Why Service Firms need the Ultimate Digital Marketing Stack

Digital marketing is one of those terms that has become so popular, but so misunderstood. The same could be said of digital disruption. It almost seems that you can take any word these days and put digital in front of it and that’s supposed to make it cool, as if we should all pay attention.

I grew up in the world of analog or traditional marketing where we used a variety of strategies and tactics to put our brands and services in front of prospective clients. I believe many of the same principles apply to digital marketing as applied to analog marketing. Yet, there are definite differences. 

About ten years ago we made the transition to full-blown digital marketing at my firm and we’ve learned a lot of lessons about what’s effective and what’s ineffective in digital marketing. The biggest source of confusion, in my estimation, is how digital marketing works, what tools you need and how to integrate those tools into a digital ecosystem that feeds your economic engine. I’d like to share with you my insights about the ultimate digital marketing stack, why you need it and how the pieces and the teams fit together to drive meaningful revenue. 


Before I get into the digital marketing stack, I want to make sure we’re on the same page with three crucial concepts:

  1. How digital marketing works
  2. The sales funnel
  3. Consultative selling

Digital marketing, at the end of the day, is still marketing. I believe the mission of the marketing function at any service firm is to make the business more valuable. The marketing function does this by managing and protecting the brand, positioning great ideas in front of prospective ideal clients and facilitating forward movement in the sales funnel. 

The sales funnel is comprised of 5 distinct stages: Awareness, Consideration, Interest, Evaluation and finally Selection. In the awareness stage, prospective clients become aware of your brand, value proposition and services. A value proposition, by the way, is simply a reason or set of reasons for doing business with you.

In the consideration phase, they sample your ideas through content marketing programs. They might do this on your website, on social media properties like LinkedIn, in a webinar or in a video. This is the stage where prospective ideal clients begin to lean in.

In the Interest stage, they enter dialogue with your business development team and request a proposal. In the evaluation stage, they evaluate your proposal against competitive offerings and against their goals. In the selection phase, they sign your proposal and move to next steps.

But for the sales funnel to work, to really churn out great new clients consistently, most service firms must deliver the consultative sale. The consultative sale, unlike the pitch, seeks to align a proposal with the specific goals of a client. For this to be effective, consultants at your organization need a well-thought-out approach to discovery. 

In the discovery process, consultants ascertain the motives of decision-makers and decision-influencers in an account. They uncover the differing roles, such as technical buyer, economic-buyer and decision-maker. This activity culminates in a clear articulation of the why – why an organization is willing to spend money and the outcomes they want to realize. 

The proposal, then, is simply an argument for why your organization is best suited, most capable and most likely to produce the outcomes that matter to the prospective client. The more the prospect believes in your ability to produce outcomes that matter to them, the greater the likelihood you’ll win. Of course, the fees you charge also have to be in line with the prospect’s budget. 






The five-stage sales funnel is co-managed by two teams: the marketing team and the business development team. I believe the marketing team has to take primary responsibility for the Awareness and Consideration phases. They also need to share responsibility in the Interest phase, as prospects begin to enter dialogue. 

The business development function takes over in the Interest phase and pulls the prospect deep into dialogue and discovery. They manage the sales campaigns to close deals. This is how modern service organizations generate revenue, often in the millions of dollars. 

But this does not mean that the marketing function is not playing a role in the Interest and Evaluation phases. Effective marketing teams are building proof statements, such as case studies and testimonials, which can be invaluable in helping persuade prospects that you are best-suited to achieve their goals. 

The other thing to note is that many small to mid-size service firms do not have distinct teams. In some instances, the entire marketing function is a single person or an outsourced group like my firm. It’s also very common for the business development function to be managed by consultants who also bear responsibility to deliver the services once the deal is signed. 

Digital Transformation Consultation

The important thing to define, if you want real success, is how you’ll manage the sales funnel at your organization. The biggest break downs I see today stem from not having a comprehensive strategy to pull the right prospects all the way through the sales funnel. If you get the right strategy in place, this works exceptionally well, much better than the old analog models. 






