Don’t make prospects call you. They might not. Instead, look to challenge a few traditional A/E/C Marketing conventions with strategy, new site functions, and useful content that will motivate them to become your prospect, instead of a lurker.
This might sound like a simple premise, but the answer to one question can make a tremendous difference in your firm’s ability to transform your website from just another branding resource into a lead-generating, business development platform. That question is, “What actions do I want a person who visits my website to take?” The reason that this question is so important is because of the implications it provides for clarifying your content strategy and improving your lead-generation process:
1) Who do I want visiting my website?
2) What kind of content should I create for them? and
3) What do I want them to do, once they get to my website?
What actions do we want visitors to take?
We regularly discuss how to determine who you should target and how to go about conducting the buyer persona research necessary to build out an effective inbound marketing program, but what’s most often missed is a clear plan for the critical calls-to-actions that your website needs in order to transform a prospective developer, marketer or consultant, into a lead. Furthermore, when an active lead revisits your website, how can you help nurture or advance them to a stage where they are reaching out to you to discuss a new project? If you’re not providing the functional components for them to take any action and engage, your lead-generation will suffer.
What are Calls-to-Actions and what are they good for?
A call-to-action (CTA) is literally an “invitation” (a link) for a user to take an action on your website with the expectation that the user will get something valuable in exchange. An action could be to subscribe, click, download, follow, or share your content. A CTA drives any user-driven step that brings them closer into your sales funnel. CTA’s take the form of banners that are static or slide in; anchor text links, forms, icons or buttons that tell the user what to do.
BLT Architecture uses simple share icons to expand user engagement.
CTA’s help the user accomplish some goal as part of their research or buying process. A user may have found your website via a highly-ranked blog article and CTA’s in the form of anchor text might link to more information about your services or a click-through banner to download an educational eBook about a related topic. The marketing benefit is that when a user exchanges information with you, in exchange for your relevant content, you have a lead. Based on the qualification processes in your firm, you can take strategic actions to automate the process of engaging your lead, a step at a time, until they are ready to request more information about your services.
Research conducted by WordStream found that a more than 300% increase in clicks and 1,000% increase in sales by including a single, strong CTA in nurturing emails. HubSpot determined that the majority of their leads were accounted by from anchor text links in the body of blog articles (between 47% and 93%) and large banner CTAs at the end of a blog post only accounted for 6%. What works for you and your audience will be different. What’s important to note is that having zero CTAs means that your lead-generation efforts are much closer to, well zero.
Takeaways from an audit of 50 AEC websites
In an informal audit of 50 A/E consulting firm websites (architecture, engineering and construction consulting firms), a few important trends stand out regarding the kinds of content they provide and how they are leveraging their websites to connect with their audiences and drive leads. Our sample included a mix of design-build, architecture, and MEP engineering firms with fewer than 3 regional offices and less than 100 employees (36% 11-50 employees and 65% 51-100 employees).
Simple dataset from the 50 firms in our study
Conventional AEC websites are focused on communications, not conversions
All the firms in our sample (100%) provided useful descriptions of their services and a contact form (95%); and the majority provide references to their key team-members. Less than half offer content that’s targeted to the needs of their customers: (46%) identify the construction segments they focus on and even fewer provide project references (35%), or educational content on the 25% of sites that include a blog. Based on the websites in Group A (below) which are representative of the majority of websites in our study, visitors are encouraged to take NO action unless it is to discuss a project. This is simply a symptom of a convention in AEC websites – firms are focused on positioning, rather than educating and inviting prospects to engage with them as they are researching, vetting, and otherwise learning about their firm.
There’s no such thing as “Word-of-Mouth” marketing, not anymore
When I ask a business leader, “Where do most of your leads come from?” I am never surprised to hear the overwhelming majority of business owners respond that the majority of their clients are acquired by “word of mouth.” I need to rethink the question, because I recognize the importance of social networking, LinkedIn, direct sales, and other professional referral mechanisms; these are the facts: though AdWeek (in a 2014 study) claims that more than 80% of customers visit a website, before they contact you. That % increases as the complexity and cost of the solution increase. Construction projects come with some of the highest stakes imagineable, and the highest risk. For the purpose of our discussion, let’s use 100% as the number of customers who have visited your website at least once before contacting you.
Isn’t it Illegal for my firm to advertise? Um, no.
One of the barriers to adopting this approach is a belief that promotion of any kind is improper or at least in poor taste. This assumption isn’t uncommon for professional services firms. There are long standing traditions and beliefs that promotion, in any form, is in violation of laws and acceptable business practices. There are ethical guidelines and in some cases legal restrictions regarding advertising and promotion. In most cases, the limits on advertising are focus on misrepresenting that you have a license to practice architecture or engineering, when you don’t.
Today, there’s nothing stopping you from calling on a prospective client to introduce yourself and ask for their business, except for the fact that almost no one wants you to call. Therefore, it is important to remember that promoting your firm and generating leads means educating your client. Calls-to-Action are the functional links between your customer and the relevant content that they need to solve their business problems.
Does your A/E firm website passively or actively engage users?
The entire dataset reveals something interesting about the sites in our small sample. For the most-part, the firms in our selection passively engage their audiences, even though we know that calls-to-action are critical in optimizing and improving your conversions. A call-to-action doesn’t have to be a request that’s as intrusive as “by now,” but a website without a subscribe, follow, or click here to learn more information, is missing some of the most valuable opportunities to forge an early connection and speed up the buying cycle. The conclusion brings us back to our initial question, “What actions do you want your website users to take?” By now, you have probably concluded that you’d like your website to be an active participant in your lead-generation strategy.
3 things you can do in 90 days to begin actively converting leads on your website
The following steps will get you started, so that you can actively engage the users who are already visiting your website and start converting them to leads and qualified opportunities, but don’t assume that lead generation is the only area that you should focus on. Also consider the AEC marketing strategies besides lead generation.
Step 1. Spend the first 30 days evaluating your current website and defining the questions that your customers ask as they are conducting their own research to better understand and search for solutions to their problems, evaluate providers, and narrow down their choices to a few firms to speak to. The answers to these questions are key components in defining the most important aspects of your customers. Aside from their demographic and professional characteristics, you need to understand their behavior and the motivations behind their behavior in order to define the content required to engage them. If you need further insights about how to build your buyer personas, download our buyer insights research guide.
Step 2. Identify or develop marketing content. Invest the next 30 days developing content that addresses one persona’s questions at each of the aforementioned phases of their research process. Content at the top-of-the-funnel should not be gated behind a form. This content is designed to be found, thus it needs to be promoted through your owned, bought, or borrowed content channels. Content that is designed to convert a visitor into a subscriber or lead, should be gated behind a form and have an informational landing page that summarizes not only the content of the piece, but the benefits. Your content must include: a blog article to attract users to your site, an eBook or research guide to convert visitors to leads, and a landing page with an invitation to participate in a consultation.
Step 3. Leverage the last 30 days of your program to create a little infrastructure. You’ll need to build banners and call-to-action links that direct the user to your content. These links will take the user to landing pages with the necessary forms and content offers. You’ll want to invest in email marketing system to promote your new content to your existing clients and subscribers. In addition, you might want to invest in platforms that are designed to help you convert subscribers such as Unbounce for landing pages or HubSpot to provide intelligence and automate the process of staying in contact with your prospects.
If your firm is like the majority of the firms in our study, a 90 day tune-up program might be exactly what you need to start actively engaging your audience. If you’d like to learn more about the mechanics involved in building an active lead generation program, download our inbound marketing checklist for AEC companies.