As a creative marketing professional you spend a lot of your time helping your clients develop and execute marketing plans and strategies. While most of our focus in on partnering with creative and marketing professionals, we also think a lot about how web and content strategy can help creatives market themselves effectively. Unfortunately, many marketers, because they are so focused on their clients marketing strategies, they fail to think about their own. Or, when they do, they instinctively import strategies that may work for their clients, but are out of place for marketing your services.
So let’s take a minute to redefine some of the terms we use all the time for our clients, and apply them to our own marketing strategies.
Marketing your creative practice can be daunting. Part of the struggle is knowing what to do, and what the best channels to promote your business are. But another challenge is simply educating yourself on all the options, tactics, and techniques out there. 10,000 voices are all selling the “secret” to sales success—who should you listen to?
In order to reduce some of the noise involved when researching your marketing options, allow me to bring some definition to the categories and terminology that you’ll hear as you give thought to a marketing strategy that fits your creative practice.
The Difference Between “Sales” and “Marketing”
The best place to start is to clarify the difference between “sales” and “marketing.” The term “sales” relates to the conversations you have once an opportunity arrives. “Marketing,” on the other hand refers to all the efforts you make that result in sales opportunities.
Sometimes, when creatives are struggling with lead generation, they imagine hiring a great salesperson would solve their problem. But since sales is different from marketing, looking to a great salesperson primarily for lead generation is a mistake. Failing to understand this important distinction is one reason why, when creatives hire salespeople, the results are so often so disappointing.
B2B Versus B2C
Having distinguished “sales” from “marketing,” let’s consider two very different marketing contexts: the difference between B2B (Business to Business) and B2C (Business to Consumer) marketing. While many of your clients may be in the B2C world, your creative business is definitely B2B.
When you focus on appropriate marketing techniques for B2B professional services, you can already clear away much of the chatter, and safely ignore certain channels. For example, automated advertising programs, which are essential for B2C marketing, are not likely a good fit for you.
Another example is your approach to search engine optimization (SEO). If you owned a B2C company you might very well need to invest in a highly researched, carefully managed, and actively analyzed search engine optimization campaign. But as a professional service, spending significant time or resources on SEO is misplaced. Of course, you should cover the basics (thoughtful meta title tags, keywords in “H1” titles, succinct meta description), but beyond that, SEO is not your main marketing driver.
The Essence of B2B Marketing
Having narrowed down our marketing landscape to B2B, this sector is still extremely wide. There are companies that offer B2B products, B2B technologies, B2B support, and more. All of which have marketing approaches that may or may not work across all these different sub areas. A creative practice falls within the sub area of B2B professional services.
And the fundamental approach to B2B professional services involves prospecting.
Prospecting for B2B Professional Services
Marketing a professional services company requires a much more personal and individualized approach than high volume B2C or product-based B2B. You have to identify your prospects and begin reaching out to them on a relational level. Now don’t get me wrong, this does not mean an absolutely individualized and custom approach for every person on your list. Effective prospecting does require some degree of scale with systems that allow you to process a significant number of prospects. Not B2C scale, but still you’ll likely need to target anywhere from 1,000-5,000 prospects for your professional services marketing program.
What Exactly is a “Prospect”
Since we’re defining terms, let’s define “prospect.” A prospect is anyone you add to your list, that fits the criteria of your ideal client. We use the term “prospect,” because until you reach out to them in some way, they are merely prospective contacts, because they have not yet shown any response to your marketing efforts.
If you’ve ever used a CRM (customer relationship management) system, all of your contacts start off being labeled as “leads.” But it’s helpful to distinguish between a “prospect” and a “lead.” Prospects don’t do anything to get on your list. You added them from your primary research. Prospects only become “leads” when they respond in some way to your efforts.
If “prospects” are the top of your marketing funnel, then the next level is when a prospect becomes a lead. And whereas you should have a few thousand prospects that you’re working with, your leads won’t likely get past the hundreds. But even managing hundreds of leads will require some kind of system.
For the early stages of prospecting you need a flexible system such as Google Sheets or AirTable, and only move prospects into a CRM (customer relationship management) system when they’ve engaged in some way, leading to their conversion from a “prospect” to “lead.”
Nurturing Your Leads
Once a prospect converts to a lead, you should have some way of nurturing these leads. In fact, one criteria you should have for changing a contact’s status from “prospect” to “lead” is that they have connected to you in some way that allows you to follow up with them. This could mean that they’ve followed you on Instagram, connected with you on LinkedIn, or signed up for an email newsletter or downloaded a piece of “gated content.” Since you now have access to them, you can nurture these leads by posting content, sending messages or emails, and engaging with them on social media. Since leads are measured in the hundreds and not the thousands, you can increase the personalization of your nurturing activity.
Marketing is All About Timing
Nurturing your leads is important because marketing has so much to do with timing. The likelihood that you just happen to find a prospect that’s ready to engage you at the very moment they first become a lead is quite small. So staying in touch, and keeping top of mind, when the time is right, is critical if you don’t want to waste all the effort you made to get them as a lead in the first place.
What Comes After “Leads”
Contacts move from “prospect” to “lead” based on some active response on their part to your efforts. “Leads,” convert to “opportunities” when they actually need your services and initiate a sales call. This article is on marketing terms and processes, but if you want a bit of advice on the sales process itself check out “How do you sell something as invisible as creativity?”
We’ve narrowed the big wide world of marketing down to a more manageable set of options and practices, and hopefully brought some clarity to the methods and the process of marketing a creative professional practice.