This story is familiar for many professional services firms: You know your firm is full of experts. Perhaps your clients know it, too. But it’s a quiet expertise, and it doesn’t register with the wider marketplace.
When buyers engage a professional services provider, we’ve seen that expertise is their number one priority. Sellers, naturally, are increasingly eager to consider and cultivate personal brands as a component of their larger organizational brands.
This raises some questions: How do you build the reputations of the professionals at your firm? Or if you’re one of those experts yourself: How do you raise the visibility of your expertise?
Making your knowledge known
At the Hinge Research Institute, we wanted to understand how firms can create and support more of what we call Visible Experts℠: professionals known in or beyond their industry for exceptional skill and expertise.
This meant finding out how professional services purchasers go about engaging high visibility experts. What qualities do buyers seek out, and how are they doing the seeking? Which characteristics persuade them of an individual’s expertise?
For the answers, we studied 1,028 buyers of professional services in the accounting, technology, architecture, engineering, and construction, legal, and consulting industries.
The results provide new perspectives on the mechanics and importance of expertise in the marketplace today—and suggest new paths forward for expert providers seeking to raise their profile.
In search of the expert
How do purchasers find experts to engage? Our respondents revealed a clear trend and a shifting reputational landscape.
Here, we see a sea change in the way purchasers search. Buyers now use online tools more commonly than traditional references and referrals.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that referrals and references don’t matter anymore. They are essential and will likely remain so. But they are no longer the only essential vehicle for reputation in the professional services marketplace—references and referrals are necessary but no longer sufficient.
What type of online tools are searchers using?
Online, purchasers are regularly using search engines and social media platforms—particularly LinkedIn. By going online, buyers can find a wide range of perspectives on a firm or individual, as well as sampling an expert’s thinking on their industry through blogs, whitepapers, webinars, and other media.
For sellers, then, the first step to making expertise visible is to make sure your presence and knowledge may be found where buyers are looking. As professional services industry conversations move online, it’s important to be part of those conversations.
We know buyers are seeking experts, and we know how they’re doing it. But finding a purported expert online or hearing about them from a colleague isn’t the same as believing that an individual is an expert in their field.
So how do purchasers evaluate expertise? Our respondents indicated that they make use of numerous methods:
Once again, we see online sources eclipsing old-school references. Professional services purchasers are evaluating experts according to their websites and blogs, as well as turning to colleagues and other professionals in their networks on LinkedIn.
For buyers, again, the core advantage of online sources is the range and easy availability of information. A buyer no longer has to hear about an expert—they can easily see many experts’ work firsthand through educational content. When they turn to colleagues, they can turn to many at once on social media (or online reviews).
This advantage for buyers is an opportunity for professional services providers. By sharing your expertise online, you may not only raise visibility but persuade prospective buyers of your knowledge and skills before you ever speak with them.
The benefits of a Visible Expert
We’ve considered how purchasers find and evaluate experts. But it’s also worth considering the other end of the story. After a buyer identifies and engages a Visible Expert, what do they perceive as the top benefits of the engagement?
These results are telling. Buyers name an average of 4.6 benefits, the highest among which is “learning just from working with them.”
Visible Experts solve the problem at hand, but they also educate, and that education represents their true and highest value in the long run. These buyers may not have engaged experts with new learning at the top of their minds—but in retrospect, it was a massive benefit.
The ability to give a sampling of one’s educational value up-front, before an engagement, is a powerful asset. By educating prospects—either in person or through online sources—experts can share expertise directly.
For those seeking to build an expert reputation and visibility, this means cultivating an active educational presence on blogs, social media, webinars, and other online platforms to share an expert’s educational abilities in an accessible way.
Expert and educator
The talent for education, for making complex ideas understandable in a robust yet accessible way, is at the core of what makes experts visible. Subject-area expertise is crucial, but as far as becoming a Visible Expert is concerned, it’s not the whole story.
A Visible Expert marries subject matter expertise to educational and explanatory power. By making your knowledge and educational ability accessible online, you can join the industry conversation, make it easier for prospects to find you on search engines, and perhaps help them solve problems before you even speak with them.
Audiences who find your solution to a challenge (on your blog, perhaps, or a video tutorial) will understand how you approach challenges, and will recognize the educational value you deliver.
With this kind of ongoing, public engagement with your marketplace, experts may grow more and more visible—and draw more and more attention.
Read other Crazy Egg articles by Lee Frederiksen.