How FinServ Can Keep the Human Touch with Tech

Leading finance firms are starting to reap the rewards of their early investment in emerging technology, such as chatbots used to deliver automated advice that is impartial and fully customized. A renewed focus on improving the customer experience is now turning their attention to distributed ledger technology, artificial intelligence, extended reality and quantum computing (or DARQ, as Accenture calls this technology quartet). Obviously, the FinServ digital experience is a topic on the industry’s mind.

The vast majority (96%) of banking executives said that new technologies have accelerated their pace of innovation over the past three years. Encouragingly, nine in ten banks are already experimenting with one of more DARQ technologies. Artificial intelligence (AI) is leading with 43% adoption, slightly lower than the 48% in insurance. This is not surprising when factoring in the 20-25 % cost savings banks can expect from augmenting their operations with AI.

How Finance Views Tech Today

However, the technology wave sweeping through the finance industry is seen as both an opportunity and a threat. Nearly a third (32 %) of financial services CEOs regard ‘speed of technological change’ as a top threat to their organizations, compared to 28% across all industries.

Competitive forces continue to intensify, which puts further pressure on finance organizations to elevate the services they provide with the help of technology. After disrupting the traditional advisory services space with passive asset management and low minimums, the robo-advisory sector is expanding into deposit banking with cash management programs and high-yield savings accounts. According to The Robo Report, “the expansion from digital investment advice to cash management and banking is well underway. These attractive offers from fintech companies will continue to ramp up competition amongst traditional financial advice firms and banks.”

Three Ways Financial Services Professionals Can Step Up Their Digital Game Today

Make engagement a strategic pillar, shaping everything you do

In the highly competitive finance world, companies that succeed will be the ones that build trust and foster ongoing engagement. Use an array of engagement strategies and tactics to stand out from the pack and meet your customers where they are.

Combine human interaction with technology to facilitate seamless interactions

The race to adopt new technology has inadvertently removed the personal touch. But human touch still has a place in this high-tech world, and future success will be very much dependent on the ability to combine the best aspects of technology with the human advice-driven model into one seamless customer experience.

Webinars help educate and inspire and make audiences feel more empowered.

Draw on your organization’s specific specialisms and offer a combination of data, research and evidence to showcase your expertise. Putting your audience’s needs first is key, and educational content is the best way to do that.

Tech Comes to The Rescue

Ironically, it is technology that will help finance organizations regain the customer intimacy of the past by uncovering interests, behaviors, likes and needs. Most banking executives believe that digital demographics will enable them to identify unmet customer needs and expand the way they deliver products and services.

As emerging technologies become the table stakes of the future, finance organizations can’t afford to be hesitant about the priorities they should pursue. Unlocking their full potential requires agility and commitment to innovation as well as getting the basics right: understanding what customers need and meeting those needs. And the end of the day, the FinServ digital experience is set to improve.

Discover how professionals in the financial services industry can provide a better digital experience with ON24’s Webinar Benchmarks Report: Financial Services Trends.

How Tech Is Changing Professional Services

While the professional industry is highly skilled, various elements of the work carried out by companies can be repetitive, tedious and resource-intensive. Estimates suggest that close to two-fifths (37%) of time in the professional services industry is spent on one of the most mundane tasks: collecting and synthesizing information. Additionally, the large amount of manual work required to compile data between systems was identified as a top challenge by executives from service-centric industries.

Technology adoption in the professional services space has largely focused on efficiency, with the accounting sector leading the charge by investing in automating the audit and account preparation processes. Other professions, such as legal services, have been lagging behind but automation is slowly filtering through.

Why of AI in Professional Services

Increasing pressure from clients to deliver value at competitive prices – essentially do more with less – means that the sector needs to explore how disruptive technologies can transform the way they operate and deliver services. Applications driven by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have the potential to create efficiencies and broaden the types of services offered to clients. Spending several days reviewing documents or contracts is a thing of the past; AI-based tools can carry out routine but complex tasks in a matter of minutes.

With AI industry-specific use cases proliferating at a staggering rate, professional services companies will be able to play a key role in contextualizing insight and identifying opportunities in a nimble way rather than just processing information, managing regulatory risk or streamlining operations.

