In professional services marketing, we still occasionally hear the ghostly echoes: “Cold calling – that’s the way we did it back in the day and we grew our businesses just fine.”

Well, sure. But this millennium is all about online lead generation and social media marketing. In fact, research shows that a firm getting 60% or more of its business leads from online sources is likely to be twice as profitable as firms who generate 20% of their leads online. Take a look:



And let’s take a look at growth rate:


This research, based on a study of over 500 professional services firms, tells a striking story. Getting 12% of your leads online will get you average growth (congratulations), but if 60% or more of your leads are coming from the web, you’re likely growing by leaps and bounds.

And just to be clear, here’s what we mean by “high growth.”


About 15X more growth than firms with “average growth.” Not too shabby.

Now let’s talk about what these firms are doing differently. Check this out:


The firms we studied were asked to rate the relative focus they put on a number of online tools. Across the board, high growth companies are much more focused on using online marketing techniques, particularly social media marketing.

And the focus paid off. Take a look at our next set of data. High growth firms rated every marketing tool higher in effectiveness than their average counterparts. The takeaway here is that there’s a direct correlation between what you put in and what you take out.


Let’s look closer at social media in particular. High growth firms put almost twice as much focus on Facebook and Twitter, and about a point and a half more emphasis on LinkedIn on our scale of 0-8. In practical terms, this pays off on our effectiveness scale by around two full points on each.

As for what we mean by effectiveness, let’s put it this way: social media and other online tools are how prospects research these days. Sure, there will always be referrals, formal references, and other traditional ways of finding out about firms who provide services. But those older methods are quickly taking a backseat to online searches and connections.

In another study, this one of over 1,000 buyers of professional services, we uncovered this trend:


References are in last place. Colleagues still provide significant input, but buyers are very interested in what the web can tell them about services firms. And, back to social media, here’s a look at the relative significance of those:



LinkedIn is by far the winner, as is fitting, given its focus on professional networking. But that’s not to say you should ignore Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or any others. Remember our high growth firms’ approaches. They focused more, across the board, on every online tool—and saw greater effectiveness from each of them than did their average counterparts.

What will pay off is putting forth a concerted effort, and being consistent. Posting, sharing content, or tweeting once a week won’t accomplish much. But if you come up with a strategy that regularly engages online audiences and connects you with others in your industry and in industries that you serve, you will see results. A good rule of thumb is to spend 10-20 minutes on each social media outlet everyday. This might seem like a big time investment, but if you split the effort among multiple staff members, it will be more than manageable—and well worth the expenditure.

Social media marketing works—and works even better as part of a concentrated online marketing effort. It may take some time to see results like those of our high growth firms, but if you stick to a strategy—partnering with marketing or analytics firms where necessary—you’ll be well on your way to more growth, more profit, and less time spent on last century’s cold calls.