Some professional services firms have a dedicated marketing team. Others don’t, relying instead on a combination of internal and outsourced resources. Either way, a firm’s leadership has to produce a comprehensive marketing plan to achieve future growth and profitability.

Of course, today when we say “marketing,” we are talking about a blend of traditional with digital techniques, with the balance of the emphasis on the latter. Many leaders find it challenging to build a full marketing strategy with just the right balance – and even more challenging to train teams on the ever changing landscape around digital. Here’s the good news: there are a few fundamental rules you can use to make better marketing decisions and build a strategy that outperforms average firms.

So here they are: the six digital marketing rules every leader needs to know to ensure impactful digital marketing training.

Rule #1. Know your audience

If you know Hinge, you know we love market research. Time and again, our own primary research shows a strong correlation between firms that conduct systematic research on their target audience and exceptional growth and profitability.

Why is this? When you conduct market research on a regular basis, you build a fundamental understanding of your target buyer behavior.

Without the benefit of research, firms run the very real risk of introducing bias and an internal agenda into their growth strategy. They become blind to the to their audience’s evolving challenges and needs. Clients and prospects see and experience things differently than we do, and a good strategy will go out of its way to overcome that limitation.

Research also reduces the risk of allocating your budget to the wrong set of tools and techniques. Data can be a powerful compass as you try to find your way through the fog of indecision — and allocate your marketing budget to activities your prospective clients actually care about. Without data, you’re just guessing.

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Rule #2. Don’t shy away from investing in digital marketing

Over the past four years, we’ve been busy researching what factors separate high-growth firms from their no-growth counterparts. We found that high-growth firms have consistently invested at least 10% more marketing effort on digital strategies, illustrated in the graph below.


That’s not to suggest that high-growth firms ignore traditional marketing altogether. Speaking engagements, partnership marketing and networking are all part of the marketing mix that catapults these firms to greater growth and profitability. The secret is in the mix.

High-growth firms recognize that most traditional marketing strategies have a digital counterpart. And the digital approaches often cost less (building a lead-generating website, for example, can cost less than a single conference sponsorship) and allow more targeted interactions. You can’t control who sits in the seats during your keynote address, but by ensuring your team has the right digital marketing training, you can use SEO, offer strategies and online thought leadership to influence who comes to your website.

Which brings us to the next digital marketing rule…

Rule #3. Build a cohesive system of techniques and tools

We hear it all the time, “I’ve blogged consistently over the last 2 years and have never received a bite.

If this sounds familiar, it may be because your strategy or execution is flawed, or both. How do you correct this problem? You’ll need to train your team to understand the dynamics of today’s digital marketing. Only then can they build a system that delivers consistent results.

Using the example I mentioned above, doing blogging without systematic keyword, link-building and optimization strategies will likely fail to reach your target audience. Without enticing offers in place, your readers won’t be encouraged to take the next step. And without a clear engagement strategy to turn readers into clients, you won’t get any meaningful return on your investment. You don’t want to be the ‘best-kept-secret’ in your industry, do you?

The illustration below is an example of a cohesive system. Notice that at each stage there is a system of tools and techniques specifically chosen to entice people to take another step down the pipeline. It’s repeated engagement — not the power of any one tool — that builds trust over time and turns visitors into clients.

But what marketing mix is most impactful? In our latest study on high-growth firms, we looked at the digital techniques that give high-growth firms positive return on their marketing efforts. It’s clear that these rapidly growing businesses have efficient marketing techniques at each stage of their funnels.

For instance, keyword research was the top-of-the-funnel technique that yielded the highest return on effort. In the middle of the funnel, webinars was the top performer. And case studies were the most powerful technique at the bottom of the funnel.

Rule #4. Do media outreach to extend your reach

One pattern we noticed in our analysis of high-growth firms was their tendency to pursue new audiences through some sort of media outreach. They were more than twice as likely to do guest interviews on outside podcasts, and 65% more likely to pursue strategic marketing partnerships with other organizations. Additionally, high-growth firms publish guest blogs more frequently. They’re able to publish two posts a month, while no-growth firms struggle to secure monthly publications.

By doing this type of media outreach, these rapidly growing businesses are able to access untapped markets, significantly increasing visibility and attracting more leads.

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Rule #5. Treat your website as one of the most important business development assets you have

At Hinge, we spend a lot of time analyzing, deconstructing and rebuilding websites. Why? In the world of professional services, a website can — and should — be one of your highest performing business development assets. Here are a few insights from our research:

  1. 80% of professional services buyers check out your website. Fair or not, this is often the first place we’re judged and vetted by our buyers.
  2. 87% of buyers have ruled out a professional service provider before even talking with them, underscoring the importance of communicating how your business can help target clients. If your website is the first line of defense, then the structure, messaging, imagery and thought leadership better quickly convey that you solve your prospects’ problems — or you risk leaving a lot of business on the table.
  3. 30% of professional services buyers rule out a firm because of an unimpressive website. Ouch! Painful, but true. And it’s why high growth firms place the same importance on their websites as they do on their flesh-and-blood business development team.

Rule #6. Expertise matters more today than ever before

We know from our research that expertise is one of the top criteria buyers use when evaluating firms. But how do they judge a firm’s expertise before they’ve worked with them? Slick brochures and pitch decks aren’t going to cut it. That’s where blogs, webinars, books and articles come in. The former sell, the latter educate. Taking a thought-leadership, education-first approach allows potential buyers to sample your expertise before taking the plunge. As they say, “a little knowledge goes a long way.”

And what about referrals? We already learned from our research (see #5 above) the extent to which referrals will judge firms on their website alone.

What factors increase the probability of getting those coveted referrals to actually take the next step and call? Our research shows that what we refer to as “Visible Expertise” trumps other factors. Visible Expertise refers to the simple notion of making your expertise well known in the marketplace. But not just any expertise. Expertise that matters to your audience. Expertise that can solve their problems.

What Factors Increase the Probability of Referrals?


Now is the perfect time to adjust course and ensure your firm is following these six marketing rules. Of course, to compete in an online world, your marketing staff will need up-to-date knowledge and skills. That’s why forward-thinking organizations provide ongoing digital marketing training for key personnel, including executives in charge of marketing. High-growth firms do it. Shouldn’t you?


Elizabeth Harr

How Hinge Can Help

Hinge has developed a comprehensive plan, The Visible Firm®  to help firms establish thought leaderships and grow. It is the leading marketing program for delivering greater visibility, growth and profits.

Additional Resources

  • Hinge University is designed to provide courses and training materials for marketing professionals and leaders at professional services firms. Start your free trial today!
  • Download a free copy of the Lead Generating Website Guide for a high-level overview of the Lead Generating Website concept
  • Our Social Media Guide for Professional Services is designed to give you everything you need to know to build a comprehensive social media strategy for your firm.