Is your firm’s content an asset in the sales process for your firm’s services? In too many cases, I hear that the sales cycle is so long and multifaceted that it’s impossible to expect thought leadership content from actually having a noticeable impact.

If it’s not impacting, why are you doing it?

I think that absolutely, it’s important to develop content in a way that matches the way a firm’s clients buy. That, of course, depends on the product or service in question.

To see that, we might borrow language from consumer goods marketing, and consider “low-involvement” and “high involvement” goods.

Low-involvement goods include toothpaste, windshield wipers, light bulbs and other goods where the consumer can’t distinguish between offerings, and it doesn’t really matter to them. As long as the product is there, they’ll buy it to meet their need, and mostly on price. To quote one marketing guru – “I always buy the same kind of toothpaste. The one that says 99 cents.

Some firms are like this, particularly as regards to their commodity services. A commodity, in this case, means a service that is much like that of other firms. I talked about how marketers can help differentiate a commodity, in Post #80.

High involvement goods are big-ticket items, or items in which the owner invests in other ways. Among cyclists, for example, the choice of bicycle says a great deal about the cyclist – a city bike, touring bike, racer, trail bike or hybrid. So, even if they’re not paying much for the bike, they’ll think long and hard about what their choice says about them.

In professional firms, high-involvement services are services where the client thinks, “Getting this wrong could get me fired. So, I need to go with a firm that I can justify to be the safe choice.”

The sales (or buying) process for each type of service is different, and your firm’s content needs to support the process that the prospective client takes. Simply put, you need to sell in the way that your firm’s clients want to buy.

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Low involvement services: “help me learn how to buy”

Low involvement services are not “no-involvement.” The prospect is still paying attention. But their question isn’t “whether” to buy your firm’s services – in many cases, they need to buy so they can meet a regulatory requirement – but the question is “how” to buy.

In Post #56, “How you can attract buyers of your ‘me-too’ service (which I wrote in October 2016, long before ‘#metoo’ became a hashtag), I talked of the value of “how-to-work-with” content for building trust.

As an example: I recently worked with a client in the Buffalo area that does concrete testing, which is very much a commodity. The article, to be published in an engineering publication, talks about how to find out if a firm is qualified to do testing, from a regulatory point of view, and how to get the best results for them. It’s content specifically designed for late in the sales cycle, when a prospective client needs to know how to make a decision.

A firm that offers helpful content at this stage, may have an advantage when it comes to competing for the business. The good part is, that after a firm has proven itself at meeting the need, it may have a virtual lock on the business for some time to come, providing a recurring source of revenue.

You need to be sure that your firm is offering useful content at each point of the buyer’s journey, and how-to-work-with content is useful at the point that the client is shifting from “whether to buy” to “how to buy.”

High involvement services: “help me look good to my boss”

High involvement goods are generally pricey and bought only occasionally. It’s the same with services. One of my clients, for example, has been working on the same project for over a decade – preparing a disused uranium mine for “closure,” which is the process whereby the environmental issues are dealt with and the property can be turned back to nature.

This project is subject to significant regulatory oversight at two levels of government, and must be done right or the owners will be subject to regulatory sanction.

Prospective clients need information, but it’s different from the how-to-work-with level of low-involvement services.

Sometimes, they need to be told of a situation that they’re facing – such as a new regulation or law that your firm knows about. It might be rising awareness of the dangers of a particular material (asbestos, mercury) or about new regulations, perhaps on workplace noise levels.

Content strategy involves articles on news (it’s called “newsjacking”, covered here) that affects your clients. Getting it published in media they already rely on is one way to get it in front of them; the other is by publishing it on your own media and trusting to your SEO strategy and keywords to bring it to the first page of search results.

Once they are aware of the problem, prospective clients want to be sure that your firm has what it takes to make them look good. At one end, they want to avoid losing their job; at the other, to take the credit for a project that has exceeded expectations.

So, they need evidence that your firm is credible and respected, so that they can point out to that evidence to justify and defend their choice of your firm. So, thought leadership content – presented at senior-level conferences and published in credible journals – is important. Publishing in industry and trade media also helps.

The intended result isn’t always a sale

If you’re selling a commodity service, it can often be straightforward to determine when the sale is made, and then determine the factors that led to that sale. For example, if a prospective buyer clicks on a button saying “Have a representative to call me,” and then actually buys the service, it may be easy to trace that click back to the blog post they were reading.

But it’s not always that simple. So, marketers need to re-focus their definition of a “win” – so perhaps it’s a prospective client who agreed to sign up for the firm’s news blog, or registered for a webinar, or handed their business card to one of your firm’s speakers after their speech.

But in any case, your content needs to be designed not so much around what your firm wants to say, but what your ideal client wants to know about.