Digital’s Growing Impact

The industry seems to already be adept at turning investments in cognitive technologies into financial benefits. A Deloitte study revealed that AI investment delivered slightly higher returns for professional services companies than the median ROI of 17% across all industries. Along with tech, media and telecom companies, professional services firms have made the highest investments and realized the highest returns. In the UK legal services sector alone, AI and automation are expected to accelerate productivity to almost twice its current rate by 2038, with large firms benefiting the most.

Chatbots are making headway in the professional services industry as they are increasingly used to pre-qualify leads by directing inquiries to relevant information in real-time, and then using that information to fuel personalized follow-up conversations. One example is Parker, an Australian law firm chatbot developed to give basic answers to questions related to changes to data protection and privacy laws, before directing prospects who need detailed information to three fixed price legal advice packages. The chatbot was responsible for selling $15,000 of different types of advice in its first 24 hours.

Tech Adoption is Accelerating

Professional services providers are often cited as slow adopters of technology, but this is changing as increased competition continues to be one of the most significant business pressures. However, investment in a shiny new tool, whether it is AI-powered or not, is not enough. Companies need to understand the business case and formulate robust strategies to take advantage of the opportunity.

A lack of investment in the right skills, which we’ll explore in more detail in the following section, is an area that professional companies will need to address. While the world’s largest professional services and consulting firms average 5,000 to 15,000 in-house analytics professionals, it is estimated that fewer than 8% of these are data scientists.7 Value will be derived from investing in cognitive technologies along with upskilling and recruiting new talent to unlock the opportunity they offer.

How Digital Tools Help Associations Connect with Millennials

For associations, retention hurdles are particularly hard to overcome — especially when younger, millennial members are considered. Almost half (43%) of young members claim that there isn’t a strong return on their investment in association membership. More worryingly, one in three are not at all aware of the benefits their membership provides. But digital tools can help associations to overcome these issues and connect with millennials on their terms.

There’s evidence that reaching out to young members and keeping them engaged pays dividends in the long run: associations with increases in their membership levels (both one-year and five-year) are significantly more likely to have a higher percentage of millennial members.

Two Tips to Consider

Run campaigns and events specifically for younger members.

If engagement and retention of members earlier in their careers is a particular challenge for your association, run campaigns aimed specifically at them to address their needs.

Put high-quality training experiences at the heart of your value proposition.

All too often, mandated elearning or certification sessions can appear to be a painful chore for attendees. But it doesn’t have to be that way – by using webinars that blend multimedia content, resources and assessments, your training experiences can add significant value to your members. Always-on sessions help members choose when they want to learn, and they can also save you time by being highly scalable to produce. Read more about how webinars can improve continuing training and certification.

To boost engagement across all demographic groups, it is critical to understand variances by generation, particularly around how they perceive the benefits in their membership package. For example, research has shown that millennials place more weight on learning new skills and gaining access to career advancement, whereas Gen Xers and baby boomers see access to continuing education as the most significant benefit provided by associations.

Another key way of growing the millennial member base is to use more flexible models, such as subscription packages, alongside your traditional annual membership. Using these subscription-based models, members can get access to particular elements of your offering, such as content or events. The consumers’ growing interest in these models means that associations can experiment with alternatives in the non-dues revenue category and at the same time address the needs of young audiences.

How Life Sciences Can Get a Boost With Digital Channels

Healthcare and life sciences professionals (HCPs) are now more inclined to use digital channels to stay informed than ever before. According to a 2019 study by Indegene, the vast majority (80%) of physicians express a preference for digital, up from 73% in 2015.

Similarly, according to a Veeva / Across Health study, close to 70% of HCPs in Europe will be ‘digital natives’ by 2020. Digital channels are now being used alongside traditional channels, such as congresses, local events and face-to-face meetings with medical reps. These events help professionals to keep abreast of product or therapy-related information and the latest developments in their area of practice.

More Opportunities for Better Communications

In-person meetings are still one of the most preferred avenues for accessing medical information. But when it comes to digital, webinars are the second most popular channel, ranking, according to Indegene, slightly below websites — 55% compared to 56% for websites.

The figures above uncover a significant opportunity to transform the relationship with HCPs and expand reach. However, the life sciences industry has been slow to adopt digital channels, mostly due to inertia and the fear of moving away from a tried-and-trusted business model.

