How Prospects Read Content from Accounting Firms Season 1, Episode 4

Jay Baron:  This is the Marketing First podcast. As usual, I am your main man, Jay Baron with Madtown.

Rusty Hall: and Rusty Hall, long-time lead engagement professional.

Jay Baron:  All right, and we are going to continue this theme of content, but to be honest I am getting tired of talking about content, but so many firms suck at it.

Rusty Hall: You’ve got to keep hammering the point home, right? Somebody’s going to get it eventually.

Jay Baron:  Right. Today we’re going to talk about, actually, mapping your buyer’s journey to your content, and this is something a lot of firms really struggle with. They understand why their prospects buy from them, but they don’t understand how they actually buy from them.

Rusty Hall: That goes back to a lot of firms haven’t been tracking this historically.

Jay Baron:  Right.

Rusty Hall: They can’t look back down the path and be like, how did somebody come in and what were the assets that brought them in, got them interested, got them engaged and made them convert. A lot of them just don’t think about it that way.

Jay Baron:  Most of them don’t even think about how prospects use their website. They don’t think about the type of content they’re actually consuming. I think a lot of firms are stuck in this referral mode only where they’re thinking, “Oh, Mike referred this prospect, so it doesn’t really matter what’s on our website.” I read a stat, interestingly enough, is it’s over 50 percent of referrals actually rule out a firm without actually reaching out to them.

Rusty Hall: Yeah, that’s because they’re not thinking about what does that first contact look like, right? Where does this guy come in and what’s he interested in at the point when he hits my website, what does he want to read and how do I deliver him stuff that’s relevant to his particular stage in the buying cycle.

Jay Baron:  Right. I’m just glad we got a refill on our beer.

Rusty Hall: We did. We’re actually doing some Revolver Blood and Honey here, here at the pub this afternoon while we podcast.

Jay Baron:  Again.

Rusty Hall: Again.

Jay Baron:  That’s exactly it. A lot of firms have this referral mindset only and beyond referrals, another interesting stat I read from the Bloom Group, they did a study around content, thought leadership, within consulting firms. 70 percent of consulting firms where the thought leadership is at least important, some importance, high importance, or greatest importance when picking a vendor. So behind your referrals is actually your content strategy is second most important aspect of when prospects become a client.

Rusty Hall: Referrals are great. Obviously you’re going to have a great win rate with referrals, but you can improve even that. You can improve your conversion even on referrals if you’ve got the right content at the right stage to give to them.

Jay Baron:  I think that’s what’s important. Obviously we’re more focused on thought leadership actually bringing in new leads, but it’s as important to remember that referrals read content as well. Before a referral reaches out to your firm, I guarantee the first thing they did was actually go to your website and actually rad your content.

Rusty Hall: That’s also why it’s important to understand an actual buyer’s journey, because when you do get that referral, he’s going to be a little more educated than the new lead you’ve generated.

Jay Baron:  Qualified.

Rusty Hall: Yeah, he’s already qualified, so how do you know what content he’s going to need at the moment he comes in, ’cause he’s already midway through your funnel.

Jay Baron:  Maybe we can dive in a little bit to how firms are actually handling the buyer’s journey. I think a lot of firms have this idea that everybody starts at the home page, and then … think about how a website navigation is built out for accounting firms. It’s the home page, then there’s the about us page, then the services page, then it’s contact us. I think a lot of firms are under this impression that, “Well, that’s just how people navigate our website. They go to the homepage, then the about us, services, and bam a lead’s born.”

Rusty Hall: That’s because it’s their firm, it’s their website. They designed it.

Jay Baron:  I think it’s just that a lot of firms don’t think about how people navigate their website when they’re building it.

Rusty Hall: True.

Jay Baron:  Where do leads actually come from? We’re finding a lot of firms, not even firms, just websites in general, is firms are prospects, actually. They start with your thought leadership, your content. They actually start in that attract stage. There’s three stages that we outline that a prospect comes in and that you need to be creating content around is: they’re aware. They’re aware that they have a problem, basically. They’re doing Google searches around it. They’re interest. They’re interested in pur … and really solving that problem. Then there’s evaluating, so they’re evaluating solutions. You really need to create content around those three stages of the buyer’s journey. That’s where a lot of firms … they’re not creating content around any of them, they’re assuming that everyone comes to the homepage. What’s really happening is your site prospects are starting that aware stage, which is your blog content.

