The Battle for Marketing Talent in Professional Services

The world of marketing is changing, and it’s happening faster than ever before. From its roots as a purely creative discipline, professional services marketing has rapidly evolved into a sophisticated science.

Today, the most successful professional services marketers draw on advances in behavioral science, ever more powerful technology platforms, and in-depth marketplace research to build visibility and generate new business for their firms. As a result, marketing efforts, which were once a cost center for firms, have become a pivotal driver of organic growth.

Marketing Drives Faster Growth and Higher Profits

Now, in any given corner of the professional services marketplace, the firm that gets its marketing right will win the day. That’s not inference or wishful thinking – our research shows that firms generating leads online, for example, grow faster.

Figure 1. Firm Growth and Online Lead Generation

A similar trend holds true for firms that conduct brand and marketplace research. More research equates directly with higher growth and higher profitability.

Figure 2. The Impact of Research on Firm Growth and Profitability

Quite simply, today’s most successful firms are the ones that leverage the marketing discipline’s latest understandings and technologies. That’s good news, right? There’s a clear path to success.

It is good news. But it also means there’s a new challenge ahead for firms that want to get ahead. In order to truly take advantage of all this new knowledge and technological capability, organizations are going to require brand new roles. They are going to have to cultivate a suite of essential new skills.

In other words, the battle for marketing talent has begun.

SEE ALSO: Why Managing Partners Don't Trust Their Marketing Departments and What to Do About It

The Skills You Will Need to Win

As firms attempt to modernize the skillset at their disposal and attract the best talent, one of their first challenges is identifying the specific skills that they need most. With this challenge in mind, let’s take a look at the most high-priority skills for a modern professional services marketing team.

The following skills all come together to create a sophisticated marketing strategy.

Analytics and Testing 

In the era of scientific marketing, analytics and testing are absolutely fundamental components of any strategy, allowing your firm to measure the results of your efforts and iterate to improve.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Your firm’s visibility online impacts your overall reputation, the number and quality of leads you generate, and much more. As a result, you need the skills to encourage greater visibility in search engines, and you need to ensure that these skills are truly up-to-date – in SEO, yesterday’s best practices can incur penalties from Google today.

Email Marketing and Lead Nurturing

Once you attract audiences to your firm’s website, expertise in lead nurturing is what will allow you to qualify leads and encourage them into closer and closer engagements. Email marketing is a key platform for nurturing leads, as well as sharing your content and staying connected to your audience.

Marketing Automation

One of the major drivers behind professional services marketing’s turn toward science is the development of technological solutions that dramatically change the day-to-day practice of marketing. Marketing automation software is a perfect example, coordinating large-scale, complex, and closely-targeted campaigns with ease.

Online Marketing for Professional Services Book

Content Marketing

Today, content marketing skills are absolutely necessary to showcase your firm’s problem-solving approach and particular expertise. Anyone can claim to be an expert in a given area, but content marketing allows you to prove it. Just as crucially, it serves as the engine of your online lead generation strategy, attracting visitors (and ultimately leads) for whom your services are relevant.

Public Relations

Public relations has always been important, but it’s taken on a new dimension in the age of content marketing. Firms have recognized the value of sharing their expertise through media partners, whether that means guest articles, quotes in newspapers, or appearances on TV. Public relations skills can help to coordinate and facilitate these appearances and synchronize them with other public activities to help guide your firm’s image and perceived authority.

Brand and Marketplace Research

As we’ve already discussed, research is another of the pillars of a scientific marketing approach, allowing your firm to make decisions based on objective data rather than opinions or fallible impressions. You’ll need talent with top research skills to understand the efficacy of your brand as well as needs, priorities, and opportunities in your marketplace.

Brand Strategy

Working from your research, your firm will require talent with expertise in brand strategy to chart a differentiated and growth-oriented path forward, ensuring that you’re taking steps to build the visibility of your brand and continually ensuring that it is aligned with your business needs, your unique capabilities and expertise, and the demands of the marketplace.

Web and Graphic Design

Though it is driven by science today, professional services marketing has not left creativity behind. Top web and graphic design talent will bring the ability to leverage analytics-driven best practices with compelling, modern design that communicates your brand attributes. They’ll also be skilled in the tenets of responsive design, ensuring that your website adapts smoothly to any device visitors use to view it, making for an attractive and intuitive mobile experience.


