time. You’re talking about playing the long game, aren’t you?
Mark Robinson: Certainly, and it’s interesting when I talk to people on my various travels, they’ll often say to me that they’ve spent money at a webinar or a trade show, quite a considerable amount of money. They’ll be very disappointed potentially, by the results. They’ll typically measure those results based on the amount of revenue that they get from that, or even just the leads they get from it.
When they don’t get a significant number based on how much they’ve spent, they get very disappointed. But what I’ve explained to them, is that those trade shows, everything you do in the marketplace is all about building the brand. It’s about building the market awareness of what you’re famous for.
So that, when somebody does want to enlist the services like yours, you’re at least on that tender list. My simple story is, if you’re not on the tender list at some point in the future, you’ve got no chance at winning the business. So, it’s really important that you measure success by the long game.
Frances Fawcett: A lot of people will have the core message that their people are their greatest asset. Is that a real differentiator or not?
Mark Robinson: I think the fact that you said, “A lot of people say that” is actually the answer. There are some great people out there. Certainly, the customers I meet are fantastic people. The problem is that everybody you’re trying to sell to doesn’t believe you. And you’ve got to find a way of bringing that to life, and I used to say to my sales team, “The most important thing you can do is trying to get people into a meeting, and then you can expose your great people. But that’s not going to get you in the meeting in the first place.”
The way you do that is by productizing those services. Being very clear to those prospects that you have a solution to the problems they’re facing and can articulate that clearly.
Frances Fawcett: Once you do meet with people, how important is it to understand what their pain points are, and exactly what they’re looking for?
Mark Robinson: It’s vital. You have to be able to come up with what I call “war stories.” It’s very important that you give them examples where they can relate to how you’ve solved those problems.
Even in our own experience in our own business, people often say to us, because we have the domain expertise and services, I’ll often be told. “Well, you’re not only the first person who’s been able to answer my question, you’ve been the first person who actually understood the question I was asking.”
You shouldn’t undervalue how much expertise you have in a certain area, but you need to be able to explain to the customer not just that you can solve that problem, but give them real life examples of how you solved those problems in organizations similar to them.
Frances Fawcett: Do you find with some organizations that they sometimes have to do a bit of their own data mining to understand what they’re really good at?
Mark Robinson: Yeah, it’s a very simple thing to do. Say you’re a technology business. You are famous for being able to do a certain type of technology. What you’ll find is that when you go out to see customers, if you analyze it, you’ll find that actually, you’ve done an awful a lot about in the financial services sector. Prospects will love to see the fact that not only are you great in a certain tech area, but you have that domain knowledge.
And that will differentiate you from your competitors.
Frances Fawcett: And leads to some of the war stories, illustrating solutions that you’ve provided to others.
Mark Robinson: Sure. But I think it’s also important that as the founder of the company, you know those war stories. As you get bigger, you’re going to bring more and more people onto the business who won’t know that. One of the things I’d recommend is spending time formally documenting those war stories, and more importantly, spending time training your staff, anybody who’s gonna be outwardly facing, to know some of the history of what you’ve done.
Not just the projects you’ve worked on, but also the benefits you deliver to the customer, because that’s where it brings it to life. If you’re talking not just about the fact that you did some technical work, or you did some business consulting. It’s actually explaining what the impact of that was.
Frances Fawcett: It’s quite a challenge, isn’t it? Making sure the sales peoples who are out meeting customers are giving the same messages that the website gives and that marketing gives. Is that something worth spending time and effort getting right?
Mark Robinson: Definitely. One of the things that you often find particularly when you’re growing fast, is that the message that you have will change over time, and you haven’t spent the time explaining to your team that they need to change those messages.
And a lot of those messages depend on the type of audience that you’re speaking to. Typical evolution of a brand-new consulting company is, you’ll probably go and do what I call “staff augmentation.”