Rusty Hall: That’s the other thing that a lot of people don’t think about. You get silo’d in this stuff. We have a blog page, so we need to write blogs, or we have white paper page so we need to write white papers. They don’t ever take the time to step back and look, how does this content play into this journey and where do I have holes and where do I have gaps versus let’s just create a blog because we need blogs.

Jay Baron:  Let’s talk about how this buyer’s journey works within an accounting firm. Let’s start with the aware stage. This is that first step. Again, the prospects are aware they have a problem. They’re probably not ready to solve or fix that problem, but they’re just doing research and they’re Googling around their problems. That aware content’s for that early stage prospect. Again, they know they have a problem, they’re definitely not interested in reaching out to your firm, at this stage, at least. They’re maybe interested in a newsletter or something like that. In this type of content really consists around articles, blog posts, info graphics. Could even be a podcast like this or potentially short videos and things like that, explainer videos that really attract people because that aware stage is about bringing people in organically from that search engine.

Rusty Hall: It is. It’s really about that content that you put in those. There are the most popular formats for that. It’s the content that you put into that, how deep and how heavy is that content that you’re going to do. Maybe it is a podcast that requires a little investment to download and listen to. At the same time, if what you’re giving them is like, “We understand your problem and here’s who we are.” Like a very high level educational view, that’s still awareness content, regardless of the format.

Jay Baron:  Sure. This awareness content is another big aspect of that, that a lot of firms don’t understand. Again, this is just understanding how prospects buy from accounting firms. There is this mindset that, “Oh, they just go from the blog post to the homepage, then they follow that typical buyer’s journey of blog post, home, about us, services, contact us.” Again, that’s not how it works. Somebody in the awareness stages, they’re not ready to make a decision or buy right now. They could spend weeks or months within this stage consuming content from different sources.

Rusty Hall: Yeah, and to your point, it’s not rare, but less common now-a-days for somebody to come in on your home page. Most of the time they find out about you through an adwords campaign, or social media, or they’re referred to, “Hey read this great article by … xyz accounting firm.” So they don’t even come in on that homepage, they come in on a resource page of sorts and you have to be aware of, if you’ve got an article that’s out there crushing it, you gotta be aware of where in the buyer’s journey that is, so you know how to handle these people that are coming into that piece of content.

Jay Baron:  I think that’s a great point. Firms actually look at how prospects buy and when they actually fill out a contact us form. What we’re seeing in analytics is a lot of prospects actually spend time scrolling through the blog on that visit before they fill out the contact us form. I’ve seen visitors where they click next page on the blog and next page on the blog and next page, and they go through pages and pages of blog content before they ever fill out that contact us form. This can happen in on visit, this can happen over weeks, it can happen over months before they ever really even do anything.

Rusty Hall: Yeah, again because these guys are doing research. Wouldn’t you think? This is the stage where everybody’s doing all their due diligence and some of their research and just trying to get an idea of, “Hey, I’m aware of my problem. Are these guys aware of the same problem and what kind of success … is it worth my time to go deeper into what they have to offer.”

Jay Baron:  So, if you’re creating this awareness content, I think the next question is: How do we get people to that next step? You’re doing a few things, obviously. One, you’re linking other content that is either awareness content within your blog post. So you’re linking out … if somebody’s still in the awareness stage, you’re sending them to more awareness content. You’re also sending them to some interest content, because you want to say, “Hey, if this process is moving down the funnel, here’s some other maybe deeper thought leadership that we’re creating to lead you further down that funnel,” of that interest stage. That interest stage is when they’re starting to become interested in solving their problem.

Rusty Hall: You may have, in my experience, at least from what I’ve seen most of the time, you’ve got a pretty vast library of awareness content. It’s pretty diverse, right?

Jay Baron:  Hopefully, anyways.

Rusty Hall: Well, maybe if you’re lucky, you’re heavy on your awareness stage. As Jay said, we’re trying to get them into that interest phase where we’re getting a little more targeted. Just by the nature of that being more targeted, you’re going to be less content, but more in depth than you would in the awareness phase.

Jay Baron:  The interest phase is really … What’s going to happen is the prospect’s interested in solving their problem. Actually, at this point, I think they would hopefully sign up for your newsletter, potentially, to get more of that content. They’re starting to read content around some of your white papers. They might be actually listening to some of your webinars and things like that. Where that’s going to be really important. Where they’re consuming more of that content that actually helps them make a decision as, “Okay, I want to solve this problems, how can I actually solve it.” That’s what that other content’s actually doing for you.

