Stop Selling and Start Marketing

LinkedIn Article by Tim Williams 
December 10, 2013

This post is part of a series in which LinkedIn Influencers pick one big idea that will shape 2014. See all the ideas here.

If you’re the leader of a professional services firm and you’re cracking the whip to get your business development person to make more cold calls, 2014 is the year you should stop cracking. Outbound sales activities like cold calling have always produced only modest results, and today’s avoidance-enabling technology only makes it easier for prospects to hide from your phone calls and ignore your e-mails. Traditional new business prospecting methods are becoming less and less effective.

A better alternative

Management genius Peter Drucker preached, “The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous.” In other words, the goal of marketing is to make a product, service, or company so relevant and compelling that it literally sells itself.

If you think this is hyperbole, consider captivating products like the iPhone. Can you imagine ever seeing an iPhone salesman? Instead, zealous customers are lined up in front of Apple stores for hours.

If your firm would spend more time and energy developing and marketing a relevant, differentiated “product,” you could spend a lot less time and energy trying to sell it.

Your firm is not as differentiated as you think it is

Bain & Company asked company executives if they agreed with the statement “Our company is highly differentiated.” 80% said yes. But only 8% of customers agreed. This is “confirmation bias” in action, and it causes company executives to overlook the very foundation of a prosperous, profitable firm: a clear positioning strategy.

Firms with a compelling positioning strategy don’t just have prospective customers; they have followers and advocates. While this dynamic is readily apparent in the mass market (Starbucks, Apple, Porsche), it’s just as true in the world of professional services. When you’ve done the work necessary to build a company that has followers, you have a brand in demand. You have prospective customers who actively seek you out, rather than having to track them down with a direct sales effort.

In my years of consulting with advertising agencies, I’ve consistently observed that the more focused the firm, the less prospecting they have to do. In fact, the most focused firms of all do virtually no traditional sales prospecting. They do, however, invest an above-average amount of time marketing their brands.

Make it someone’s job

Unless you make this someone’s job, marketing the firm can easily fall into the realm of good intentions. Trade the money you might have spent on a “sales” professional and instead appoint the equivalent of a Chief Marketing Officer, whose responsibilities include such areas as:

* Insuring that the firm has a well-designed and engaging website, with the firm’s positioning strategy clearly showcased on the home page. Seeing that the website is constantly refreshed and updated with new information, examples, case studies, and current biographies.

* Developing and overseeing a content strategy based on thought leadership in your category, manifest in the form of a meaningful blog, white papers, online newsletter, or other forms of intellectual capital that demonstrate your firm’s expertise and provide useful information and insights to your current and prospective customers.

* Creating and maintaining an active social media program that serves as a content distribution network for the firm. This includes developing and maintaining profile pages for the firm and its key executives on the major social networks and actively sharing appropriate news, information, and insights on social networks. Regularly reading and posting to appropriate blogs and publications. Fostering relationships with relevant bloggers and online publishers.

* Sponsoring, publishing, and publicizing proprietary studies that highlight the firm’s expertise. Showcasing the firm’s intellectual capital on information-sharing sites like Slideshare and Scribd. Packaging up and branding individual services and products in a way that allows the firm to earn recurring revenues from its intellectual property.

* Overseeing an online search optimization program for the firm, including tagging content and identifying keywords to help optimize organic search.

* Telling the firm’s story via guest columns in the trade and business press, particularly publications read by target prospects. Actively identifying opportunities to publicize the firm’s intellectual capital by monitoring reporter queries using services like HARO.

* Actively seeking opportunities for key executives of the firm to speak and present at major conferences, contribute guest blog posts, or serve as interview sources for reporters and editors. Ensuring that the firm is well represented at major industry functions and events.

* Building and maintaining a permission-based list of prospects and influencers and sending appropriate periodic e-mailings (featuring useful information of interest to the prospect, not news about the firm).

* Measuring and refining the firm’s online presence and social media footprint using online analytics tools.

The late British adman Paul Arden advocated that you should “Give away everything you know, and more will come back to you.” This is an incredibly effective marketing approach for professional services firms, but it absolutely hinges on one thing: having a clear positioning strategy.

So as you wrestle with the question of how to attract more business in 2014, muster the courage to stop selling and instead do a better job of marketing, starting with a commitment to focus on what you do best. Remember, what professional services firms ultimately sell is expertise. You can be an expert in something, but you can’t be an expert in everything.