How do you play things in a buyer’s market in times of digitalization?
Digital transformation has had a massive impact on the way markets work. A seller’s market, which was about stimulating customer demand, is increasingly changing into a buyer’s market, in which the focus lies in answering a specific requirement. Before private households and companies consider a purchase or investment, they can obtain extensive information about the providers of products and services via the internet, with no limitations in terms of time or location. The selling of consulting services and know-how transfer must also face this reality. Steinbeis consultant Holger Hagenlocher knows from his own experience how best to achieve this. Hagenlocher summarizes the most important factors for TRANSFER magazine.
In addition to networking, maintaining personal contacts, public speaking, expert interviews, and client referrals as tried-and-tested factors of success, an increasingly important role when it comes to finding, acquiring and holding on to new clients is now played by digital communication.
Digital communication spans all legs of the customer journey of potential clients, and where that journey will go depends on touchpoints to the company. That also applies to the selling of consulting and transfer services.
Third-party consulting: advantages – and personal reservations
It’s therefore important to make it clear to potential customers from the outset how they stand to benefit from support from third-party consultants. An important advantage with external consultants is that they have specialist know-how and experience that was acquired elsewhere. In addition, third-party consultants come to companies with an open mind and are only paid temporarily for specific services.
Despite this, external consultants entail additional expenditures and smaller firms are particularly likely to shy away from them. It’s therefore important that they are aware that transferring theoretical knowledge into practical business settings is an intrinsic element of successful consulting processes. Acquiring know-how costs money, and possessing know-how is correspondingly valuable. This explains why consulting fees are not cheap, but applied sensibly, companies do stand to benefit in the long term.
A further obstacle may be that external consultants often struggle to gain acceptance. Not only are they expected to offer practical, quick-fire answers to different issues, but they are often not trusted within companies because of their methodical way of thinking, which is sometimes difficult to understand.
Personal reservations are expressed in a number of ways, with everything from “ivory tower” to “out of touch with reality.”
If you want to sell consulting services and knowledge transfer, you need to be aware of such obstacles. Ideally, reservations should be dealt with before the first meeting. Transparency regarding fees and examples of successfully completed projects establish trust and can ease personal misgivings regarding high costs or the concept that consulting can be removed from reality.
Using the right messaging to hit the right customer
Producing suitable content and posting it online requires a certain amount of consideration beforehand. It makes sense to check whether the products or services you offer and current forms of digital communication do enough to address the following: What are the core competencies of your consulting services and if necessary, what can you use to access a niche that would differentiate your portfolio from competitors? To answer this, it can also be helpful to look into the latest trends regarding wording.
Looking at things from a different angle may also unearth the possible needs of potential clients. After all, sales leads only continue on their digital journey if they find that answers provided online actually do match the customer need.
This is also why content creation should be based on the aforementioned considerations. Search engines are more likely to rank content highly if it’s particularly relevant to certain groups of users. On the other hand, it is becoming less and less important to optimize keywords.
Building key contact databases and turning the spotlight on customers
Using the right content also makes it possible to collect the contact details of potential leads, assuming, of course, you’ve considered data protection and the required consent of interested parties. Prospective customers can be offered the opportunity to download a case study, white paper, or success story by first registering with their contact details and agreeing to receive more information or newsletters. One should, however, always ensure customer needs remain the focus of subsequent mailings. To do this, it may be helpful to enroll professional help when creating text or graphics, for example from editors, graphical designers, or copywriters.
Adding structure with the PESO model
It’s important that your content is not only available on your website, in company newsletters, or through your own social media channels. A good way to manage content sharing and ensure it’s made accessible to potential customers is to use the PESO model, which stands for Paid, Earned, Shared, and Owned:
- Paid: Paid advertising, but also advertorials in magazines or on online portals. Since advertising is becoming less and less accepted, native advertising – i.e. digital versions of advertorials – is becoming more and more important.
- Earned: Journalists write about us, editorial offices use our press releases or articles, or influencers pick up on topics – without us even paying for it. This will, however, entail a great deal of effort and preparation.
- Shared: Content (paid, earned, or owned) is shared and discussed in social media and spreads virally. Messaging and information are distributed free of charge and reach people we have had no previous contact with.
- Owned: This refers to content we create ourselves and publish through our own communication channels.
The PESO concept adds structure to the digital communications used by consultants. Under certain circumstances, it may also pinpoint neglected areas that will need working on.
Social selling – Cold-Calling 2.0
Reaching out to customers with the tools of digital communication and online marketing is an excellent way to get in touch with people for the first time, pique their interest, and come into contact with potential customers you were previously unaware of. When it comes to consulting services, however, this is not enough to secure actual business. Ultimately, it will always be necessary to get in touch personally and offer some convincing selling arguments.
This personal approach should not, however, be confused with the kind of social selling that is so revered in social networks like LinkedIn or Xing, which is ultimately no more than cold calling translated into the setting of the internet. This is where field sales is transposed to a virtual space, or at least every now and again. Networking happens in online groups and cold calling takes the form of personal messages sent to prospective customers. This does, however, offer advantages versus the real world of analog business: It’s easier to research interesting contacts, and getting in touch with people of interest is easier. Also, ultimately a deleted message is much less likely to cause frustration than the disappointment of countless rejected phone calls.
The interplay between inbound and outbound communication
The inbound model of digital communication, which involves disseminating virtual stimuli and teasers to attract prospective sales leads, is certainly more refined and contemporary, but it requires a great deal of patience as well as a certain lead time to produce marketing collateral and optimize online offers.
Under certain circumstances, this lead time can cause financial bottlenecks, so preparations should be made and driven forward in parallel to ongoing activities.
This contrasts to the outbound model of social selling, which will probably result more quickly in face-to-face meetings. There is, however, a risk that there’s a gap in supply and demand, wasting unnecessary time and energy. Moreover, this active and forceful approach to selling does not always match the mentality of consultants.
As is often the case, the most effective option is to make good use of a whole host of individual measures. When selling consulting services, these are a mixture of proven offline methods, such as speeches at public events and personal networking, in combination with new digital methods.
Holger Hagenlocher (author)
Steinbeis Consulting Center Business Coaching (Stuttgart)