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How can professional services firms adapt to changing client needs?

How should professional services businesses respond to well-informed clients with higher expectations who are looking to cut costs? Peter Carr provides some pointers

In a market with abundant choice and variable price points, the idea of brand loyalty only goes so far. Firms are expected to push themselves in front of their clients instead of waiting for clients to find them, because we all know that’s not how it works anymore.

People in the market for accounting and legal advice – most professional services clients, in fact – are so because they can’t do it by themselves. They want services at a price they feel is appropriate, which obviously varies from person to person, and this pushes their expectations of the service provider. Plus, savvy buyers, don’t care about allegiances anymore. Loyalty means little when another company charges 50% less for the same service. So how can your company adapt to the client’s changing needs?

Modern clients are self-interested

In the age of Google and social media, and in a somewhat anonymous market, there is pressure to build awareness of your brand. The need to make an impression at a glance is crucial when attention is divided by always-on advertising.

If you create educational and data-rich content that provides information a client can use – industry news, developments in technology, trends in specific sectors – then your firm is better remembered. If your content helps the client look knowledgeable in the eyes of colleagues or bosses, even shareholders, then capitalise upon their own self-interest.

The modern client doesn’t care about you or your work; only how you can support them and make them and their company look like leaders in the industry. The only problem is, clients are also increasingly self-reliant and can easily find this sort of data themselves, so you need to direct your own conclusions to the right people. 

Do this by creating marketing campaigns on the platforms you know they use, whether LinkedIn or direct email, just as long as it can specifically target decision-makers—they won’t search for you, so you’ll need to send your enticing and relevant content to them directly.

Clients expect more for less

In a world of more for less, it goes without saying that clients want to reduce their costs. A recent prediction from Accenture suggested that in five years, clients will pick service providers on the basis that they have artificial intelligence, for the simple reason that it makes services cheaper.

A traditional accounting firm, for example, working through books manually could take days or weeks to complete an audit. But an accounting and finance ‘company’ with machine learning programs could do it in a fraction of the time, and thus, a fraction of the price – this is because an accountant’s time is expensive, whereas a computer’s isn’t.

Therefore, you need to show that your firm can provide the best value for money. It might not be the cheapest – it doesn’t need to be. If you give genuinely valuable strategic advice, based on data-driven techniques then the client will pay attention. 

If you have technology which will help the client get things done more quickly, or more cost-effectively, then shout about it. This is what people want to hear about now – technology, innovation and data – and how it can help their firm get ahead of the competition. 

In terms of the service you can provide, clients also expect more for their money. To win repeat business, your firm needs to exceed these expectations. Unfortunately for the provider, they’ll also need it more quickly, and it must be customisable and personalised. 

Automation makes contacting clients easier and more personalised, so make sure the content you produce is relatable and can be personalised when sent via email – like subject lines and greetings – and on download links or otherwise.

Plus, now that most professional services firms are online, the client expects to be able to contact you at a moment’s notice. So moving into the future, you will need to invest in technology to make you and your information available 24-hours a day. A chatbot, for example, can be on-hand to relay information to a client, even in the middle of the night. It is an inexpensive version of ‘artificial intelligence’ and acts as another member of staff, albeit one that doesn’t ask for time off.

Loyalty is not a factor

Changes in our society as a whole have made loyalty a less important factor than ever before. For instance, 20-years ago we didn’t have a computer in our pockets, and Google has created an ease of discovery.

Accessibility to companies anywhere, at any time, combined with the straightforward process of comparing service providers, means the power is now in the hands of the people. 

To ensure your firm is noteworthy in a market that has so many similar options it must differentiate itself from the competition, to become an authority or thought leader in a specific area of expertise. You can do this by creating content – such as ‘how to’ videos, long reads, data-led infographics – to share with your target audience. By providing clients with information they can use and share with their clients or colleagues.

One thing is sure, there is no going back. Less certain is how future changes in technology will alter the client/provider relationship further. But by having a solid marketing plan, utilising technology to provide less expensive options, and by optimising the buyer journey, your firm can stand out from the crowd. 

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