So that’s how digital marketing works and how the two teams work together to close deals and generate revenue. But you might be wondering how the marketing function manages the Awareness and Consideration phases and queues up prospects to be ready for dialogue in the Interest phase? That is a great question and leads us right into the ultimate digital marketing stack.

I use the term stack to describe a set of software applications that work together, that stack if you will, into a seamless digital ecosystem. Here is what we are seeing work really well today. 

I describe the ultimate digital marketing stack with this acronym: CMS+MA+CRM+SMM = success. CMS stands for content management system. MA stands for a marketing automation platform. CRM stands for client relationship manager. SMM stands for social media manager.

To realize success in digital marketing today, you need best-in-class tools in each of these areas and you need seamless integration of these tools. They need to connect with and share data seamlessly. This allows marketing to provision and track content, monitor behavior scores and queue up prospects for dialogue with business development people.

Business development people use the digital profiles of prospects to accelerate the discovery process. The best business development people are able to decipher intent, what prospects are trying to achieve, simply by looking at a few key things: the prospect’s behavior score, their LinkedIn profile and their company’s website. 


A CMS is used to build and manage websites. There are several CMS platforms on the market today and they all have their pros and cons and differing price-points. We work in several different CMS platforms today and have visibility into their strengths and weaknesses. 

The most popular CMS, and the least flexible and most insecure, is WordPress. There are also numerous other platforms like SiteCore, EpiServer, Proteus and dozens more. What’s important here is not which platform you use, it’s how you use it.

We believe a best-in-class CMS allows for seamless integration of a marketing automation platform. Without this, the entire digital marketing stack comes crashing down. A good CMS also allows you to define the user experience – what the user sees first, second, third and so on.

The best user experiences allow them to self-select in to the sales funnel by accessing content, ideas really, that are meaningful to them. This is why we recommend that service firms showcase blogs, ebooks, reports, case studies, webinars and the like – before they showcase their firm, services and people. A good CMS is affordable, customizable and allows you to quickly provision content that is irresistible to your ideal client.  


There is a lot of confusion about the differences between email marketing and marketing automation. Let me clear it up here. Email marketing is a crucial part of a comprehensive marketing automation platform. But a marketing automation platform is the heartbeat of the sales funnel. 

The best marketing automation platforms include comprehensive behavior scoring for all digital touch points on the inbound journey: email sends, opens and clicks; webpage visits; form submits; content downloads; social media views and clicks and so much more. A great marketing automation platform aggregates all of those little clicks for unique individuals and serves up that data in a single profile. Now that’s powerful and game-changing. 

Business development people use behavior scoring profiles to understand who is leaning in, what they’re interested in and how to enter dialogue with them. A person’s digital behavior is a key indicator of what interests them. 


I’m going to make this part really simple. We believe Salesforce is the best CRM today and all of our clients use this platform. We integrate the data generated from the marketing automation platform directly into the CRM so everyone, from marketing to business development people to senior management, can see exactly what’s going on in digital marketing and the sales funnel. 


A social media manager is a tool that allows for provisioning of content across the social media profiles of service firm team members. These tools are also game changers and here’s why.

Most service organizations have influential executives and team members whose collective social media profiles include thousands of prospective ideal clients in their networks. But the challenge is that these busy executives don’t have time and don’t seem to like spending their days posting on social sites. That’s a major missed opportunity.

Social media managers fix this problem by allowing service firm team members to connect their social profiles to a single tool that pushes content onto their profiles – all with no effort from them. They don’t have to write a word or remember to post or do anything really. The posts just show up and their networks respond with views, likes and clicks.

Most service firms are a bit nervous about this at first. Some people tend to be rather protective of their social profiles. The best way to navigate this is to create content well in advance of the post dates and have the content go through an approval or compliance process. This is especially crucial with service firms in regulated industries, like financial services. 

There are numerous social media managers today, but the two most popular tend to be HootSutie and Oktopost. We’ve used both of these and find pros and cons to each. But the most important thing to emphasize, yet again, is the seamless sharing of data between the applications. 


By now you might be thinking – that’s all well and good but how do I afford all of this software and who is going to integrate it for my firm and show us how to use it or use it on our behalf? That’s another great question.  


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