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Proving the value of digital in Professional Services firms

02.05.2019

Proving the value of digital in B2B Professional Services

At Ratio we are lucky enough to work with a number of leading Pro-services firms around the UK. We absolutely love to work with these organisations that, like us, have a bunch of extremely talented people passionate about what they do.

Whether the firm is in Law, Insurance or something in between though there are often common factors which create a gap between the love digital deserves and the love it actually gets from the organisation:

  • Digital Transformation is not just yet to happen, it’s unlikely to even be a medium term strategic objective – this means that digital is frequently not being used as a strategic enablement tool outside of marketing.
  • The nature of the pro services ‘product’ and its sales process means that most of the CX is shaped by offline interactions which form the firms natural focus. The role that digital can play in this CX is not well understood or bought into by the wider business.
  • A predominantly non digital CX means that good digital KPI’s are not obvious. Those digital KPI’s that are being used have little meaning to the wider business and are therefore not helping to persuade about the value digital is delivering.
  • CRM is unlikely to be well adopted and subsequently, it’s probably over Friday afternoon beers in the marketing team that the words ‘digital revenue attribution’ are most mentioned.
  • The product that digital helps to sell is the firms people, but those same people are time poor with many competing priorities outside of digital. Partners prefer to make another phone call or have another meeting rather than write another thought leadership piece.

These factors combined mean that digital does not receive the necessary investment to deliver all of the business impact it possibly can.
In all probability like our own customers your firm has not been at the bleeding edge of digital historically. But this does not have to be a status quo that holds into the future.
Disrupting this status quo in your own organisation means being able to win the wider business over to the value of digital and in doing so, winning additional investment to take its impact to the next level. Here are 4 key steps to make that happen:

Step 1: You must be able to define the roles only digital can play
This is a critical first step overlooked by many marketers but it is of particular importance in B2B Professional Services.

You need to reshape the belief system of your organisation by demonstrating the importance of digital in two – heavily interlinked - areas:

The role digital has played and can play in your CX

As acknowledged, relationships and non digital interactions are absolutely critical to the ability of your firm to acquire and retain its clients, However, it is a false dichotomy to say that relationships being key mean digital plays no little to no role in shaping the CX.

The reality is that every one of your clients will have a unique journey with your organisation. Much of it will indeed be offline. But many of those journeys at some point for some reason will touch your digital channels. In these moments of truth, digital needs to meet and exceed your clients expectations.

To be able to articulate, using evidence, the customer needs that only digital can serve and should serve, follow these four steps:

  • Get close to your customers
    As marketers we far too often fall into the trap of assuming who our audiences are, what their needs and frustrations are, etc. Being able to deliver a compelling digital CX means delivering on actual customer needs and not assumed ones. The only way you can uncover these needs is by getting close to the customer. You need to interview real customers about their experiences in order to get to the truth. How did they learn about your organisation? What steps did they take to get in touch? What did they like or dislike about their experience?
  • Build personas and mental models
    The beauty of digital is in its leverage. One product can be created that can simultaneously serve many users. This is also a pitfall however, as the experience delivered is generalised and not specific to each users context. While tailoring the experience 1:1 is unrealistic, a good middle ground is to define groups of your users with commonalities – personas – and work to deliver an experience that meets the needs of each persona.
  • Map their journeys
    Fully understanding how to deliver on the needs of each persona means putting that need in the context of their overall journey. What does the user know or not know at each stage? What are they trying to achieve? What touch points are they engaging with on what devices? Its important when you create these maps that they take into account the experiences that persona is having offline so they reflect the entire journey not a subset of it.
    Where possible, look to validate what you find with quantitative data. If you have a belief that users will get a partners contact details on their mobile by searching "<your organisation> <partners name>" can you prove it?
    These maps should cover the complete customer life cycle from awareness to retention and growth.
  • Conduct a capability gap analysis
    You should compare these customer needs at each journey step with the capability you actually provide digitally. It is likely that you are meeting some needs and not others and this analysis will provide you with a roadmap, backed by evidence, of required enhancements.


The role digital plays in achieving your firms strategic objectives
Interlinked with what your customers are trying to achieve at each step of these journey are outcomes your organisation is trying to achieve.

In determining what these outcomes are, it is critical you are led by your wider business strategy. This is for two reasons.

Firstly, the obvious one. When we work towards digital outcomes linked to business strategy we can be sure our effort is most efficiently spent.

Secondly, we need to illustrate the value we are delivering in terms that will be persuasive to non marketers. This means being able to demonstrate the causal link between digital capability you want more money invested in and business objectives those non marketers are also working towards or KPId on. In other words, you need to speak in the businesses terms to the wider business.

You need to create a set of digital objectives explicitly linked to the overall business objectives, in a way that non digital stakeholders will appreciate. That is, the link is self evident.