You’re providing an expert to a company on a time materials basis. As you start to get bigger, you’re luckily going to provide teams of people like doing that. And the ultimate move is that you’re actually owning those projects and delivering from scratch. Maybe even having client staff reporting to you on those projects.
The perception of risk from those customers of view of what you’re doing and the services provided changes radically as you go through those phases.
It’s really important that from an external point of view, whether it’s your website, whether it’s your marketing messages, whether it’s your collateral, whether it’s the sales people, that they are presenting you as an organization that is capable of performing the function of which you’re, you’re working.
And if your salespeople are talking about you in a way, as if you were doing staff augmentation, you’re providing expert people rather than saying, “We’re actually delivering outcomes to the project.” Then you’re less likely to win the business in the first place and find it difficult to differentiate.
Frances Fawcett: Sometimes it’s difficult to explain service offerings to potential customers. What would you recommend about how solutions are portrayed? Would you think about them in a product sense, or, how would you recommend they do that?
Mark Robinson: It’s sometimes hard to think about what you do as a product, you have to really understand the problems that you’re trying to solve in your area. Because you might just have a different way of phrasing it to somebody else, and it doesn’t resonate. With the tools that are out there now, really easy to get some great statistical data on what you should be aiming at. Then you can define what you do around that.
And it doesn’t matter, whether you actually have built out a huge set of deliverables. Sometimes people spend a lot of time building out deliverables for a hypothetical project when reality is, what you’re really trying to do is position the fact that you’re able to have a solution to a problem and you have expertise and war stories of delivering similar, outcomes.
Frances Fawcett: Your proposition to the marketplace needs to illustrate your skills, your talents. But whether people buy exactly that product is less important. It’s about using that product… so maybe there are some products that don’t exist in a product form, but they illustrate the different skills and talents that people have got.
Mark Robinson: Going back right, right to the beginning, we’re talking about what you’re famous for. And the fact that you can’t differentiate as easily just on the base of people. What I always try to do in my organizations is think of ways to get those brilliant people in a room with the customer and in many occasions will come in talking on the basis of what we’ve pitched as the problem we’re gonna solve.
When we’ve talked to somebody, they’ll start to talk about other problems they have, where we’re better suited to solve or have other experience to do. If you’re not in the meetings to start with, you’re not going to be able to tease those out.
Your focus really is, get to that meeting. Get your great brains on sticks experts into the meeting. If you’re not, if you’re not focused on that, you’ll never get the chance to find out what the real problems are.
Frances Fawcett: Back to the point you made earlier, once you are in that situation. Really taking time and trouble to understand the client’s problems, and then matching that up with the services you can provide.
Mark Robinson: I would also add to that, sometimes what the client thinks his problem is isn’t actually what the problem is. And unless you have that dialogue and start to explain to them. In our case, a lot of times people say to us, “I’ve got a problem utilization in our software.” When you come down to it, that isn’t the problem at all. It’s actually the support of having the right people, the right place, and matching supply and demand more accurately. That’s not the problem they thought they had. But sitting down with them, and start to ask them simple questions. You start to make them realize that. I think that gives you credibility.
If you really are having a proper intellectual dialogue about the problem is, you can come and sort it out.
Frances Fawcett: Take them on a journey to understanding what the real solution is.
Mark Robinson: Yeah.
Frances Fawcett: That’s a complicated set of messages, and there’s some quite subtle messaging there as well. I’m guessing you’d suggest those have got to be brought together consistently, whether it’s online websites and social media. Whether it’s sales people and customers. How do people bring that together?
Mark Robinson: That’s absolutely true and I think the counter to that is often what I find is, what you’re saying to the customer is different to what’s on your website, different from your collateral. It’s really important to be aware of that perception. I can think of an example where, we were pitching something in a previous life where we found out that our competitors were making a big fuss of the fact that they were specialists in a particular niche. We made it very clear to the customer that, one of the things they needed, was to have someone who not only had that specialism, but had a different specialism as well that’s complimentary to that.