Rusty Hall: I’ll ask you the question, Jay. To me, the way I’ve always seen this is, interest phase is where you actually start getting names and emails, right …

Jay Baron:  Yep.

Rusty Hall: … before you start doing a lot of your lead generation …

Jay Baron:  Sure.

Rusty Hall: … would you say you’ve kinda seen that in past cases?

Jay Baron:  Yeah. Sometimes, but not always. A prospect can stay anonymous through the whole buyer’s journey.

Rusty Hall: True

Jay Baron:  That does happen, where a prospect won’t reach out until they’ve gone through awareness, interest, and they’re evaluating firms. You’d hope that a lot of prospects … the problem is that so many firms do so poorly at actually bringing in leads in these two early stages. They’re so focused on that late stage, they have consultations all over the place. They don’t really understand how to bring in leads through this awareness/interest stage. This is where this kinda helps you map out this buyer’s journey. You can start figuring out awareness stage contact. What can I do to try to drive a lead? This entrance stage content. What can I do to drive a lead? Do I need to create certain white papers, are there webinars we can create? Things like that where we can actually start driving leads. It doesn’t mean we’re driving leads and getting the conversation, it means we’re nurturing that prospect through the different stages.

Rusty Hall: That makes total sense. To your point, a lot of firms don’t understand that early lead development stage, that early side of the funnel. It’s just consultation all over the place.

Jay Baron:  Yep.

Rusty Hall: Somebody will click the consultation button.

Jay Baron:  Unfortunately that’s all it is. That’s what every account firm thinks they need to do is just spam contact us and consultation all over their website and they’re going to start generating leads. It just doesn’t work like that. It’s the mindset of somebody’s at your website is already interested. That’s not how that works. Prospects can spend months within each stage here. You can speed that up if you do really good calls to action, if you actually map this out. Another way to think of it is the larger the client, and we know firms want bigger clients, the more they spend within each stage. The smaller clients, yeah. The small clients are going, “Home, about us, services, contact us.” The bigger clients who actually pay really well, they’re spending months and potentially even years going through this process of evaluating a firm before the pull the trigger.

Rusty Hall: I guess that’s true. One of the things that this really solves once you get this journey mapped out is you can increase and influence the velocity of those deals, right?

Jay Baron:  Yep.

Rusty Hall: You can get people … maybe you would have closed it anyway, but you can increase the velocity and close that thing a lot faster if you understand where in the journey that particular prospect is at what time.

Jay Baron:  That’s actually a great point as well. If a lead, let’s say they’re in the awareness stage, fills out your newsletter, you can actually watch what they’re doing at your website. You’ll see the two big phases where people are actually really navigating the website is during the last two stages. You can actually say, “Hey, this prospect is actually reading a lot of our interest type content where they’re showing they’re getting closer to a buying cycle.” You’ll see that consumption taking place within your analytics. You can actually then start saying, “Let’s try to send them evaluating content.” Which would be the last stage where the prospects actually … so they’re aware they have a problem, they have an interest in solving it, and now they’re actually evaluating solutions. They’re actually starting to short list firms to determine, “Who do I actually want to work with to actually help me solve this problem?”

Rusty Hall: This evaluating stage is really key where you’ve got your contact that compares you to competition in the industry. This is where you want to be hitting those prospects with pieces of content that really define you and your firm versus your closes competitors. That’s really what we’re talking about in evaluating.

Jay Baron:  This would be something like evaluation tools. This would be your case study content. Again, that’s not necessarily gated, but you can gauge interest based on if someone’s actually reading that content. If you have any RY tool and things like that. Even, thinking about the main website, evaluating is, they’re looking at your people. Who’s actually going to help me solve my problem. A lot of larger firms have very specific experts within different industries and services where you can actually start to figure out, “Hey, if this person’s actually looking to try to determine who would I actually work with, who would help me solve this problem?” You can start figuring out when prospects are in this evaluation stage.

Rusty Hall: Which is great because then you can send directed content. If you have a leading expert that works for your particular firm that speaks to the particular problem of this prospect in that evaluation stage. That’s really where you can double down and be like, “Hey, you’ll be working under some expert leadership…”

We just got food here. As Jay said earlier, we record at a local pub. It’s around lunch-o-clock and we’re about two beers in.

Jay Baron:  I’m hungry man. I’ve got a fry in my mouth right now.

Rusty Hall: He’s already got a fry going, Landmark burger on the table.

