Four key challenges faced by professional services firms and how to solve them


B2B organisations have traditionally followed marketing trends set by B2C. The focus on user experience, personalisation, audience centric content and engagement activity all arguably started in the B2C space. But B2B organisations often have bigger challenges: more complex audience groups, longer buying cycles, and more internal stakeholders to consider.  

I’ve met countless professional services businesses over the years, including Magic Circle, Silver Circle, The Big Four, local and global, and despite every one saying ‘my business has unique challenges’ the reality is - they don’t. They may experiences specific issues, like websites not exporting data correctly, but they share common industry challenges. Challenges that their competitors are also struggling to solve. Challenges with no quick fix, but - with careful planning and, more importantly, a solid strategy - can be overcome.

Here are four of the key challenges faced by professional services, and ideas on how to solve them:

Challenge #1 - Strategy

If you don’t know who your ideal clients are, what their needs are, and what KPI’s and metrics to measure, then how will you know what success looks like? How will you be able to do anything effectively?

“You need to have a plan. It really is that simple.”

The right strategy will help you focus on the stuff that matters: the channels, audiences, sectors, content and measurements that will help you not only succeed but also get the most out of your budget.

But first you need to think beyond a ‘digital strategy’ and start considering a client experience strategy. Understanding how your potential clients interact with you on and offline, at every stage of the sales process, and how you can influence their journey using digital tools, is the key to success.

This doesn’t have to be a huge piece of work, but it’s one that you need to prioritise. Forget about the shiny new app, the mega campaign, the big new website build. Take a step back, research, plan and then execute. That is how you’ll win.

Challenge #2 - Understanding the client journey

In the past I’ve found that some firms say they have a strategy, but when I’ve dug deeper into their decisions it’s become clear that the client’s needs and journey have not been sufficiently understood. Instead the firm has relied on a single department’s internal assumptions.

“Understanding the client journey is a key aspect of building your strategy.”

This is not to say that Initial internal insight is unimportant. Make sure you gather this insight from multiple departments for a wider understanding, and that you include your business development and key account management teams. They speak to your clients on a daily basis and will often provide the ‘on the ground’ insight that delivers game-changing results.

Once you’ve collected these initial assumptions, you then need to validate them with real clients, either via telephone interviews or, ideally, face-to-face. Existing clients will have valuable insight and information; just make sure you’re asking the right questions: the ‘why’s’ and ‘why not’s’.

Talking to potential clients is also really important. They’ll help you understand why they’re not working with you and what you could be doing to serve their needs better. Are there tools that could help them in their day-to-day role? What content do they find useful? How and where should it be delivered?

If you’re running these interviews internally, create discussion guides to ensure you ask the same questions to every interviewee. Record the session where possible, and have two members of staff sit in per interview: one to lead the discussion, the other to take notes. You’ll get better quality insight working this way.

A word of warning: The results your internal teams get from clients will vary wildly from those gathered by a third party as clients will often hold back their true feelings out of politeness to you. This is obviously not a good thing. You want real feedback and insight - warts and all - so you can map their journey and their experiences, including the positives and the negatives.

Customer experience map.png


Challenge #3 - Content that works

This comes up so often in lots of different professional services firms:

“We’re creating content but it’s not getting any engagement.”

“Our content doesn’t generate the leads we need.”

“We don’t know what to create.”

Sound familiar? You’re not alone.

All of the firms I have spoken to have no problem creating content. They have plenty of experts talking about interesting topics, but it often seems unfocused or unstructured, and rarely tied to specific audience needs or business objectives. The 100 page insight report may ‘feel’ like the right thing to do, but how many of your prospects download it, read it and get in touch? Same with on-site video. It may look nice, but could that video budget be better spent elsewhere?

“Creating the right content starts with understanding audience need.”

Understanding what your audience needs, what they find valuable and what will make their lives easier, should inform your content planning. Unsurprisingly, this ties into understanding your client’s journey. Spend time looking through the client insight you’ve gathered. Don’t let ego get in the way (it happens to all of us!) and focus on the end goal - generating leads.

Bear in mind that content doesn’t just mean blog posts, reports and emails. It could also be a fee calculation tool to help improve the quality of your leads. It could be a programme of knowledge-share webinars or offline events supported by targeted social content. Or it could be a forum to discuss niche, complex, sector-specific issues.

To make sure you’re getting the most out of your content, you’ll need a robust measurement model. Downloads, visits, enquiries etc., should all be tracked and assigned a monetary value were possible. This can be difficult, but it will help you understand and map your cost per lead against your allowable marketing cost (of course, if you need a hand with this, we’re more than happy help). Attribution modelling and setting up the right KPI’s and metrics will also help you see what’s working, deliver the best ROI and make conversations with your finance director considerably easier!

Challenge #4 - A website that generates leads

The majority of professional services websites serve two purposes. The first is to house content - attracting clients or potential employees to your site. The second, and typically the primary purpose, is to generate leads.

A regular assumption is that you only need usability testing and conversion rate optimisation (CRO) for ecommerce sites, but that’s simply not the case. If your site is built to generate leads, you should really look into testing and optimisation.

“Usability testing can inform changes to your information architecture, page structure, and visitor paths, matching your client’s needs to your intended objective.”

Hotjar and Sessioncam let you view heat maps and watch website visitors as they navigate your site in real time (who needs reality TV?), allowing you to see the steps and journeys they take and quickly find the pain points or problem areas. Both tools provide conversion funnel mapping, so you quickly identify the most popular journeys taken by visitors. If you have the budget and time, you can also conduct moderated user sessions to see firsthand how existing or prospective clients interact with your site. You’ll be able to gather real insight there and then, rather than relying on data and video recordings.  

But what can you test? Well, the short answer is ‘everything’, but I would advise carefully considering your approach before you begin. Multivariate testing - where you test multiple variables at once (e.g. changing the colour of a box and the text inside) - is only effective if your website generates enough traffic to make the results statistically significant. A/B testing - where you test one variable at a time - is probably the better place to start.

I would also recommend starting small. One of the key tests involves your calls to action (CTAs). Test the location, message, colour and even size of your CTAs and see how it affects your rate of inbound enquiries. Then start optimising the rest: Page layouts, form length and colour palettes can all have an impact, as can imagery, page length and section headings. In short, there are lots of options so you’ll want to methodically explore them all.

Taking the time to continually improve and optimise your site will deliver a steady stream of incremental gains to your business.


How we can help

While not as shiny as the campaigns, the apps, the big reports and flashy video content, facing these four challenges will help move your business forward and make a real difference to your marketing efforts.

Here at Realise, we’ve been working with professional services firms for over twenty years and can help you plan and deliver solutions to any and all of these challenges, including:

  • Developing a strategy
  • Understanding and mapping your client journey, both on and offline
  • Mapping your content against your client journey
  • Continually testing and optimizing your website

If you would like a more detailed chat about the content covered in this article, get in touch with our New Business team using the form below.

If you would prefer to speak to someone directly, call us on 0207 749 3600. 

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Matt Deegan