• Susan Tatum

Alison Simons: Marketing for Professional Services

Updated: Aug 4

with Alison Simons, Founder - Simons Marketing



Professional Services require marketing just as much as any other business. Alison Simons is the founder of Simons Marketing, a firm that provides B2B focused marketing. Alison discusses the ways to market your services and retain both commodity and value clients. Marketing is a broad term in today’s business world, we narrow that down and decide what it really means and who it requires for a successful strategy.


Notes from the Show

Marketing means a lot of things, social media, advertising, PR, sales, and even data analysis. It’s a big umbrella term in which all these individual pieces work together. Today I talked with Alison Simons, Founder of Simons Marketing. The firm provides focused marketing for professional services.


Marketing is sophisticated and complex, and no one person can be in control of all of it. Alison stresses the importance of creating a marketing team handling the graphic design, copywriting, ad implementation, etc. When developing your marketing strategy, it’s important to identify the commodity clients and the value clients. You can provide the greatest service in the world but if the client doesn’t value it, they are not going to pay money for it.


Alison’s advice to provide services to these markets is to create choice. Clients love choice and clearly identified packages make choosing the service they need at a price they understand, makes the experience smooth for everyone. Determine what is your lowest viable client, what is the lowest viable package you provide someone before politely declining? Then teach your team to stick firm within those lines. Do not give away services for free, your agreement to the package is transparent and the client can always upgrade. This creates a clear, firm, comfortable environment for both staff and customers because everyone knows what to expect.


When creating your packages, be professional. They do not have to be public knowledge or include all the details on your website, however when you do present them to potential clients they need to be clean, clear, and understandable. Alison suggests getting graphic designers involved, creating easy to read graphics that include all the pieces and the price. This leaves no room for miscommunication.


Not only is marketing important for professional services to find clients, it also has a place in recruiting. All of the tools used to find the ideal clients can be used to find the right fit for an employee. Marketing and HR should really work together to recruit new employees. Right now, the world is in a “professional’s market”. There are tons of open spots available, just simply finding someone to fill it is not going to cut it. It’s imperative that you do the work to find an employee that is the perfect fit and will stick around. Retention is key to success. Different questions, needs, and cultures are going to apply to really really different groups of people.


You can find out more about Alison and her firm, Simons Marketing, on her website, LinkedIn, and Twitter.


What’s Inside:

  • What is marketing today?

  • Identifying commodity services and value services.

  • How to implement choice for commodity and value clients.

  • Can you use marketing for recruitment?

Transcribed by AI Susan Tatum 0:02

Hello and welcome back to stop the noise. I'm your host, Susan Tatum and today I'm talking with Alison Simons, who is the founder of Simons Marketing, which does ROI focus marketing for professional services. Welcome, Alison.


Alison Simons 0:16

Thanks, Susan. It's so great to be here.


Susan Tatum 0:18

It's good to have you here. You said something interesting. The first time we talked that. I want to hear a little more about you said marketing is a word that means a lot of things. I think I know what you mean. But let's let's talk about that.


Alison Simons 0:37

It's really true. People lump a lot of things into marketing. For some people, it's social media, sometimes it's advertising. Sometimes it's PR, sometimes it's sales. And really, it is all of those things. I think marketing is that umbrella term that really all of the activities fall under and marketing needs to take responsibility for having all those pieces work together toward the goals of the leaders of the organization.


Susan Tatum 1:40

Well, doesn't that make it awfully hard to be in charge of marketing, I mean, it's there's so many plates and things that you have to deal with?


Alison Simons 1:45

Yes, marketing today is sophisticated and complex. And really no one person can do all of those things. So it really does take a team of specialists. And I think that it's important to understand that so that if a firm is looking for one person to come in and be their marketing director, they need to understand that that person will need to be supported by a team, either internal or external. It's really unrealistic to think that the same person can be really good at graphic design, copywriting, video editing, social media management, SEO and online ads. That's just not the same person, each one of those areas of marketing is really complicated and changes rapidly over time. And so we need to give marketing the respect that it deserves and recognize that it's a team effort now and not one person.


