In business-to-business (B2B) and the professional services, there are many different paradigms in which to view marketing systems. The funnel model and the flipped funnel model in account-based approaches are popular today. This article focuses on viewing marketing from the customer’s point of view.

A customer journey map is a visualization of the stages buyers go through when interacting with your brand over time and across digital and traditional channels.

If you’ve been involved in buying a professional service for your organization, you know such decisions come with careful consideration. It is seldom a quick process to upgrade your software, find a new accounting partner, design a new office space, or market your business. These are not impulse decisions. You’re not picking a consulting engineer off the shelf on your way out of the CPA store.

Yet many B2B and professional services marketers today treat their digital brand as a dusty display ad. They cling to a far-off hope that buyers will stumble upon their website, understand a jargon-filled service offering, dig to the depths of the contact-us page to find an email address or contact form… and despite all of this still feel compelled to reach out on their own.


Instead, today’s marketers have tools at their disposal to re-frame their approach to marketing and optimize their customer journey.

The Role of Your Digital Brand in the Customer Journey

If you’re a B2B or professional service marketer reading this, you probably already have a mix that includes events, social media, blogging, video, webinars, and some sort of white paper available for download on your website. It’s probably automated to some degree by marketing technology.

But your buyers don’t care.

Ask yourself, ‘would you buy from your company?’ Does your brand come across as human on social media? Or is it a broadcast of ads and achievements?

Buyers today are in control and they don’t care about your ads. They have more content than they could ever consume right at their fingertips. If you’re not going to address their business issues, someone will.

It’s up to you as a marketer to arm buyers with the resources and confidence needed to solve their challenge. It’s up to you to make them the hero of their journey.

No two buyer journeys are the same and they’re never linear. A prospect could run into someone from your firm at a conference, then follow you on social media. Another could find you on a web search then read a blog post. A third could have been referred to you by a colleague. The combinations are endless.

But aggregating the data tells a compelling story…

The 4 Main Stages of the Professional Services Buyer Journey

Visualizing a customer journey map helps stakeholders understand their buyers, leading to improved decision-making. Improving the customer experience will accelerate your pipeline and generate more leads.

Our research suggests there to be four main stages of the professional services buyer journey:

  • Awareness of a business challenge
  • Researching issues
  • Evaluating solutions
  • Making a decision

Below is an infographic that illustrates the customer journey in professional services. Data referenced was collected as part of Hinge’s 2019 High-Growth Study and Inside the Buyer’s Brain research.

Continue reading beyond the infographic for more in-depth analysis of each stage of the customer journey map.

Stage 1: Awareness of a business challenge

At this stage of the buyer’s journey, professionals are waking up and realizing they have a business challenge. For example, technical professionals may encounter a process that could be streamlined or automated, executives may realize their firm culture needs a jolt, or maybe they hear an expert speak on new laws or regulations in a seminar or podcast.

With the right marketing, you have an opportunity to influence target client awareness of potential issues facing their business. You can start by researching your audience to understand their top challenges and buying behavior. If you are able to truly understand the pain points of your customers, you will be able to speak their language and guide them along their journey.

Stage 2. Researching issues

Research conducted by Pardot shows 72% of buyers turn to Google during their research after the awareness stage. Our own research shows professional services buyers exhibiting similar behavior, with 66% turning to search engines at this point on their customer journey map.

Having researched your buyers, you are now in a position to create thought leadership around specific issues or challenges your buyers would be researching at this stage of their journey.

We asked the top B2B marketing experts what their one piece of advice would be to professionals looking to build their personal brand, and each of them independently recommended adding value and giving without expecting anything in return. This selfless, educational approach is a proven recipe to building a brand over time.

To match their marketing to this buyer behavior, more firms are prioritizing digital initiatives. In our recent 2019 Marketing Budget Benchmark Study, which we do jointly with the Association for Accounting Marketing, we found that more than 60% of Marketing Directors in accounting firms recommend increasing marketing spend on video, internal education and training, and search engine optimization in 2019 and beyond.

It’s encouraging that industries like accounting, engineering and management consulting are waking up to today’s digital buying behavior.

Download Inside the Buyer’s Brain, Fourth Edition

Stage 3. Evaluating solutions

After buyers do their research, they start to get a better idea of what they can do themselves and where they may need help. If you were proactive enough to get in front of buyers early in their journey, you have an advantage over your competitors.

According to a DemandGen report, 52% of buyers viewed 8+ pieces of content from the winning vendor. And the same report found 61% buyers agreed that the winning vendor delivered a better mix of content appropriate for each stage of the purchasing process.

Marketers cannot be satisfied with a single piece of content in their mix. They must build a system that pulls relevant, valuable content from a hub or library and delivers it at the right stage of the buyer’s journey. For companies selling into big accounts, they may also consider an account-based B2B marketing strategy.

Furthermore, it’s essential for your brand message to be clearly conveyed on your website. Our research shows that nearly 90% of professional services buyers have ruled out a firm before even talking with them.

But the easiest place to start is by reviewing your website and making sure it demonstrates your thought leadership, experience, and subject matter expertise. Some firms even conduct a brand study to develop focused, concise messaging for their website and marketing collateral.

Stage 4. Making a selection

Once you’re having conversations with prospective buyers, they are deciding whether your experience and expertise will ultimately solve their challenge. They will ask about past projects, timeline, and whether you’ve encountered a problem like this before.

Our research from the Inside the Buyer’s Brain study shows that relevant experience and deep subject-matter expertise were the top things that tip the scale for winning firms in the buyer’s mind.

For firms looking to optimize this stage of the buyer’s journey, make sure business development and sales professionals can articulate a consistent brand message and highlight differentiators and a compelling value proposition. They should also be armed with relevant case stories and the ability to tailor proposals to fit the needs and sophistication of the buyer.

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By optimizing your customer journey, your business can accelerate demand- and lead-generation, improve brand strength, and win more deals. But it all starts with a fundamental understanding of your target clients.

How Hinge Can Help

Brand research gets to the core of what will resonate with your audiences—and is an integral part of what Hinge does for clients. Learn more about our research services or contact us to learn whether research makes sense for your professional services firm.

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