Digital disruption can be exciting, as long as your business is the one with the potential to revolutionise an industry, or one of the beneficiaries.

If you’ve arrived on the scene first and developed a strong customer base, only to realise that client attitudes are now being reshaped by things like technology, your focus is less on the wonders of the new world and more on surviving the landscape.

For those in the services industry, from lawyers to accountants, capturing a new audience is the biggest challenge on the list.

Disruption – and how to fight it – was a key topic at last week’s Institute of Public Accountants National Congress, with accountancy just one industry at risk of losing its face-to-face contact with clients in favour of online portals.

Branding expert Amanda Falconer sat a room full of business owners down last week to workshop ways of keeping an operation alive when potential clients can shut down the relationship with a click of a button.

Read more: Futurist Chris Riddell on why businesses that focus on customer experiences will come out in front

Here are four ideas from Falconer for how to keep disruptors at bay.

1. Make sure you can track and connect with hot leads

One of the major changes to the services landscape is in the way clients now find service providers, and this means small businesses need to get serious about tracking leads efficiently.

You can’t chase every single person on the internet, but with the right tools you can track who has considered you, and which parts of your website they’ve spent a decent amount of time on.

From there, Falconer says, you can target people who are genuinely interested through direct marketing messages – but only if you actually have the infrastructure in place.

Around half of your potential client base will decide not to take their business to you before they’ve even talked to you, Falconer says.

This makes a sleek website not only a must for credibility, but critical for converting leads into paying customers.

“Only six percent of referrals you get come from people who really know the work that you’ve done,” Falconer says.

“And the people referred to you might come through a slightly convoluted chain.”

Without the immediate emotional connection, this leaves you with fewer than 10 seconds to both impress upon potential clients your value over your competitors, and find ways to forward on marketing information to strong leads.

2. Make a list of what you’re good at – and cross out what everyone else can do

Too often, businesses think they can frame themselves as “different” from their peers and think they’ll be able to beat the disruptive trends, but this is difficult for those in fields like accounting, consulting and law, because many of the services provided are similar by nature.

There are two potential ways to stand out in the face of this reality, says Falconer.

Firstly, your business should differentiate between buzzwords and concrete differences.

Evaluate your key points of “difference” and ask how many others can probably do the same thing.

There’s no need to keep words like “quality” and “reliability” as selling points, she says.

Secondly, there’s the option of seriously considering a new specialisation of your service, and investing in that process.

This can be a challenge if you only have a couple of people in the business, but thinking about a deep dive into a certain type of law, financial advice or product bundle could make you a go-to destination in the long run.

“That comes about through going deep and not wide,” Falconer says.

“It’s picking niches and really going hard and working on them – some legal firms have done this, and with great success.”

3. You might not be able to change the industry – so change your culture

When there are few options to really differentiate the way you do business, the other option is to build a specific culture – one that you act out, rather than just talking about.

Falconer highlighted Physio Co, a physiotherapy business serving the aged care industry that she has studied in detail, as a good example of building a distinct set of values in an industry that has similar practitioners, including using four actionable core values that guide everything you do.

“Physiotherapy is not an easy service to differentiate. Part of what [founder Tristan White] has had to do is really get the people who have the right kind of values that are in sync.”

4. Move quickly or disappear

Of all the things businesses can do to court danger with cut price or digital competitors, hesitation is among the top hazards, according to Falconer.

In the disruption workshop with accountants, several company owners in the room said they were yet to get set up with a strong social media presence, or had not yet started to use automated marketing messages through a website.

Whatever your priority for capturing clients, waiting to execute the plan may only make things more difficult along the line.

Getting ahead of the game by deciding what your ideal customer is, and how you will court them, is the most important thing.

It’s not so much about getting ahead of the pack with a pioneering new technology, as much as it’s about knowing your client, Falconer says.

“I try to work out with [clients] who is the ideal client,” she says.

“Back in 1901, you just dealt with a range of people –and I think one of the opportunities you have and one of the things that I’ve seen about some of the firms that have been able to do well, is by saying ‘we have a particular expertise in dealing with these kind of clients, so we’re going to go deeper here’.”

SmartCompany attended the Institute of Public Accountants National Congress as a guest of the IPA.

This article was originally published on Smart Company.

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