Professional Services and the Sales Conversation
August 17, 2016 by Mel Telecican
10 min read
I decided to search online for accountants in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. I’m no website or SEO expert, but rather a person who happens to be looking (or more accurately, googling) for a new accountant. I personally chose to only look at the businesses in the top 5 with organic ranking. That is, those that are not paying to appear on the first page of the search results.
Being an advocate for CX (client experience) in professional services, I have a great interest in this on many levels so I thought I’d put my personal need for an accountant in Brisbane to broader use, and share my findings.
The objectives were to identify why they naturally sit so high in rank and most importantly, which firm would resonate with me, and the reasons why.
Websites are usually our first touch point when we are in the ‘awareness’ phase – the moment we identify a need for that specific service, followed by the ‘investigation’ phase. It doesn’t matter whether the business is a referral from a trusted source or not – typically we start the selection process by investigating our options online.
After investigating those businesses recommended to us in addition to those on the first page of the search, many of us will narrow the selection down to three. From there we might make enquiries or commit to booking an appointment.
While I am well aware that I am not the target market for each of the businesses I researched, I do however, have an opinion on what makes for a great homepage. Your business has only seconds to make a connection with the viewer in a way that gets them to spend more time there and to take that important step towards making an initial appointment with you.
I collated what I perceive to be working against some of the fifteen websites, and more importantly, working for them. I recorded my thoughts as I browsed the sites. Let’s start with what to avoid.
- Confusing homepages. I assume that these text heavy pages are to assist in raising the ranking of the site in relevant search results (SEO) but with so many sections to read, pages like these feel crowded and I don’t know where to start, let alone end.
- Push Marketing over Pull Marketing. There are calls to action, mostly directives to ‘contact us’, ‘get in touch’ and ‘call us’. Most of them saying they’re ‘here to help’ however only seven of the fifteen sites offered any additional information in exchange for contact details. All promising to deliver expert advice but with no evidence or ease of access.
- “Subscribe to our newsletter.” I believe this commonly-incorporated section is the least effective way to get people to subscribe. I’m all for a direct call-to-action but at the very least it’s a good idea to outline an amazing benefit they’ll get as a result of signing up.Try calling it something other than a ‘newsletter’ too; give it a name that says ‘I need this’ rather than encouraging what I call a big, hearty ‘newsletter yawn’.
- Content from the archives. It’s a good idea to keep past newsletters within a website for SEO purposes, but putting up a barrier by making people sign up to access them is unwise. Anything that is effectively old content (small in volume like a newsletter) should be readily accessible.
- Contradictory statements or imagery. Inconsistency and overuse of stock photography (licensed images as opposed to your own) can leave visitors confused. One such homepage contained images of a luxury sports car in a formal European setting followed by images of coastal Australian property, yet at the bottom of the page it read ‘Accountants with Soul’. When phrases used don’t connect with anything else on the page, the visitor to the site isn’t likely to feel a connection either.
- Carbon Copy Competitors. Many of the sites used very similar language. Take away the stock images and the logos and there doesn’t seem to be much difference between them. I understand that for businesses in the same market there will more than likely be overlapping content however cut-through comes when your home page site ‘speaks’ to your prospects. When a business uses the language of their clients, they are in a league of their own.
- Not having a mobile responsive site. I came across two sites with very valuable content that weren’t responsive to mobile devices. The 2016 Internet Trends Report suggests that searches on mobile devices has surpassed pc and laptop search. Not having a mobile responsive site is a surefire way to miss out on new clients.
What stands out when narrowing down a selection.
- Being Generous. Homepages with free knowledge and insights – blogs, videos, checklists, ebooks etc (one Brisbane firm even a offered an online course.). These free tools and tips go a long way in developing trust and credibility whilst meeting the initial needs of your potential clients.
- Win-Win Requests. Rather than calls-to-action such as “contact us to learn more” and requesting full contact details, “Find out how much you can save” and “Are You Paying Too Much Tax?” evoke a more positive response. Prospects are more likely to enter their information when they feel confident there is value in the exchange.
- Video. A Sydney firm had what they call their ‘Cultural Principles Film’. Being well positioned on their homepage meant I was drawn to watch it. Initially I thought I would grow tired of it and exit, but found myself very quickly immersed in their story. The employees of the firm talked of their work and home life; and the way they do things at the firm. The dialogue sounded unscripted and natural. It’s elegant delivery meant I perceive it as a high performing, top-end firm but one with it’s feet firmly on the ground.
- Options. Giving people the opportunity to book an appointment online is becoming increasingly valuable. One Sydney firm provided a simple booking platform and an alternative option – to ‘answer your question’ online. A gentler way to connect without creating a feeling of obligation but encouraging a step in their direction nevertheless.
- Testimonials. Most businesses have these however they are often buried deep within a website. Meaningful comments that talk to the common pain points of your target market and to the solution or result are better than empty praise. Place the best testimonial on the homepage.
- Reciprocity. Incorporating your business’ connection to a community group or charity breeds interest and speaks volumes about a business and it’s people. Chances are you already contribute in some way, so including a tab on your page with your involvement will give a ‘taste’ of the culture that exists within the business.
- Being Human. While some sites stated they offer personal service, one business in Brisbane put the focus on the team with an image of them all. The language used within the first page feels as though it’s from people who know how to communicate with non-accountants. Jargon-free and warm, friendly conversational language that feels like they are ‘the real deal’. I got this feeling because they ‘let me in’ by and talked to their strengths. The ‘same-old, same-old’ language found in most of the other sites is bolstered by the authentic feel of their personality.
Comparing the first point of contact of these businesses highlighted for me how easily we can get caught up in the professional image we think we should portray. In fact, I believe what has happened for many of these sites is that they are confusing client needs for industry expectations. Industry language is everywhere and while you may need it for keyword search, try peppering it with the personality of your firm and using language in a way that makes your client feel that their needs are understood.
If you and your team do things differently, bring focus to how you do that. When we read websites ourselves, we know we are reading advertising content. The imagery and copy included must connect with us in some way. Talking with your best clients and using the words they use to describe your business can be a good starting point to optimise this.
Your homepage content may be one of the key obstacles to more prospects not taking that next step to making contact with your firm. Do what it takes to make it easy for people to want to take that next step to make an appointment.