Susan Tatum 2:35

I think the one that that you left off of that list was data analysis, because that's really is a different thing.


Alison Simons 2:42

Definitely. Yeah. And I think your strategist needs to be the person who can kind of do some of that digging and find those gems in, in all of it. Um, but you know, some of the people that are working around you can also be data miners, your SEO and online ad person should be able to use some of those tools like Google Analytics, a refs, or some of the other online tools to be showing you what's working and what's not, and what you can be working toward, compared with your competitors. And the goals that your firm is trying to reach compared with kind of what's happening in the marketplace.


Susan Tatum 3:14

That makes sense. So when we talked earlier, somehow the topic of commodity, commodities versus value came up? And I hadn't really, in most cases with professional services, not thought in terms of commodity or I know, we'd like to say we're not commodities. But there are certainly some some obvious circumstances where say, software has been able to take over what a professional service person might have done in the past. I mean, the one that comes to my mind is tax preparation, if it's not something that's complex, because the software is going to do most of that, right.


Alison Simons 3:51

Well, I know a lot of CPAs, who would disagree with you? And I really think it depends on the circumstance. So I think in professional services, we wouldn't have to say we're not commodities, if the market never perceived us that way. Or rather, we have to say we're not commodities, because the market often perceives us that way. And right, so what would happen in the case of tax production is look back at the past two years, look at how many tax laws have changed. Look at all of this federal funding that's come out, and who was it that was digesting that daily Updates out of the SBA? It was the CPA firms. Who was it that was helping businesses to apply for PPP loans? PRC, RRS, EIDL, the new alphabet soup it's just incredible. Um, and if you're talking about individual tax returns, there is some ease that software has brought to that and there are people who have maybe W2 earnings, own a home no rentals, you know, just kind of and have been steady other than those people may be well served by an online tax solution, but As soon as someone is say self employed, and has a rental property has investment portfolios that include K1, those people need advice. And that advice is now more complicated and leaves a lot of opportunities, but also a lot of lost opportunities on the table. If someone thinks they can go it alone or thinks that all tax providers are the same. When I work with CPA firms, I say it's really about selling the tax planning and understanding that the tax return is the result of the work that goes into figuring out all the tax laws.


Susan Tatum 5:30

So are there people out there I imagine that there are that everything that you said is absolutely I absolutely agree with it 100%. And I would never try to do my own taxes. Nor would I try to use a piece of software to do my own taxes. But I imagine there are people out there that are just looking for the cheapest price.


Alison Simons 5:49

Yes, there are, and, and you probably will never get them off that horse. And so as a firm, you need to decide if that person is someone that you want to take on as a client. If they don't value what you do, they won't want to pay for it. And and that could be okay. It's not a it's not a rhetorical question, do you want to take that person on, I think that there is a way to take that person on as a client. But it's going to mean that you're going to have to put some boundaries around it to tell them what they're getting, and what they're not going to get. Because I think sometimes these commodity buyers, do think that the software does it all or don't understand how many hours it took to digest all of the new regulations that came out and to properly apply them to your particular case, and your your individual tax return, and then the goals that you want to achieve. So it's okay to take on commodity buyers, but there's a right way to do it. And I think that firms can learn that.


Susan Tatum 6:45

So let me get a little free advice here. So in my business, which is basically we're solving pipeline problems, and filling pipelines helping our clients to fill pipelines primarily on LinkedIn, there are a gazillion people that do that claim to do the same thing now, although it's very, very different from what we do. Might see the same thing in copywriting. Right. A good copywriter is worth their weight and gold. But you've got so many people that are out there selling blog articles for 50 bucks a piece or something? So how would you then if you said, Okay, that's a lot of business that I don't want to let go. How, how can I handle both of them? How would I usually talking about building boundaries around things.


