Sure, there are the perks, including the nice briefcase, flashy presentation, and ability to tell others what to do. But there are downsides.
Creating a great Web site isn't easy for knowledge-based consultants, such as accountants, financial experts, lawyers, project consultants, or even public relations professionals. What's to show? A 360-degree picture of your well-groomed staff? A close-up of your Phi Beta Kappa key? Screen shots of your client's big bonus after you helped her turn the company around?
Over the years, we've learned a lot about moving products on the Web (especially from eBay). We now know customers want as many details as possible. They want to see the product and to trust the seller.
Selling a service on the Web isn't much different. Prospective clients want to know as much as possible about your organization. They want a clear conceptual image of the final product. And they want to know they can trust your organization.
Consider the following for your Web site:
Add meat to case studies. Including case studies on your site is critical. Potential clients will be surprised if case studies aren't there. Use quantifiable results (forego phrases such as "greatly improved" and "significant increase"). Charts and graphs speak to CEOs.
Speaking of CEOs, be very careful quoting satisfied customers. Make sure testimonials are from the highest ranks in the organization. A testimonial from a project coordinator won't impress as much as a board chair, chief executive, or president.
Use third-party validation. Favorable articles from trade publications speak volumes. If you've got permission to post, make these pieces front and center. Don't be shy about highlighting particularly complimentary passages.
Reconsider white papers. White papers are supposed to show an organization's brain power. Unfortunately, most white papers I've downloaded are pointless. They're written by smart people afraid to give away too many company secrets. Unless you're willing to share real information with potential clients, don't bother with white papers.
Arbitrate industry news. Executives comb the Web for research on the competition and industry trends. Don't hide helpful information in cumbersome white papers or expensive special reports. Post industry-related information on your site, and keep it updated.
Offer samples. Take a cue from carpet and paint sellers that offer swatches to interested online customers. Let potential customers sign up for free 30-minute consults, online seminars, or other displays of your talents.
Answer email with email. Sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised. Don't assume the person emailing your organization prefers a phone call in return. The fact they're emailing suggests it's the communication medium of choice. Unscheduled phone calls from vendors are often viewed as interruptions. E-mail, on the other hand, can be read and responded to at the customer's convenience.
Think before you Webinar. Invitations to Webinars clog corporate email boxes across the country. Too many are offered to the wrong people. (I can't recall how many I receive. I usually can't get past the title.)
Only offer Webinars to the targeted audience most likely to commit to attending. Once you have interested attendees, build anticipation before the event by sending snippets of the knowledge they'll receive.
Be available. Show how committed you are to new clients. Some companies allow potential customers to text-message their sales agents.
Integrate your message with other collateral. Some customers still need to see, touch, and pass around your presentation pieces. Provide a printer-friendly (and attractive) version of key Web site information. Make it as simple as possible to order presentation pieces and videos online. Always update print collateral so it's well-integrated with your Web site (same look/feel and, more important, same message).
Pay attention to image. Does your customer expect you to look buttoned-up or have rolled-up shirtsleeves? How you depict team members is important. If customers expects a can-do team, take pictures of your staff working hard. Use language that implies the team is helpful and understands your client's pressures.
It's not always easy to market yourself, but as a consultant, it's your business. Wow those potential clients!
Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.