Why Professional Services Firms Need to Think Twice about Marketing Automation.

This article was originally published in the January / February issue of PSMG Magazine, www.psmg.co.uk/Magazine

Customer journeys in professional services firms differ vastly those from traditional B2B customer journeys and need a different approach, proposes James Darrall, responsible for business development at Concep, where he focuses on the application of digital marketing technology for professional services.

The benefits of relationship marketing in contrast to transactional marketing in the professional services space are clear. By focusing on building relationships and retaining clients to generate business through referrals, a firm will spend less on new client acquisition, foster brand loyalty and create new opportunities to cross-sell, maximizing customer lifetime value.  

In an ideal world, marketing teams would have highly accurate client segmentation and insights and the ability to deliver the right message, to the right person, at the right time, through the right channel - this is often the aim of marketing automation.

What is marketing automation?

Gartner defines marketing automation as: “The key to successful lead nurturing is delivering content that adds value and keeps your audience engaged. This can foster a strong brand preference in your prospects’ minds long before they’re actively engaged in a ‘buying process’.”

Challenges in implementing marketing automation in professional services

When it comes to true marketing automation and lead nurturing, the professional services world –  particularly the legal industry - has different requirements of other sectors who lean on eCommerce and technology to deliver services or products. This is partly down to the fact that the word "sales" is highly frowned upon but also because the "buyer journey" is not as clearly defined or consistent. Rarely will a prospective client visit a law firm's website, sign up to receive their content and have the same requirement for follow up content another prospective client.

“Send email X after Y days, if lead clicks on email X and visits our website”, is not something that drives sales in legal services because it's not a transactional industry.

When signing up to a law firm's content, what contacts want is to be continually updated on the latest developments in their world.

Automatically receiving an email created two months prior because they viewed your website will not add value to them, similarly what "pipeline phase" they are in does not impact their requirement for timely content.

What is content automation?

When signing up to legal content, what contacts want to know is "What new legislation has come into play and how does that impact my business?". Automating the delivery of such content ensures that it is both timely and relevant. Receiving updates on my industry as and when they happen and how they impact me will add value and help identify you as experts. This is content automation.

Challenges in implementing content automation

  1. Duplication of efforts

A challenge many firms face in achieving content automation is the duplication of efforts. Adding a new thought-leadership piece to your blog is one step but then having to manually copy and paste that into an email, format it, and send it out to a segmented lists based on preference for frequency and channel is complex and time consuming.

For this reason, many firms resort to sending firm-wide newsletters to clients and prospects that have signed up to receive content, neglecting the contacts preference for content, frequency and channel.

This can often lead to unsubscribes. Another frequent outcome is firms having highly segmented lists that are never contacted.

  1. Email fatigue

Firms that are emailing contacts with timely, relevant alerts based on contact preferences also face a challenge in email fatigue. For example, if I have signed up to receive content from your firm on 8 different subjects and as a result frequently receive 8 different emails I may begin to get frustrated and opt-out from your communications.

  1. Contact data quality

Firms need to know how to send content to their contacts based on their areas of interest, their preferred channel and the frequency with they wish to receive communications. This is a challenge for implementing any form of marketing automation programme.  The only way to manage this is to have a preference management solution in place. Ideally this will be integrated to your CRM and follow the relevant data protection legislation and best practices such as double-opt in, having password protection and being mobile responsive.

A good preference management solution will:

  • Provide better data integrity – allowing contacts to update their information whenever needed, resulting in less incorrect data in your CRM/databases.
  • Reduce the number of opt-outs/unsubscribed – users are in control of what content that they receive, therefore reducing the likelihood of opting out of all communications.
  • Increase engagement - ensuring that contacts are sent only relevant content which they signed up to receive. This means that users are more likely to engage with content which they have opted to receive.
  • Equip you with a better understanding of your audience – you will be able to see what users are most interested in and can tailor your content efforts accordingly.

What about lead scoring?

Understanding the "digital body language" and lead scoring of your prospective clients is powerful regardless of what industry you are in or the type of marketing automation you are implementing.

For a business development team to see that client X is highly engaged with content around topic Y is extremely relevant when it comes to facilitating cross-selling of services. Tracking opened emails, visited pages and submitted forms allows firms to build up this profile over time.  Rarely are firms able to visualise this in terms of overall engagement with a practice area - this is where digital marketing tech can help, but you need to understand what defines a good lead for you first.


In the professional services world true marketing automation is hard to implement due to it's transactional perception and reluctance for relationship owners to engage in "sales" and data management.

A more simplified approach that allows firms to deliver timely, relevant content to subscribed contacts is content automation. Whilst there are also challenges in trying to implement content automation there are easy to use, simple solutions out there that enable you to overcome these challenges whilst enabling lead scoring and supporting your firm in driving revenue.

However, before implementing such solutions the key is to ensure you are clear about what you are trying to achieve and why.