There’s a good amount of complexity to work through in understanding marketing automation (MA) for professional services firms— with countless products featuring a constantly-evolving array of capabilities and features. Small wonder that many firms are uncertain whether to embrace this technology, let alone know how to get the most results from it.

In this post, I’ll try to help you understand the market trends that are driving the interest in this technology, as well as some of the strategic ways it can help.

  1. Adoption of marketing automation is spreading.

The market for B2B marketing automation has grown quickly in recent years, and will likely continue doing so, as the data in Figure 1 suggest. This trend is clearly impacting professional services, as detailed in our most recent High Growth Study. For example, 84% of professional services firms regard MA as a part of their general strategy, and 22% of firms count the technology among their top priorities this year.

marketing automation software

Figure 1. Worldwide sales of marketing automation software, by enterprise size and total expenditure, 2014 – 2025 (USD Million) Source: Grand View Research

These trends underscore the importance that firms place on the ability of MA systems to help their business development efforts. MA is also ideally suited to increasing the visibility of one’s expertise — a key way to nurturing prospects and winning new clients.

  1. The technology’s rapidly increasing complexity is creating a knowledge gap.

The underlying technologies in MA software are growing more sophisticated (such as speech recognition, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics). In the process, MA platforms will add even more capabilities. This dynamic is creating a “knowledge gap” that many firms know they must address. In fact, 57% of the firms we surveyed plan to address this need by conducting additional training or using other resources. In contrast, firms that fail to close their knowledge gap will be less likely to get satisfying results from their MA investments.

  1. Coming soon: industry-focused MA platforms and apps.

As more vendors enter the MA space, competition will increase, and as a result, we anticipate the rollout of new systems and apps targeted at specific industries or niches. To name just two examples, Cosential’s MA system is designed specifically for AEC firms, while Higher Logic has purpose-built a platform for membership organizations. This specialization trend makes sense for developers who want to differentiate their products from a throng of competing products. Fortunately, it will also soon make it much easier for professional services firms to find tailored MA solutions for their own clients as well.

  1. The longer that firms take to embrace digital marketing, the further behind they will fall.

Marketing automation grew out of two interweaving trends: the digital transformation of communication in general, and the evolving expectations of buyers. With those factors as a backdrop, professional services firms that embrace digital techniques will be more likely to outperform others that do not.

Indeed, our research shows that the fastest-growing firms are significantly more likely to embrace digital marketing strategies, while others often find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. Among the latter group, marketing is likely to be cost more, be less effective and reach a narrower audience — deficits that serve as a drag on overall marketing performance, especially in highly competitive markets.

Marketing Automation Strategies

It’s one thing to recognize the market forces that are driving the growth of marketing automation — but even more intriguing are the ways the technology can help a firm accomplish many of its strategic marketing goals. Here are the 10 strategies that are most closely aligned with the needs of professional services.

  1. Bring in more new leads. Most MA systems are designed to develop new leads, often using a combination of SEO-optimized content, social media and guest posting to drive visibility.
  2. Improve how you qualify new leads. How can you tell which are your best leads? Most MA systems with CRM tools automatically score leads based on predetermined behavioral criteria.
  3. Be more effective in segmenting your database. MA platforms usually provide tools to automatically segment your list by demographic or behavioral criteria for better targeting and greater personalization.
  4. Nurture your leads into better opportunities. Professional services are not impulse purchases, so the ability of MA tools to manage “drip” campaigns automates much of your “middle-funnel” lead nurturing.
  5. Spot your sales-ready opportunities. MA solutions give you various ways to probe for interest, such as periodically sending out free consultation offers to increase your chances of getting a hit.
  6. Give your expertise more visibility. Marketing automation makes it far easier to use blog posts, webinars, social media and other channels to demonstrate your expertise to the right prospects at the right time.
  7. Boost client retention. Marketing automation addresses the on-and-off nature of client needs by automating many of the ongoing interactions you need to conduct until a prospect is ready to buy.
  8. Easily track metrics and optimize results. Modern MA platforms feature cross-channel integration to help you to track and optimize your strategies and improve your ROI.
  9. Improve your marketing team’s productivity. Although the initial set-up can be somewhat laborious, MA systems can greatly reduce the repetitive drudgery of marketing campaigns going forward.
  10. Save billable hours. By screening, qualifying and nurturing your leads in advance of their interactions with your billable professionals, you’ll save a lot of non-billable business development hours.

A Final Thought

Before long, marketing automation will be a standard part of all professional services marketing programs. When implemented properly, it can both personalize and scale your marketing efforts. In addition, it’s well-equipped to help you build prospects’ awareness of your firm and establish trust — which makes it a great match for any professional services firm.