Only 10% of pharma companies conduct over half of their engagements remotely, using digital means, according to a separate Indegene study. For a significant proportion (52%), less than one in ten engagements are conducted remotely.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Pharma companies and life sciences organizations should use digital tools to connect, engage and understand what their audiences want. Here are three tips life sciences companies can use to boost their digital efforts:

Embrace digital transformation and make it a strategic priority

Don’t just explore individual technologies, look into how the convergence of technologies and trends can drive meaningful transformation and help you deliver impactful, patient-centric experiences. Stay ahead of the curve by adopting some of the most effective and innovative tactics for digital marketing in healthcare.

Offer bundles of products and services, and use educational content to enhance your offering

A successful approach that marries diagnostics, therapies and associated services needs to be supported by a solid content strategy. Adopt a more flexible, modular approach that allows content to be repurposed and disseminated through different channels, including webinars.

Use webinars to extend the impact of marketing activities to customers who are less receptive to promotional information delivered by reps

Focus on providing content that enhances the practitioners’ ability to deliver high-quality patient care. Read our HCP Engagement Report to explore how marketers are evolving their engagements with healthcare providers to keep pace with the industry’s digital transformation.

Face-time with healthcare professionals has reduced dramatically in the last few years and the cost of in-person engagements has reached an all-time high. Life sciences organizations are under increasing pressure to move away from a push model consisting of one-direction, company-initiated communication, to two-way meaningful, regular conversations with customers. They also need to start orchestrating experiences across multiple touchpoints, as a ‘double coverage’ strategy (a combination of webinars and in-person detailing) can have a multiplier effect.

Why Marketing B2B Tech Is Getting Harder

Five years ago, McKinsey aptly summarized the top challenge facing the technology sector: “If a software company grows at [20% annually], it has a 92% chance of ceasing to exist within a few years. Even if a software company is growing at 60% annually, its chances of becoming a multibillion-dollar giant are no better than a coin flip.” This is as valid today as it was then.

Keeping up with the pace can be exhausting. Accelerating growth, fending off competitors and achieving a foothold in the marketplace is an exacting and resource-intensive process, but the rewards are considerable.

Compared to other sectors, tech providers are confident in the growth prospects of their companies and the industry over the next three years. Over half (52%) of tech CEOs expect annual topline growth of at least 2%, compared to 44% of cross-industry CEOs. Companies also seem to be unencumbered by budget concerns. Marketing budgets in the technology sector continue to grow steadily, as CMOs in the technology sectors are most likely to say they expect them to increase by more than 5% – around a third (3%) compared to less than a quarter in most other sectors

In Tech, Experience Reigns Supreme

Having a best-of-breed product or solution is no longer sufficient though. Providing a great experience, being a trusted partner that helps navigate complex challenges and delivers measurable results against business outcomes, and being an enabler of digital transformation are critical differentiators. The recipe for sustained success is one centered on customer needs and dedicated to helping organizations achieve innovation-based growth. Building thought leadership is a must in this customer-centric era and it’s encouraging to see that the commitment needed to make it a reality is there: three-quarters (73%) of technology content marketers claim they are ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ committed to content marketing.

Organizations in this sector are known for embracing the challenge of technological change and keeping up with the speed of innovation, but they need to look beyond tech specs and applications. In the words of Steve Jobs, they need to “start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology”.

Before diving into ON24’s benchmark data, let’s explore some of the challenges the technology sector faces today and how organizations can turn them to their advantage.

Embed customer centricity in your content creation efforts

Selling technology used to be about features, functionality and specifications, supported by heaps of technical documentation. This is no longer sustainable as organizations increasingly adopt an outcome-based approach, looking for solutions that are tailored to their particular issues and circumstances, and that deliver measurable results. One-size-fits-all products have already started to lose out to those companies that can provide a personalized solution to suit each individual customer’s needs.

However, as the pace of innovation and disruption accelerates, many technology organizations are struggling to have a clear understanding of who the customer actually is. As their expertise continues to expand beyond a core suite of products or services, they are becoming multi-layered businesses offering solutions to companies of all shapes and sizes, from corporate behemoths to small-scale, resource-constrained operations with a handful of employees.

Additionally, the typical decision-making process of a tech buyer is more complex than ever. Technology investment decisions are no longer the preserve of CTOs or CIOs only, but of an extended cross-functional buying committee consisting of stakeholders, influencers and implementers who often have competing interests. Frontline users increasingly do their own research into how the latest tech solutions can support their specific initiatives and projects, and are therefore consulted during the shortlisting and final selection process. In SMEs and mid-tier businesses, around eight people are involved in the process, while for large enterprises (10,000+ employees), this number often exceeds 20. As such, targeting the IT decision-maker with content detailing technical performance is no longer a viable approach.