But we had to make sure that our website and collateral told that story. You’ve got to recognize nowadays that people will go on your website. You’ll be on the phone call to somebody. The first thing they’ll do when they’ve heard your name is to Google it.
They’ll look you up. And if that’s saying something completely different to what you’re saying, then, the chances are that they won’t believe you. It’s true with the press. Looking at when you going out to the media, when you’re being interviewed. If your message is confused. If you’re not saying the same things that’s in your website, then again, that’s not gonna help your brand.
Frances Fawcett: Presumably that’s true of the individual content on the website, like blogs or social media, linkedIn connections and the messages there.
Mark Robinson: Absolutely. It goes back to this whole message about what you wanted to be famous for. You could blog about a million things, I’m sure you’ve got lots of different things to add value to. But I think you really have to focus on what it is you’re the expert in. If I go back to my old days where you would meet a journalist for a coffee or lunch and you would talk to them about something. They talk to lots of people like you everyday.
What you’ve got to be clear in their mind is, that next time they’re writing an article or they want a quote or a by-line or even a longer formal interview with you. It’s because you are the expert in a certain area. Even if you could contribute to many areas. Nothing’s changed by being on the web. It’s exactly the same process. You have to make it clear that, what you’re famous for and you have to articulate that, and articulate it consistently.
Frances Fawcett: That takes time, and deliberate planning, doesn’t it?
Mark Robinson: Absolutely. That’s where you’re marketing team can help you in your organization, they’ve got to be quite strong sometimes to talk to the founders of the company who might want to talk about something completely different. And really keep them on message and help drive that process.
Frances Fawcett: In amongst that mix that’s available today, whether it’s online, social media, traditional media and press and so on, what are your thoughts on co-marketing, and whether that can be effective?
Mark Robinson: There are massive benefits by doing that. If you’re a technology business, all likelihood you’ll be working with one of the larger technology vendors who have a much bigger budget than you. But probably don’t have as many ideas as you about doing interesting ideas. They’re always looking for new ideas, and they’re happy to invest in it.
So, as long as you can come up with great content, great thought leadership, they will help invest in that. The double whammy in benefit is at the end of the day, they’ve got the brand. They’ll have a high-rankings on Google search that will bring you through and bring your likelihood of people landing on your website, finding you, when they’re looking for somebody to tender for new business. And that’s why co-marketing is so important.
Frances Fawcett: If you found the area, you’re gonna be famous for, and you’ve really developed the expertise, you can probably provide deeper understanding and information about that sector than perhaps some of the bigger brands can do.
Mark Robinson: Absolutely. There’s no harm in really giving away some of the crown jewels, as it were. If you have some great thought leadership in the areas that you want to be an expert. Make them available, make them freely available. That will drive people to come and talk to you, maybe journalists. But also, to look at your website. Have things that people will search for and prove outside of the war stories, why you are the experts in the domain that you want to build credibility in.
Frances Fawcett: It does come back to understanding exactly what that value proposition is.
Mark Robinson: Absolutely.
Frances Fawcett: Are there two or three key messages that you’d share with us about how people can apply those thoughts to the world of marketing in professional services?
Mark Robinson: First of all, it’s what you want to be famous for. It’s building that brand out, making that very clear and articulate that really well. The second one is investing in your own team, right across the organization, so they understand that and they’re consistently articulating that when they’re going out to meet your prospects and indeed your customers. Thirdly, develop a mechanism to what I call, “tune to the market.” You’ve got to keep listening to what those client’s problems are. They will change over time, and the quicker you are at adjusting to that and refining your message or even changing it, depending on the market demands, the more successful you’ll be and the faster you’ll grow.
Frances Fawcett: That’s a great summary. Thank you, Mark.
Mark Robinson: Thank you.
Frances Fawcett: You’ve been listening to one of a series of podcasts dedicated to sharing best practices for professional services organizations. These can be found on www.kimbleapps.com.