From the blog posts, ebook guides, and other educational materials that make up your content marketing strategy to the language of your website, collateral, and email messages, your strategy will not be effective without clear, compelling, and credible copywriting. You will need writing talent with the skills to make your copy understandable, relatable, and precise.

User Experience

Whether your site visitors use a phone, tablet, laptop, big screen TV, or some other device (perhaps a watch?), user experience is critical. It can make the difference between a successful referral, for example, and a wasted effort – our research shows that one of the top reasons firms rule out referrals is “unimpressive websites.” Like professional services marketing as a whole, user experience is a complex science, and you’ll need practitioners in this science to ensure that your online presence is effective.

Social Media (and Social Media Advertising)

Social media has grown to become one of the most important marketing channels for professional services firms, and you’ll need sophisticated social media skills to take advantage of it. Our research shows that social media is among the top ways buyers check out potential service providers, outstripping even traditional referrals.

That comes as no surprise – platforms like LinkedIn and communities like LinkedIn Groups have become vibrant centers of conversation in the world of professional services. The popularity of platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter also make them effective places to advertise, but you’ll need talent with expertise in the particulars of social media advertising.

Pay-Per-Click Advertising

Advertising online is yet another new science, and pay-per-click advertising can be a method to share your message with relevant audiences. Using this technique in a cost-effective way takes expertise in the field, however.

Experience with Content Management Systems (CMS)

In order to facilitate a vibrant new website for your firm, one that serves as a content-rich hub of educational material and social activity, you’ll need a robust content management system – as well as talent with the skills to use it effectively. WordPress, Drupal, and Expression Engine are a few of the most common CMS platforms – you’ll need someone with expertise in the software best suited to your firm’s needs.

How to Win the Battle for Marketing Talent

As you can see, a wide range of skills must come together to contribute to marketing success in the age of scientific marketing. For many professional services marketers this is a tough hill to climb. But it’s not simply a matter of technical skills.

As you develop talent, you must also strike a balance between domain expertise and technical skills. Professional services are different. A marketer who has spent their career in consumer products will, at best, have a steep learning curve. At worst, they can steer a firm in an ill-conceived direction with disastrous results. We’ve seen it happen too often.

This presents a challenge for a firm wanting to use marketing as a driver of strategic growth. How can a firm proceed?

Developing a Winning Talent Strategy

Generally, firms take one of three approaches to achieve this balance. They develop their internal resources, use external resources, or a mix of both. Our research shows how firms are utilizing these approaches in 2015:

Figure 3. Professional Services Marketing Approaches for 2015

Many firms attempt to hire people with the necessary skills, relying purely on internal resources. This can be effective, but there are two important caveats: this approach will generally require you to pay out higher salaries, and it may be somewhat difficult to find someone who is familiar with your firm, your strategy, or professional services more broadly.

As a supplement to this strategy, you can also provide training for your existing team, developing the necessary skills from within. The key is to make sure you have all the necessary skills covered.

As a second strategy you can seek  assistance from outside agencies that deliver all the requisite skillsets. About 13% of professional services firms plan to rely purely on such assistance in 2015.

The third, and most popular strategy (45% of firms), is to blend internal and external resources. This has the advantages of flexibility in that it allows you to have access to specialized talent on an as needed basis. The key to making it successful is to make sure you are using the right resource (either internal or external) at the right time.

Whichever approach your firm chooses to take, it’s important to make sure that you are leveraging a full complement of up-to-date, scientifically driven marketing talent. By building a marketing team well-versed in today’s most sophisticated techniques, you can give your firm the resources to grow and win.

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For more information on online marketing, download our book Online Marketing for Professional Services.

Lee Frederiksen, Ph.D. Who wears the boots in our office? That would be Lee, our managing partner, who suits up in a pair of cowboy boots every day and drives strategy and research for our clients. With a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, Lee is a former researcher and tenured professor at Virginia Tech, where he became a national authority on organizational behavior management and marketing. He left academia to start up and run three high-growth companies, including an $80 million runaway success story.

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