That’s really where you really start to be able to say, “Hey, here’s our expert in this particular issue, and you’re in the evaluation stage, don’t you want to be working with us because we’re the experts in the problem that you have?”

Jay Baron:  That’s a great point. Let’s take a look at … We’ve gone through the different stages, the type of content you need to create. You need to be interlinking this content. I can’t say this enough because so many firms don’t do this, you’re interlinking awareness contact with awareness content, but you’re also interlinking with it to the next stage, of that interest level. Then you’re interlinking the interest level with other interest level content. Then you’re also interlinking it to that evaluation stage. What you’re trying to do is, what I call is carrots.

You’re trying to say, “Hey, you’re in this awareness stage now,” but I want to dangle this carrot, this offer in front of you, to move you to that next stage. So if you’re in awareness, “Hey, I have this white paper that will walk you through how to solve your problem.” Download this, let’s send you to that next stage. When they’re in that stage, again you’re dangling that carrot in front of them as, “Hey, check out our case studies.” “Hey, check out the people you would work with to solve this problem.” You’re always dangling those carrots to lead them to that next stage in the buying cycle with your content.

Rusty Hall: The idea is we are trying to push people through this buyer’s journey. This funnel, if you will. One of the things that I always like to look at is, in each stage of the buyer’s journey, what’s the question that somebody’s going to be left with.

Jay Baron:  Right.

Rusty Hall: If I’ve gone through your awareness content, I’ve still got more specific questions that I’ve refined, so I’m interested, I’m going to go through there. What questions do I leave in the interest stage that only you can answer by sending the prospect into the next step of the buyer’s journey? You have to think about, after I’ve consumed this content from this stage, what questions do I still have and how do I make sure that I answer those questions in the next stage of the buyer’s journey?

Jay Baron:  Getting started, the first thing firms need to do is really do a content audit. They need to actually look at what actually exists. I think a lot of firms are going to find is, they’re heavy in one of the areas. I see a lot of firms, they’re heavy in the evaluation stage. They have case studies and things like that, but they don’t have any mid-level interest content, or their awareness content. Or they’re extremely heavy in the awareness content, but they have nothing else. They’re blogging regularly, but they don’t have anything else beside consultation to lead them into the funnel.

Rusty Hall: This is enlightening. I love it when I get to sit and watch a company do this with their content because it’s frustrating, but it’s also so fun to see. I should post somewhere in this article on our podcast site, there’s a good breakdown out there on what you’re trying to do on each stage, and it will help define as you’re doing your content audit. What you have, and where you need to silo it out and where it goes.

Jay Baron:  What we’re seeing is firms need to have a good ratio. I think a good ratio, if you can have 50-60 percent of your awareness content exist … again, that’s the content that’s bringing people to your website. They have a problem, again, they’re just searching around it. If you can get 30 percent of that interest stage content. If you’re getting 60 percent awareness, 30 percent interest content, you’re moving people down the funnel. Then probably 10 percent of your remaining content is that evaluating content. Those tools, those case studies, things like that. You need a big bucket to pull people in, and then the funnel get smaller as they go down. I think the reverse happens. I see a lot of firms, they have 40-50 percent evaluating content, and then they don’t have anything else that really exists.

Rusty Hall: That’s true. I love the way you’ve broken it out here by percentage, too. If I can nerd out for a minute.

Jay Baron:  Nerd away.

Rusty Hall: The other nice thing you keep seeing about this is obviously, like we were talking about earlier, your awareness content, you usually have the most of it, right? You’ve got that 60-30-10 percent rule going on. That means all your content is weighted. The interaction that you’ll have on the awareness content may not carry as much weight as it does when you get down the funnel. Maybe you don’t have a whole lot of that late stage interest content, but it’s so much more heavily weighted. I’ve done it even from a marketing automation standpoint where you use tools for where you do actual product scoring, and we keep track of scoring and all that. From a consumption standpoint, you don’t have to go that in depth to it. Just know, as you’re creating this content, that maybe you have less in the interest stage, but the weight that you’re going to apply to it is a lot greater than that awareness content.

Jay Baron:  That’s important to talk about is, again in the awareness stage, people can spend months in each stage, but they might not come back to your website. They might read awareness, they might come back three months later because they did a search and they found you again. In those other two stages, especially in interest and evaluating is, they might be on your website regularly. That’s what we’re talking about. Firms are so weak in these areas, yet when you look at how a prospect interacts, they’re really heavy on their website during that research phase. They’re determining am I gong to shortlist this company, yet firms have no content around that area.