The Rise of The CMO in Tech

CMOs are now ten times more likely to be primarily responsible for building the business case for digital marketing and CX technology investment than CTOs (40% vs. 4%). Compared to their IT peers who typically initiate a protracted due diligence and business case evaluation process before signing off on a purchase decision, CMOs are more likely to purchase technology-based on immediate needs.

Understanding and addressing the diverse informational needs of this extended buying committee has become a major challenge. While six in ten (62%) technology organizations claim they always or frequently craft content based on specific points or stages in the buyer’s journey, creating content that appeals to multi-level roles within the target audience is the top challenge for 68%. This is as much of a challenge for top performers as it is for their less successful peers. It comes as no surprise then that direct vendor engagement continues to decline, with 51% of tech buyers engaging with customer service reps once a month or less and 24% never engaging with them.

How Tech Approaches Buying Tech

Four in five enterprise technology buyers place a high degree of importance on tech providers being thought leaders. Encouragingly, there’s evidence that technology organizations are putting content front and center: content management, creation and localization is the second most time-intensive task of tech marketers, accounting for nearly a fifth (18%) of their working hours and surpassing data management, integration and analysis (14%).

The vast majority (80%) of tech buyers look outside the technology buying committee for information and advice on technology solutions, with reviews, surveys and usage stats from fellow technology users accounting for 51% of these dependable sources of information. The reason many tech buyers prefer to probe these external sources is twofold: more often than not, the content produced by vendors is intently focused on the pre-sale stages and it doesn’t always incorporate first-hand insights from existing customers.

There are three key areas technology organizations need to focus on to produce customer-centric content that engages target audiences and addresses their top-of-mind concerns: (i) using personas to build a coherent picture of buyers and understand what motivates them and guides their investment decisions, (ii) prioritizing audiences’ educational needs over the organization’s promotional messages, and (iii) creating content that builds loyalty with customers. Most importantly, they shouldn’t lose sight of their audience, and how they can use engaging content to convey their brand voice, values and expertise at every stage of the buyer’s journey.

Want to learn what a technology professional can do to improve customer experience now? Check out the ON24 Webinar Benchmarks Report for Technology for tech-specific insights.

How Digital Marketing for Financial Services is Changing

The finance industry, one of the main contributors to the global economy, has seen more disruption from digital innovators and startups in the last few years than ever before. Incumbents face significant challenges as new players enter the market, unique operating models emerge and technology redefines product and service delivery.

Sentiment among financial services firms continues to deteriorate in the face of a challenging economic and political climate. Building a successful brand in an era of fierce and unprecedented competition is an onerous undertaking and requires extensive investment and commitment. In Europe alone, nearly a fifth (17%) of players that entered the banking market over the last 13 years have captured one third of revenue growth.

Digital Expectations for Financial Services

Organizations are also racing to meet expectations that haven’t even been shaped by their close competitors, but by best-in-class companies operating in other sectors. The appetite for instant, always-on experiences transcends sector boundaries and is set to significantly impact the finance industry. Adding value while maintaining utility and security – all while complying with a complex regulatory burden – is a balancing act that organizations will need to excel at in the coming years.

An inherent level of trust in financial services has traditionally contributed to above-average levels of loyalty in the industry but gaining trust is no longer an easy win. Unsurprisingly, trust in financial institutions is yet to recover following the economic crisis. At 57% among the general population, the industry remains least trusted in comparison to others. Additionally, over two-fifths (45%) of millennials don’t trust banks to be fair and honest. The ability to engender trust is a critical deliverable when it comes to customer experience design, so it’s something that finance organizations will need to work towards if they are to meet the challenges of the future.

Before diving into ON24’s benchmark data, let’s explore some of the challenges the finance sector faces today and how organizations can turn them to their advantage.

Digital Marketing for Financial Services Need an Engagement Upgrade

Historically, financial institutions haven’t offered much in the way of differentiation. This is set to change as digital continues to disrupt their relationship with clients. Both wholesale and retail financial users are now experience-centered, have high expectations and low loyalty, and demand instant, easy access to financial services.