Alison Simons 7:52

So one of the most important things to do as part of your sales process is to identify that commodity buyer early so that you can not waste your time or their time going through the entire process of discovering what kind of value you can provide to them through your efforts and through your systems and service offerings. Because that's not what they're here for,


Susan Tatum 7:50

is that something marketing can do for you.


Alison Simons 7:52

Marketing is very good at Attracting and repelling, politely and respectfully. And that really happens through brand, a well defined brand is going to say, here's who should come through the door. If this is the here's, here's what we have to offer. And you should come through the door if you're looking for this. And so if you want to think about it on a retail level, you could say, Nordstrom and Walmart. Both of them sell a lot of the same clothing items. But when you walk through the door of Walmart or when you walk through the door of Nordstrom, you have very different expectations of what you will find. And that's okay, because you can choose which one you want based on your needs, your price point, your expectations of quality, the experience that you'd like to have, and you get to choose and those brands have been very consistent in telling you what they are and what they are not.


Susan Tatum 8:40

Right. So the the objective would be I imagine then don't spend one on one time with a commodity buyer or any more than you have to.


Alison Simons 8:50

Right. And so I advise clients and services firms across the board to create packages, because what you can do then is bundle your services and still give them choices. People like choices, even commodity buyers like choices. They think they're a good prospect. They think they will be a good client. It's not like they walk around thinking they're cheap. They just don't value what you do. They have money. They just don't want to spend it on your services. So when it comes down to is offering packages and basically deciding them among your group, what is your lowest viable client? Under what size client? Are you just going to say, No, thank you, you're not a good fit for us. And that's okay. Then decide on your your reasonable, smallest package. So if you brought up tax returns before, it could be that you have one tax planning meeting, they can call you twice throughout the year, and they have to be all of your, you have to provide all of their documents electronically, through your portal by a certain date. And their tax return is guaranteed to be, you know, done by a certain time. But it's, it's not going to be early and there's not really going to be a lot of information transfer about it, maybe you'll send them a video kind of telling them a few things, they have to E file, right, there are going to be some kind of like parameters you have to put around this, your next package up could be that the firm will proactively reach out if there are tax law updates that are applicable to them. But it will be an email, it's not going to be a phone call, we're not going to talk about the exact ways that it impacts you. Do you see how it kind of steps up and keep going? The trick is to make sure that you're teaching your team to only serve within the package.


Susan Tatum 10:37

So you can't do it. No more phone call no extra no one extra email?


Alison Simons 10:43

No. Do you have to say to the client, we absolutely can help you with that that's in this higher looks. Would you like to upgrade? And then they can say yes or no. Because what you're basically saying to them is you you chose what you wanted. If your circumstances have changed, we absolutely can continue to serve you and can definitely meet your needs, just not for the price that you told us that you were willing to pay.


Susan Tatum 11:07

How do you find your clients feel? Are they uncomfortable with doing that


Alison Simons 11:12

many of them are relieved because for years they have been giving away the value, or they have seen their profit margins dwindle. And the effort it takes, again, tax returns and these tax laws that have come through prices have not risen commensurately/comisorably with the effort that it takes to do these tax returns. And they are just really, really struggling. And the tax season is crazier than ever, which makes retention difficult. And they value their team members. They're their colleagues, and they want everyone to have a nice, comfortable work environment. And that's you can't do that if you're overloaded on underpaying commodity style clients for underpriced.


Susan Tatum 11:54

Well, it also you we when you create these packages, and you say stay inside these lines, you create a more comfortable situation for staff people to be able to say it's out of my hands, you know, I, these are our packages.


Alison Simons 12:07

Yes, yes, absolutely. So it's not like, Oh, I can't you know, I don't know, or it's it's not up to them. It's just business and everyone agreed to it upfront. It's transparent. It's fair. It's communicated. And in fact, you can post them on your website, so that you're again, attracting the types of clients that you want, and repelling the ones that you don't. And never spending time with them, which is fine.


