It’s no secret that the professional services industry is ever-evolving. And if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that any industry needs to be adaptable and flexible — no matter the circumstances.
Even though we can’t always fully predict what’s in store for the business world, staying on top of emerging trends is essential, especially as the professional services industry continues to be reshaped due to the pandemic.
With that in mind, we’ve pulled together some of the emerging industry trends to help you bounce back better than ever.
Why do service industry trends matter?
Professional services exist across many different industries, but their role is the same: to provide expertise and specialized knowledge to clients. To be successful, service providers have to evolve along with their client base to ensure they’re always offering value.
So, why do professional services industry trends matter? Here’s the simplest answer: Trends help service providers strategically align their businesses with ever-changing client needs and expectations.
Failing to stay on top of what’s happening in their industry means professional service providers run the risk of being left behind.
How 2020 changed professional services
In many ways, 2020 was a year unlike any other. For many professional services professionals, COVID-19’s greatest impact was shaped by the shift to remote work.
According to Gallup, almost one year into the pandemic, a majority of U.S. workers were working remotely part-time or full-time. And according to PwC, it seems that many companies will welcome the idea of a hybrid workplace — meaning a mix between in-office and remote work — in a post-pandemic future.
But it’s not just remote work alone that changed the professional services industry in 2020. That transition also brought about the power of technology, new ways of keeping employees engaged, and new challenges solved with innovative solutions.
Professional services trends to expect in 2021
Let’s take a look at some of the emerging services industry trends we expect to see this year.
1. Digital transformation is at the top of leaders’ minds and priority lists
Digital transformation isn’t new to the professional services space, but experts agree that this trend is not only here to stay — it’s going to lead the future. The pandemic played a role in escalating the rate at which professional services firms adopted technology and embraced automation.
In a CFO study conducted by PwC, 48% of survey respondents said they’re planning to accelerate digitalization and automation due to the pandemic’s impact on old ways of working. Similarly, Salesforce’s “Trends in Professional Services” report revealed that 88% of businesses surveyed acknowledged that their digital transformations had accelerated since 2019.
To stay competitive and credible, firms will need to keep pace with technology adoption and tech-savvy practices for a smoother, quicker client experience.
2. Finding new ways to connect with and maintain client relationships is a must
Professional services are rooted in fulfilling the needs of the client. Previously, many professional service firms were able to rely on face-to-face client meetings and in-person interactions.
But today, clients want the best bang for their buck and may even need to cut down on non-essential spending as a result of the pandemic. That means professional services firms need to rethink their service offerings to better suit clients’ needs.
Replicon suggests looking at entire client portfolios to identify areas of opportunities and continued engagement. And as far as maintaining client relationships goes, building effective virtual relationships can help your firm maintain its customer-focused ideals. Deloitte recommends establishing a shared understanding of virtual communication and working preferences as a foundation.
3. Remote work opportunities will lead to changes in hiring and retaining talent
The professional services industry is already paving the way toward changes in hiring. Companies like Salesforce and Dropbox have announced a flexible, new way of working, which opens the door for hiring talent across the globe — even in locations outside of office headquarters.
More of the same is to be expected this year. Research of CIOs by Enterprise Technology Research (ESR) showed that the percentage of permanently remote workers is expected to double in 2021.
This might be good news for some. A study conducted by IBM revealed that just over half of survey respondents would like to work remotely permanently, which means employee demand for flexibility will rise. Professional services teams will need to keep pace with the new way of hiring and working to retain top talent.
Professional services marketing trends for 2021
Now that you know what might be coming down the pipeline for professional services as a whole, let’s zone in on a specific piece of the puzzle: marketing.
1. Virtual events started as a necessity but are here to stay
Marketers didn’t have a choice in 2020’s rapidly-changing business world — if they wanted to host events, they had to go virtual. Latané Conant, Chief Market Officer at 6sense, told HubSpot that there will continue to be room for virtual events, even after in-person ones resume.
Why the need for virtual events? Jim Kruger, Chief Marketing Officer at Veeam, emphasized that virtual offerings attract new audiences, are more accessible than in-person events, and tend to offer a higher ROI at a lower cost.
2. Brand values may need to be altered to reflect positioning on challenging issues
According to Sprout Social, brands can no longer afford to stay silent on issues their audience passionately stands behind. As a result, Sprout Social predicts that inclusivity will be necessary to build deep customer relationships in 2021 and beyond.
Consumers want to align their purchases with the brands they purchase from, which can be challenging from a marketer’s perspective. Tim Linberg, Chief Experience Officer at Verndale, agrees that brands will be forced to continue to navigate a polarized climate this year, forcing them to make tough decisions about who they are and what they stand for.
3. Live streaming will be on the rise
Live stream video content existed pre-pandemic, but its usage accelerated across multiple platforms amid social-distancing restrictions.
eMarketer suggests that the use of live streaming will remain popular, particularly for virtual events, gaming, and live shopping. According to Social Media Today, live streams can create a sense of trust and timely connections that consumers crave in the digital world.
Trends might come and go, but flexibility is non-negotiable
The only constant being change has never felt more true. Professional service professionals, including marketers, will need to be agile and flexible as these trends disrupt and change the industry.
There’s no telling what the future holds, but we’ve all seen firsthand that adaptability is crucial — now more than ever.
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