As fintech players are changing the rules of the game by focusing on cutting-edge services powered by data and technology, providing a differentiated customer experience has moved to the top of the incumbents’ priority list. Balancing transparency and security without impairing the customer experience continues to be a major theme in the industry, but regulatory constraints limit the speed of innovation. For many organizations, selling products through multiple intermediaries, such as financial advisors, brokers or insurance agents, further compounds the issue.

While average retention rates in the banking, financial services and insurance sectors are relatively high, ranging from 75% to 83%, it doesn’t mean that continued investment in engagement strategies and tactics is less important. Developing innovative services that tap into the latest technologies (explored in more detail in the next section), forming strategic partnerships and connecting with customers on an aspirational rather than rational level are just some of the ways organizations can build trust and deliver positive experiences.

Finance Gets Digital, but Doesn’t Act On Digital

The vast majority (87%) of banking executives claim that the combination of customization and real-time delivery will underpin future competitive advantage, only slightly behind insurance executives at 90%. However, the gap behind perception and execution is large: only 38% of organizations in the banking sector are prioritizing a customized approach to delivering products and services and a mere 9% are prioritizing on-demand delivery.

With fintech and insurtech disruption at the core of this journey to customer centricity, the spotlight has gradually shifted from fierce competition to mutually beneficial partnerships and collaborative innovation. As customer demands continue to grow and catering to all their needs is increasingly difficult, new entrants and established players have come to see the value of working together. Opening API platforms to third parties unlocks value from data, enables organizations to enhance their value proposition with exclusive or premium features, and accelerate speed to market.

In order to respond to the ever-changing client needs and create points of differentiation, finance organizations need to think outside the box, import best practices from other industries and form strategic partnerships that enable them to add value while retaining utility.

Discover how professionals in the financial services industry can provide a better digital experience with ON24’s Webinar Benchmarks Report: Financial Services Trends.

Media and Publishing Challenges in a Digital World

The media and publishing industry is still undergoing a fundamental transformation, one that started more than a decade ago when the rise of digital streaming services and digital-only publishers sent ripples through the sector. The distinctions between different types of media are blurring, technology is redefining the competitive playing field and new entrants are becoming more eager to get in on the action. Media and publishing’s challenges are high — and so are the stakes.

In the US alone, people are spending almost half (44%) of every day interacting with media while nearly seven out of ten homes now have a device capable of streaming content. On the consumer side, last year was the first time that more US households subscribed to a video streaming service than to a traditional pay-TV package (69% versus 65%). Competition is fierce but the industry is exhibiting continued growth, with global media and entertainment revenues forecast to reach $2.4 trillion in 2022, up from $1.9 trillion in 2017.

Building a successful brand in this dynamic ecosystem is not without challenges. In an effort to compete in an overly fragmented marketplace, media and publishing companies are creating more content and introducing or partnering with more distribution platforms. But this is leading to even more fragmentation and significant levels of frustration among once-loyal audiences as they try to assemble a coherent media experience across multiple platforms and devices.

The New Media Experience Problem

Readers and viewers believe that the search and discovery experience is sub-par, ads are intrusive and the whole experience is disjointed and not tailored to their individual interests and needs. They are increasingly demanding a better overall media experience, high-quality content options, easier and more flexible ways to search, discover and access content, and more relevant ads that feel organic rather than intrusive. But are media and publishing organizations primed to address the operational challenges of today, while planning for a future where individuals will have even more control?

Companies operating in this sector have traditionally competed on two dimensions only: content and distribution. The continued shift in power to audiences provides the impetus to focus on a third dimension: creating a seamless, personalized customer experience. Organizations need to do more than react to trends; they need to be agile, anticipate change and adopt a customer-first approach in everything they do.

Create engaging, personalized experiences using a blend of content and data

The media and publishing industry has witnessed firsthand how technology has been changing the way content is accessed and consumed. The captive audiences of the past have taken control over their media experience, demanding maximum flexibility in terms of how, when and where they access their chosen content.

While today’s media consumers have a high appetite for high-quality content and enjoy having access to a wide range of choices (the average video consumer subscribes to three paid streaming services), they are increasingly perplexed about the abundance of options. Their media experience is fragmented across multiple platforms and devices, but they still expect it to be frictionless. Subscription fatigue is slowly setting in: nearly half (47%) of US adults are frustrated by the burgeoning number of subscriptions and services they need to piece together to access their preferred content. Additionally, 48% say it’s harder to find the content they want to watch when it’s spread across multiple services.