Susan Tatum 12:30

Yeah. And you say and you your feeling is you can do both you can you can have the commodity products. And you can also offer value services.


Alison Simons 12:38

Yes, you can. Because not everyone is going to fit into your commodities. At some point, the individual or the company's needs become more complex than you can reasonably serve within an in the box.


Susan Tatum 12:51

Because they're growing.


Alison Simons 12:52

they're growing, they want more communication, they want to be able to call you at any time or their needs change rapidly. Or they just have really complex issues. And that's all great, and you can provide value, but they're going to be more likely to see the value in what you do.


Susan Tatum 13:12

But you wouldn't provide if I'm hearing you correctly, you wouldn't provide the commodity the package service as a an entry level. Not almost lost leader kind of a thing with the hopes that you're going to move them up because that would be kind of dumb. I mean, you're you're talking two different people, right?


Alison Simons 13:29

Oh, Susan, let's be kind. Yes, I think you're right there. They are two different kinds of people. So we're not doing this. Come on in the door. loss leader will upsell you later, because this commodity buyer does not value what you do. And so they're not going to value it later, we have to serve them profitably. From the first day, the problem that comes about if you keep taking on clients with that don't follow any sort of structure is that they keep asking for more. And then you see your realization rates go down, and you think they're one of your worst clients. And so you start treating them less well, you don't reply to their email as quickly when they call you don't answer you cut corners, or you don't do as proactive the job as you could with your higher paying clients. The challenge is, and this gets back to brand, those people that are being not served as well as you would like to think you serve your clients are out there saying that they're not getting served well. And so they're spreading that message, anyone who asks, oh, I work with this firm, but they're not. They take a long time to get back to me, with social media, with networking, with, you know, all the different ways that we can communicate with each other. The firm's marketing, the firm's branding, only goes so far, they have one voice, all of the clients absolutely overpower your messages, if their experiences with you don't align with the brand message.


Susan Tatum 15:07

And we do know that I haven't seen the the studies in a while but it was something like seven times, as many times people will complain about you, as will say good things about you. You know, you could also say the same thing would be true of legacy clients that have been around with you for a long time, and you have not wanted to raise your rates. Psychologically, the same things could happen couldn't it that you would be less inclined to jump on things for them?


Alison Simons 15:31

Yes, absolutely. You can do this with current clients. And you can also at the same time, make it your kind of any new person in the door policy. And so you can decide on your floor, the smallest client you'll take on, and then you need to make sure that your current clients abide by that as well. And there can be exceptions. But the leadership of the firm needs to understand and somehow in the system, not hold the team members accountable for lower realization on those but instead kind of apply some sort of discount in the system because you don't have team diversity, doing the wrong thing, because they need to meet the software's metrics. But yes, you can apply the same packages to your existing clients, just be ready for some of them to leave. And that's a win in my mind as well. Because again, we want to serve well, every client that the firm has


Susan Tatum 16:24

words of wisdom. Yeah. Because it goes against human nature a little bit, doesn't it? So with your clients? What percentage of them would you say you're offering both.


Alison Simons 16:33

I keep working on them. Half, half, I just haven't gotten into this yet. So to all of them provide value services. And I have convinced about half of them to create packages and be able to go to market and in this way.


Susan Tatum 16:49

And when they do that, and you so is putting it on the website, one of the first ways that you start selling it.


Alison Simons 16:55

You don't have to put your pricing on the site. But I do think it can be helpful when you have a service that is better aligned to commodity, it can be helpful to kind of say, here's how we work with clients. And to put out there kind of the idea that you can decide how much you want or even put some of the package details on the site. It doesn't doesn't have to be public information, but it should be professionally presented when it's presented. So get a graphic designer involved. Have your one sheet have the little checkboxes and the x's and the prices at the bottom. You know, we've all seen that. Like web hosting, or any of the kind of service


Susan Tatum 17:37

software, Yeah.