Rusty Hall: True. How to differentiate myself from their shortlist.

Jay Baron:  I think lastly is really mapping calls to action to each of these stages. I see so many firms that are stuck in this consultation mindset only, and they really need to realize there are so many different types of calls to action they can have. Obviously the newsletter is important in those early stage prospects. Things like MuseMinded is a great example. They have a needs assessment. They have a five minute needs assessment you can fill out on their website. Then they use that to actually get back to you. Instead of a consultation, you can do that. I see a lot of firms that specialize in dental or physician practices actually offer their document for a benchmark, so that dental practice can fill out that word document and actually see where they’re at, benchmark their own firm.

I see Holden Moss CPA, they have this thing called Awesome 8. They actually do an Awesome 8 scoring, so you can actually see where you are at within their own awesome 8 process, which is a great differentiator. You can fill that form out and it’s actually not a consultation. Where there are so many different options for firms to use with calls to action.

Rusty Hall: It’s great because it gives prospects an option to, maybe they’re not ready to talk directly, because that’s too much pressure disorder, but it gives them the chance to go ahead and see where they’re at. Self evaluation kind of thing. It’s a little but lighter in exchange for them. They’re not investing as much as a full consultation. You, as the firm, also get all that information back so you can further target, like Jay said, our goal is to move these people from one stage to the next. That’s a great way to do it.

Jay Baron:  I think lastly, it’s important for firms to understand, how firms are built right now, or I should say, how their websites are built, it really reinforces that yearly tax type mindset. Firms that want to transition to advisory and consulting services, need to invest the time to mapping out the buyer’s journey and actually creating real thought leadership. Because those people that are looking for that more consulting advisory approach, are looking for that type of expert, and that’s why this buyer’s journey is so critical to mapping out.

Rusty Hall: Agreed. Especially in the consultative space, people want someone that’s gonna hold their hand and be there. It’s the ultimate touchy-feely always top of mind kind of thing. You’ve gotta make sure that you have the content to support that transition into a true consultative mindset, rather than just a do my numbers for me.

Jay Baron:  Right. That’s what we’re trying to hit home is get away from thinking that the buyer’s journey is just home, about us, services, contact us. It’s not. You should be aiming for 50-70 percent of your traffic coming from that awareness stage content that you’re creating. From there, you’re just strategically linking people to each stage of the funnel. Some of this is done on site, some of this is done through email marketing as someone who signed up for your newsletter and things like that, but you’re leading prospects through that buyer’s journey, and you need to have content for each stage that really makes sense.

Rusty Hall: You touched on email marketing. One of the things that I, as an email marketer, have done in the past, is always make sure that’s how we divide it up. To the point where we’ll have emails that live in content libraries, and that how we do it. We do it by buyer’s journey. This is email content that is specific to awareness, this is specific to interest. That’s just how we build out our repositories of emails that we’re going to use to nurture people.

Jay Baron:  That’s great. I think maybe it’s kind of … I don’t know if you have any other points …

Rusty Hall: I’ve got one more point. I want people to remember the percentages you laid out. The 60-30-10. Even though it’s not exact, I think it’s a great ratio to go off of. 60 percent awareness, 30 percent interest, and 10 percent evaluation.

Jay Baron:  Yep. 60 percent’s your blog content, it’s your articles and things like that, that you’re creating. Again, you’re bringing people from the search engine to your website. The interest is for those people doing research around their problem. They’re trying to actually solve it and make a decision. That’s going to be your white papers, your eBooks, even your webinars and potentially even events and things like that. Even podcasting. It’s a higher commitment level. Lastly is that evaluating stage. You need those case studies. That’s your about us page and things like that where prospects are really evaluating your firm to determine if they should determine if they should reach out. They might have reached out … evaluating as well, isn’t … even all these stages, evaluating or research isn’t always online. It can be offline as well. It could be they reached out and they want to learn more or they want an actual proposal during that evaluating stage. If you go back and you look at those stages, and you look at your website, if you have this mapped out, I guarantee you’ll see having your research and evaluating during those stages.

Rusty Hall: Yep. Good points all.

Jay Baron:  Awesome. I think the other thing is, if you guys are struggling with this, we do have a digital marketing assessment. It literally takes 30 minutes, you fill out a questionnaire. We’ll reach back out, well have a conversation to help you … let you know where there’s problems in your buyer’s journey.

Rusty Hall: Smart dudes like Jay and I will review it and get back to you and help walk you through this. Help figure out where you’re weak and where we can help.

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