Content discovery optimization is more important than ever as over two-fifths (43 %) claim they give up on their search for content if they can’t find it in a few minutes. The challenge for media and publishing companies is twofold: cutting through the clutter and vying for attention while maintaining or even increasing content quality. They need to create a seamless experience, making viewers feel it’s been tailored specifically for them, and present it in the right context, at the right time.

The opportunities of a seamless media experience

While meeting individuals in that exact moment of need during their search and discovery experience seems like an onerous task, the rewards are considerable. Experience-driven media and entertainment organizations are 1.3x more likely than their less mature peers to increase customer lifetime value. They also boast 3x year-over-year growth in repeat visitor rates compared to others and are 1.5x more likely to significantly exceed customer experience expectations.

Media bundling, one of the industry’s solutions to subscription fatigue, has been gaining momentum as content providers and media distribution platforms take a leaf out of Amazon’s book and increasingly join forces to offer services at a discounted price. However, not all companies welcome this development with open arms as they see many risks down the line, such as losing control over relationships with customers and having access to minimal insights, if any, into how their content is consumed.

The launch of Apple News+ has been particularly controversial as some premium and business publishers believe it sets a dangerous precedent. According to an executive working for a publisher that decided against joining the new subscription service, “it totally commoditizes news and undermines publisher pricing, Bundles always dilute the brand visibility and brand narrative of a publisher by dint of being thrown together with everyone else. It will not be a ‘sticky’ read for any one publisher.”

What’s Next for Media and Publishing

While the industry is still experimenting with ways to tackle subscription fatigue and compete in an increasingly crowded marketplace, media and publishing organizations shouldn’t lose sight of the most important differentiator: creating customer-centric experiences around great content, delivered at the right time and in the right context. There’s no substitute for flawless experiences tailored to individual preferences and interests, and success will depend heavily on gaining insights into customers’ likes, dislikes and behaviors, and putting that first-party data to good use.

Or, as Karen Benson, EVP, Director of Media Planning at Deutsch New York, contended: “Consumers are going to flock to the content that they want to receive, when they want to receive it, how they want to receive it. That’s the most important thing.”

Discover how webinars can help media and publishing professionals improve their digital experiences with the ON24 Webinar Benchmarks Report for Media and Publishing.

How Digital Channels Are Changing Professional Services

There’s no denying that digital technologies have driven fundamental changes in every single industry, with companies of all sizes swiftly changing the way they do business to maintain their competitive edge. In the face of disruption, organizations in the professional services industry had to adapt their offerings accordingly, assisting clients on their own digital transformation journey.

The professional services sector is diverse, with players ranging from global behemoths providing the full breadth of services in every corner of the globe, to boutique firms with a very specialized offering. It is estimated to be the second-largest employment sector in the US, after healthcare, and is expected to grow to approximately 22.3 million jobs by 2026. It accounts for 11% of the UK’s gross value added and 13% of its employment.

The industry is experiencing rapid change due to the disruptive impact of digital technologies, and companies need to transform their operational and service execution models to adapt to this new reality.

ON24 Tip: Demonstrate thought leadership with a comprehensive webinar program

To capture new business, you need to be at the center of industry conversations and improve your position as a thought leader. Webinars can help you drive those conversations, focus on your points of difference and show how you’re using technology to augment the services you provide.

However, change is not a foreign concept as the sector has been in flux for the last three decades. Since the 1980s, management consulting has gradually shifted from offering bespoke expert services to delivering more standardized, technology-enabled services. The boundaries between strategic and technology consulting have blurred significantly. Similarly, leaders in the accounting sector (the Big Four) have been increasingly operating at the intersection of accounting, consulting and even law.

Discover how Deloitte uses webinars to generate thousands of potential leads in record time 

But this industry-wide transition is not without challenges. Client expectations are increasing, competition from digital disruptors is ramping up and margins are tightening. Professional services firms need to find innovative ways to create value and deliver the best possible outcomes to their clients. The time and materials model, where companies charged for the expertise they provided on an effort basis, proved to be highly profitable but is no longer sustainable.

