In the days of mainframe computing, there was a saying: “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” The machines produced by Big Blue (as it was called) might be pricey, but they had a reputation for reliability. Their salesmen (and they were nearly always men) wore blue pin-striped suits that matched their company’s logo. The company’s reputation meant that any executive could defend the decision to choose IBM over its competition. IBM was the safe choice.
That’s a great place to be. You want your firm’s people to “be the IBM” of their industry – the safe choice. How can you do that? As marketers, we don’t have much choice over what we market – in this case, we’re marketing the expertise of our firms’ fee-earners – but we do have a choice in how we present our firm to the market.
The key to success is demonstrating to potential clients that your firm’s people have the reputation, skills and in other ways, what it takes to be the safe choice in their area of expertise. There are four main ways to do that. Here they are.
Academic qualifications signal reliability
In many areas of professional practice, having the right academic qualifications are is a big part of being seen as a Qualified Person. Usually, this means a Masters degree, and having a PhD really helps a lot.
The big trend in this field is for online courses offered by a wide range of academic and commercial enterprises. For example, LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda) offers courses with a certificate at the end. I use these courses to stay up to date in my profession, and the fact that LinkedIn (usually, not always) can list them on my LinkedIn profile shows that I’m staying current.
Marketers can work with their client-service professionals to find out what skills and online courses would be reassuring to potential clients, and then support members of the firm in getting those qualifications.
From a marketer’s point of view, there’s not much we can do about making sure that all the people we’re marketing have the right academic diplomas on their wall. But we can make sure that those degrees are listed everywhere where it matters – on their CV or resume, their LinkedIn profile, in their official firm biography, and other places. Go further and see if they have published papers as a result of their degree. In many cases, these can be converted to PDF form and presented on their LinkedIn profile.
Academic qualifications are in many competitive situations a minimum standard to do the work, but it’s important to make sure those qualifications are shown to anyone considering hiring the firm’s people.
Professional qualifications open doors
In many jurisdictions, professional bodies are allowed to grant certifications, and from a legal and societal point of view, nobody can carry on those activities without holding those certifications. These apply in engineering, architecture, law and accounting – and increasingly in other disciplines as well, such as the geosciences.
Members need to gain the certification, and in many cases must also undergo a specified amount of continuing education each year.
These qualifications are like academic degrees in that they get someone in the door – one doesn’t get to sign off on engineering drawings without being a professional engineer, for example.
There’s an increasing trend towards corporations issuing their own certifications – Microsoft Certified Professional, for instance. Some of these certifications are worth more than others, but they have value if they’re able to show that a given professional is staying current with their skills.
Again, marketers can’t do much about who has or doesn’t have those qualifications, but they can be sure that those qualifications are listed where necessary. Marketers can also work with members of the firm to determine what certifications (a Project Management Professional – PMP – for example) might help catch the eye of potential clients.
Experiential qualifications add sizzle
If academic and professional qualifications form the price of admission to the race, it’s the experiential qualifications that add speed and strength in the race itself. It’s about listing difficult challenges faced and beaten, it’s about working on prestigious, high-profile jobs, and it’s about playing a leading role in those projects.
Marketers can add their greatest value here. This includes making sure that CVs are complete as regards project listings, and that they’re updated regularly and whenever a major project gets completed. Records should describe in detail what work each professional did on the project, and how the project was better because of that intervention.
Marketers can make sure that case studies are written in more than a dry, dull tone. Rather, they can be an interesting and fun read – on the three-part format of situation, solution, resolution. “Here’s the problem our client was facing, here’s what we did, and these are the benefits that our client received as a result of our work.”
Social proof: emerging, of growing importance
We’ve entered the world of the “influencer” – someone with a following on social media, whose views are trusted by their followers. I don’t think that the world of fashionista influencers has much sway over the award of contracts for municipal watermains or other professional projects.
But social proof is a big part of building awareness among potential clients, and also reassuring them. In my presentations on LinkedIn, I stress the importance of having a full profile that includes plenty of recommendations. They’re an important aspect of reassurance for a potential client.
I’ve been told by a couple of my clients that they found out about me through my social media profile. And, I expect, the volume of published articles, Twitter postings, LinkedIn updates, Facebook updates, my YouTube channel, my SlideShare channel and other online manifestations convince potential clients that at least I’m serious about my work.
Click here for ideas on how you can help your firm’s professionals generate content that persuades potential clients
Marketers can best help with this by amplifying the firm’s normal communications through social media. This is easy to automate – we use Hootsuite – but it’s an important part of reassurance these days. Marketers can also review the LinkedIn profiles of their firm members and see if there is any way they can be improved – by listing published articles and papers, by listing presentations they’ve given, and those all-important recommendations.
Combined, these four forms of qualifications go a long way to helping your firm’s members compete effectively.