Alison Simons 17:38

Yeah, SAS kind of they all do that with the packages basic, premium. So


Susan Tatum 17:41

yeah, so why not professional services. Makes sense to me. So um, what are you seeing out there? Just the struggles in general with growing businesses and professional services businesses in this marketplace.


Alison Simons 17:57

One of the big problems now is recruiting, which is a whole other conversation that we can have. But I think that what it comes down to is really right sizing your client base. And understanding that you cannot push your existing team to match the growth that you're bringing on. And so because of that, you need to make sure that every new client that you bring on, has real potential and meets a pretty high bar, because they're taking a spot. And I also think that clients firms should be looking at their client phases, and really calling and making sure that the bottom flips out to make sure that there's space to bring in the new.


Susan Tatum 18:37

Yeah, so you because it's recruiting as well as retention is just as important as state the obvious is the coding part of it is, and if your clients are not happy, so you mentioned and I know we can have a whole another conversation about this, but now I want to talk about a little bit about this marketing's role in recruiting? I know you have a lot to say about that.


Alison Simons 18:58

I do, I think that the same tools in the marketing toolbox can be applied to recruiting in the way that they are used to get new clients. I think the website, social media, email, CRM, all of those tools can be used to find people who would be a good fit to work for you.


Susan Tatum 19:17

So is it kind of the I would, I would say the recruiters have been doing that for a while, and that they're doing outreach outreach for specific candidates that a company wants to work with them. So now, you're saying the so the recruiting aspect of it should take up equals equal amount on the website or equal effort on the website to attribute attracting and appealing to employees as it is, as it is to clients? Is that what you're saying?


Alison Simons 19:48

Well. I mean, the firms need to think about pulling their marketing person into what is traditionally been an HR role. And so the two should work together. Marketing should support HR in their efforts. So if you think about recruiters, recruiters are kind of like your sales team. And your marketing and your HR is like your marketing. So the idea is that your about page should be really brand, which is your external facing, what kinds of clients would you like, and then also culture, which is that vibe, though, what's it like to be here side of things, and then your careers should be a section, not just a page, because you have different audiences, if you need to recruit for college students, they have different questions, they have different immediate needs, and different things that are going to convince them that you're the right fit for them. There's also then the experienced professionals who have different questions who have a different set of needs, and we need to meet them where they are, and to express to them what the culture is what it has to offer. And then the candidate, the professional can decide if that would be an environment that they would feel comfortable working in.


Susan Tatum 21:03

If you've seen the the Amazon campaign that they're running now with the there must be like part time help or whatever that they're that they're looking for. I think it's brilliant, because they have the people, the potential candidate other potential employees saying what it is they want from the company like great benefits, or I want you to pay for my education. And then all Amazon does at the end it says that's yes, you can have that. And it would have been it just comes across so much better than this is what we'll do for you. I think, I guess well done.


Alison Simons 21:32

It's important to understand that it's a it's a professionals market right now. We think about it in terms of of home buying right buyers. I'm you know that there are a lot of open positions, and making sure that you wait to find the person who is going to be successful and stay retention, right is important for the firm, because turnover is challenging and expensive. And so just finding someone is not I don't think the right way to go.


Susan Tatum 22:02

Yeah, yeah. Well, Alison, thank you so much for being here. This has been really interesting. You gave me lots of new thought paths about Professional Services, deliveries, I guess we could say and it's been a pleasure talking with you. If some of the listeners want to follow up with you, what's the best way to do that?


Alison Simons 22:20

You can find us online that simonsmarketing.com and all of our contact information is there.


Susan Tatum 22:25

Alright. And you're probably on LinkedIn as well. Are you?


Alison Simons 22:27

Oh, yes. Oh, yes, LinkedIn and Twitter. And we'll see you out there.


Susan Tatum 22:32

All right, we'll take care.


Alison Simons 22:33

Thanks, Susan.


Susan Tatum 22:34

Bye bye.




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