For example, if your firm is trying to scale its headcount, some of your digital objectives should be supporting talent acquisition. This could be to communicate your positioning as an employer of choice and persuade top talent to choose you over your competitors. Or it could be to create more awareness amongst relevant applicants.

Step 2: You must be able to track, measure and communicate the delivery of that value
Articulating how digital meets customer needs and creates value by supporting business objectives is not enough by itself. You need to take the next step by having a set of KPIs in place that demonstrate how much of that value has actually been created. This is not as good as a revenue figure but a close second best.

Many firms we start to work with do not have such a set of KPIs in place. Stuck at measuring and communicating metrics like impressions, bounce rate, open rate and visit numbers it is unsurprising that the wider business are not bought into the role digital plays.

The main problem with the aforementioned metrics is that in general, they have no relationship to meeting user needs or achieving organisational objectives. The fact that one of those metrics goes up or down will do little to quantify the value digital has delivered. Because of this, they are unconvincing representations of the value of digital.

If your objective is creating awareness & reinforcing credibility and your use thought leadership to do so, bad KPI’s would be bounce rate, pageviews, etc. If those metrics were to go up or down, could you say you definitely achieved more or less of your objective? The relationship is not strong enough to do so.

While the concepts of ‘increased awareness’ and ‘reinforced credibility’ are subjective (and difficult to measure), you should still aim to select KPI’s which can be linked as closely as possible to those outcomes. For example, rather than bounce rate (which tells us nothing about the value a user got from a page), measure the percentage that read to the bottom of an article. Or the percentage that came back later to view services content.

It is likely that for many of these KPI’s you select, at least as they relate to the website, you will not be able to track them out of the box in an analytics product. However with a little work almost anything is possible.

Step 3: You must take meaningful steps towards offline attribution
However good these KPI’s are, the holy grail in demonstrating digital value is in the attribution of your activities to the acquisition, retention or growth of client relationships aka revenue.

Even where you don’t have good enough offline data (eg no CRM) to do this automatically, you should aim to create a model, accepted by the business, which can give indicative figures. There are few circumstances where this is not possible.

Direct attribution
If you are fortunate enough to have a CRM widely adopted your attribution will of course be more accurate. To do it you will need to tie together your anonymised website visitor records with the CRM records of real individuals by capturing a value for the user in your analytics system that uniquely identifies the customer in your CRM. This could be a client id, email address, CRM record number, or something similar.

There are multiple ways to achieve this, for example:

  • When a form submission occurs (whether an email signup or a enquiry form submission) populating the users email address or some id for the form submission
  • Driving users from email to your website and populating a unique identifier in the website URL to be picked up in your analytics tool
  • Using third party data services

With this in place, you can join your CRM data with your Analytics data and understand what channels and website touch points were engaged with by a named user.

Most analytics tools will allow also data from the CRM to be passed back or manually uploaded at a later date for use in analysis – for example when a deal is closed, the revenue or profit made, etc

Creating a model

Even if your CRM exists as a bunch of little black books used by your relationship managers, all is not lost in your revenue attribution ambition. A set of reasonable assumptions (forming a model) can be used. For this model to be accepted by the business, you should build it with as strong a basis in evidence as possible.

Consider the example of a law firm where users explore specialisms and then click through to people profiles where they click mail:to links, telephone links or vcard downloads. The law firm are tracking these user interactions in their analytics product – like which people profile the click happened on and a timestamp as to when it happened. The law firms analytics tool also captures information about the company that owns the users IP address – often times this is the company the user works for.

If a report were exported combining these pieces of information, the law firms marketing team could speak to the lawyer who's profile was clicked and ask:

  • Did they get contacted by someone from that organisation at that time
  • Was it an existing relationship or a new one
  • What was the outcome

By doing enough of this ‘manual attribution’, the law firm could start to make reasoned assumptions about the real world outcomes of a user engaging with CTAs anonymously.

Step 4: You must democratise digital and use it to empower teams outside of marketing

Your efforts to create strong digital journeys are not the extent of the role digital can play in that customers journey.

Acknowledging that most of the customer journey will take place offline, digital should be used to empower these teams to have better more effective conversations.

One way to achieve this is by providing business intelligence as to the behaviour of specific users and organisations. Has an identified user been exploring a particular specialism or reading a particular thought leadership piece? Has an organisation you’re negotiating with been visiting particular pieces of content? Being able to provide this intelligence empowers client/prospect facing teams to better grow accounts and close deals.

Lead scoring is another tactic which can help those teams more efficiently prioritise their resources by helping them to invest the most effort at the most appropriate time, when the prospect is most qualified.

The bottom line
The fact that digital is generally unheralded in pro services firms is not a reflection of the value it does or can be bringing to those firms.

The challenge of pro services marketers then is in being able to unambiguously demonstrate this value to the wider organisation. It means having a clear understanding of how the ways in which the website creates this value and hard numbers to back it up.

In a firm where relationships will always be key, digital needs to act as a strategic enablement tool for the wider business to maximise its possible impact.