Turn to technology to provide incremental value and increase your qualified lead pipeline

In the everything-as-a-service economy (XaaS), it has become increasingly difficult for professional services companies to compete. Affordability, timeliness and demonstrable value are among the most pressing client concerns, and there’s evidence that the industry is struggling to meet those demands. Revenue growth has fallen below 10% for the past three years and reported billable utilization dipped to a new low of under 70% in 2018.

Heightened client expectations have led high performers to shift their client engagement models from traditional time and materials or effort-based engagements to delivering services on a performance or outcome basis. These companies have turned to digital technologies to provide innovative services and support more predictable revenue streams. This extends beyond just addressing the disconnect between the front and back office (a problem that has traditionally plagued the industry), allowing them to unbundle offerings and foster engagement outside the project-based model, sometimes even without the need for in-person interactions.

Discover how Faegre Baker Daniels uses the ON24 Platform to deliver high-value clients to its attorneys

In an attempt to stay ahead of the curve, top management consulting firms opted to develop the technology in-house to augment their services. Deloitte’s Emerging Technology Partner, Marc Verdonk, highlighted the rationale behind doing so: “The client is happy because using the tech means ultimately they often pay less, and we can be more efficient, which allows us to continue investing in innovation, and everybody benefits.”

In the legal sector, lawtech (often heralded as ‘the new fintech’) has continued to rise in prominence as clients demand more transparency and accountability, and push companies to provide more than just traditional legal services.

However, the vast majority of professional services companies are still playing catch-up. Only a fifth (20%) of IT leaders in this sector claim their organizations have been ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ effective at using digital technologies to advance their business strategy. Most of their technology investment focuses on alleviating legacy pain points rather than transforming how professional services are delivered or how the client relationship is managed.

Data and technology are the cornerstones of digital transformation, and the professional services sector is no exception. The convergence of the two is set to shape the evolution of the industry in the years to come, and companies need to keep pace with the change if they are to succeed.

The Digital Challenges Facing Associations

Professional associations provide many benefits to members. Memberships can certify professional standing and maintain accredited status, provide up-to-date educational material and a forum to network with peers. But there are digital challenges facing the association sector, especially when it comes to engaging

Operating models in the associations sector have changed over the last few years, with globalization, digital disruption and demographic shifts providing an outsized impact. According to Sarah Sladek, author of ‘The End of Membership as We Know It,’ “associations are being forced to rethink what is valuable in today’s market.” Encouragingly, associations are up to the challenge of adapting to this newfound change.

The Battle for Retention

Flat or declining membership has become a large-scale concern for many associations.

Data from Marketing General’s Marketing Membership Benchmarking Report 2018 show that while slightly more associations reported increases in membership levels in 2018 (up by two percentage points since 2017 to 48%), the majority reported declines (25%) or no changes (26%). Taking a longer view over the past five years, nearly a third (29%) of associations reported membership declines over the last five years and 14% said there’s been no change.

Learn how the AARP uses webinars to educate seniors across the country

In addition, the proportion of associations seeing an uptick in renewal rates have decreased by 25% since 2012 (27% in 2018 vs. 36% in 2012). Lack of engagement was the most commonly cited reason for non-renewal in 2018, with almost two in five (37%) associations mentioning this as a top reason

With this picture in mind, taking steps to increase retention rates and engagement has never been more important. Engaged members are more likely to renew and even support advocacy programs so zeroing in on engagement is key.

Where Associations Can Win

Separate research from Memberwise has engagement ranked as the top goal for associations and membership organizations for the third year running, closely followed by member acquisition and retention. Interestingly, retention returned to the third spot after a dip in priority in 2018. This highlights the associations’ continued focus on strengthening relationships with members.

Discover how the American Nurses Association retains and engages members with the ON24 Platform

The Membership Benchmarking Report also shows that associations are taking action, particularly larger bodies. Associations with an operating budget of $1 million or more are significantly more likely to have a tactical plan to increase member engagement than those with a smaller budget (64% vs. 51%). However, a large budget is not a prerequisite for success – across all associations surveyed, the majority (62%) already have a strategic initiative in place.

But although there is willingness to tackle the engagement challenge, there’s evidence that associations are not fully equipped to do so. Measuring the effectiveness of their engagement strategies is an area where associations are lagging behind, with nearly a third (29%) claiming that an inability to measure member engagement is one of their most significant operational challenges. Lifetime value analysis of a member’s economic contribution to the association, one of the key metrics associations should track, has declined in usage, from 16% in 2012 to only 10% in 2018.