In my previous post on traditional vs digital marketing for professional services firms, we identified two distinct models for developing new business. In the traditional approach you meet people, often through referrals or networking, and develop a relationship. As people come to trust you, typically through repeated interactions over time, you are in a position to do work for them.

In the digital marketing model, people find you, typically through paid or organic search, social networking, or after reading something you've published online. They become familiar with your work and develop trust because they find your approach helpful. Work follows.

Both approaches involve a trusting relationship, but they get there in very different ways. One cues off of a personal relationship, the other off of sampling your work. In one you find the prospect, in the other they find you.

So which is better for your professional services firm, traditional or digital marketing? How do you find the right mix? Let's start by analyzing the strengths and limitations of each approach to developing new business.

Strengths of Traditional Marketing

  • Tried and true. People are comfortable and familiar with it.
  • Locally oriented
  • Built on face-to-face interactions so you can learn a lot about potential clients

Limitations of Traditional Marketing

  • Limited access to distant markets
  • Long business development cycles are common
  • Hard to scale without adding significant overhead (people and offices)
  • Hard to measure and project results

Strengths of Digital Marketing

  • Geography is less important. Can go national or global more easily
  • Very scalable
  • Costs per opportunity decrease with scale
  • Shorter business development cycles are possible
  • Easier to measure and project results

Limitations of Digital Marketing

  • Global reach equals global competition
  • No local familiarity
  • Need to invest over time to see success
  • No face-to-face contact to read the prospect or reassure

Finding the Right Balance for Your Firm

Let's start with the nature of your firm and your aspirations.The traditional approach to professional services marketing clearly favors locally oriented generalists. Digital marketing is much better suited to more narrowly focused specialists with larger aspirations. If you clearly fall into one camp or the other that can be an important consideration. 

If you love to write and share ideas or you are a gregarious extrovert, that could clearly impact your personal commitment to one approach or the other.

How about mixing the two approaches? This makes a lot of sense for a couple of practical reasons. First, if you line up the strengths and limitations of traditional vs. digital marketing you see almost a mirror image. The strength of one approach offsets the limitations of the other. Combining elements of both you can develop a balanced business development plan.

There is a second compelling reason to combine the two models. In our research on high growth, high value professional services firms, we found that the fastest growing, most profitable firms typically rely on some of each. Both average and high growth firms value networking and referrals about equally. The high growth firms differ in that they also place a very high priority on finding well defined target customers. They are also more likely to spend more aggressively on their online presence.


In addition to the previous post on traditional vs. digital marketing, you may want to check out a post on lead generating websites by Sean Mcvey. You'll find the research on high growth, high value professional services firms summarized here. Enjoy.