- You are playing billiards.
- There are many balls on the table.
- Each ball requires a different approach.
- There are easier balls to pocket and harder balls to pocket. Focus on the easy ones first.
- And you should not try to convert multiple balls at once, because there is a high risk that none of them get pocketed.
For the typical player, the above guidelines should seem obvious to anyone who has played billiards before.
Yet when it comes to creating and distributing content, many professional services firms take the approach of randomly hitting the cue ball as hard as possible and hoping some ball goes into the pocket. Or said in marketing terms, many firms create a bunch of content and send it out to everyone, hoping that one of those recipients will find the content useful.
Here’s a better way: think of each ball on a billiards table as a potential audience for your content. While there are many balls that require different shots, you want to take your best shot so that at least one audience member converts.
That is how you should think about audiences and content strategy in a professional services context. Forget about most of the balls; think about the one ball that you need to address.
Defining an Audience: the Target Client
The first step in any professional services marketing strategy is defining a target client for your content.
Defining a target client is a struggle for many professional services firms because they think they have a large number of potential clients. However, upon digging deeper, it turns out that there are common threads among the firm’s existing clients.
For instance, let’s say your firm is a consulting practice serving healthcare organizations. To an outsider, that may seem like a fairly focused audience.
But it isn’t. Healthcare organizations could be large primary care practices, urgent care chains, mental health organizations, nursing homes, hospital groups. There are many types of healthcare organizations.
Moreover, there are many types of dynamics of a particular engagement: the actual services the professional services firm provides, the industry dynamics facing the client, the personalities of the client’s decision makers.
The questions I ask my clients are the following: which clients is the firm particularly successful at winning? And which clients is the firm particularly unsuccessful at winning? And why?
All sorts of color comes out from those conversations, such as in the following illustrative dialogue:
CONSULTING FIRM: “We provide consulting services to healthcare organizations.”
WHITEBOOT: “What types of organizations?”
CONSULTING FIRM: “Most of our clients are hospital groups, although we also have a small practice serving nursing homes.”
WHITEBOOT: “Ok, let’s focus on the hospital groups. What work do you do for them?”
CONSULTING FIRM: “We have a very strong practice helping hospitals manage their supplies procurement.”
WHITEBOOT: “Why do you win these engagements?”
CONSULTING FIRM: “We understand these organizations’ procurement challenges better than most boutique firms, and Big 4 consulting firms are too expensive. We also are very experienced in helping organizations integrate their purchasing operations following a merger.”
WHITEBOOT: “Do you serve smaller or larger hospital groups?”
CONSULTING FIRM: “Large organizations have more complex IT needs that we cannot service as well as Big 4 consulting organizations can, so we typically focus on mid-sized groups that have anywhere between 5-10 facilities.”
WHITEBOOT: “And who are the decision makers?”
CONSULTING FIRM: “Very often, the key decision maker is the chief strategy officer or an operations officer; however, procurement involves many different organizations within a hospital group, and so other stakeholders are involved. However, other stakeholders may not have working relationships with outside consulting firms. Interestingly enough, we do better when the healthcare organization has a chief strategy officer…almost all of our clients have one, but not all mid-sized healthcare groups do.”
Now we have the beginnings of a target client profile!
- Mid-sized, regional hospital groups
- IT challenges are not super-complicated
- Have a need to improve procurement practices
- Post-merger scenario especially relevant
- Has a chief strategy officer
Next step: Build the Buyer Persona
Identifying a specific target client isn’t enough, however. Why? Because people, not companies, select professional services firms.
That is why a marketing strategy needs personas. A persona captures the aspects of one or a few key decision makers that work at the target client.
Let’s say coming out of this target client exercise, the consulting firm focuses on the persona of a director of client care as one of the key stakeholders. The goal of the persona is to understand everything about this person – her background, her job, her values, and how she selects vendors.
Here is a sample persona, which IHI prepared for its marketing planning:
Notice that only some portions of this profile refer directly to how IHI can serve this persona. Why? Because if the goal is to provide value to someone with this persona, the consulting firm should understand all the ways that it can do so.
Now You Are Ready to Prepare Content
Once you identify a target client and a couple personas within that target client, now you are ready to start thinking about content strategy. Specifically:
- What are the key personal and business challenges this persona is facing?
- What is a comprehensive set of topics that this persona would find valuable?
- What are the topics that I as a professional services practitioner can provide valuable insight on?
Be aggressive about the types of content you provide to your target personas. Why? The broader you make your content, the more you come across as a strategic advisor as opposed to a point solution provider.
Finally, stay on target. Here are some practices to avoid or minimize:
- Writing content randomly without a target in mind.
- Having your content be too broadly targeted, making it valuable to no one.
Over time, you can grow more sophisticated in the numbers of personas you address. But at least initially, make sure all your content is highly relevant to one or two personas only. Staying targeted is the fastest way to strengthen relationships with the types of clients you know you can convert.