Wouldn’t you have a considerable competitive advantage if you knew, upfront, which criteria prospective clients were using to evaluate you? We think so. As part of our study of professional services buyers, we asked private sector and government buyers to offer insights into their purchase decision process.

When asked to list important selection criteria, survey participants offered a wide range of answers. Because the questions were open-ended and many responses were similar, we organized the answers into 11 categories. Here are the criteria our respondents said were important:

Inside the Buyer's Brain: A practical guide to turning buyers into believers

What Buyers Want

Not surprisingly, many buyers put expertise and technical skills at or near the top of their list. They want a firm that knows its stuff and won’t be learning on the job. Interestingly, price was listed by only 4.2% of respondents. Clearly, buyers value technical proficiency far more than low cost. We suspect that many firms have been disappointed by low-cost service providers. This also explains buyers’ preference for firms that have relevant industry or service experience.

Confidence in the project team is another critical factor in the selection process. Buyers are looking for answers to a range of questions:

Will qualified people be doing the day-to-day work?

Will the people who sold the work be involved in the engagement?

Will there be the right personal chemistry between client and service provider?

They want assurance the team will deliver what is promised.

A firm’s reputation also contributes significantly to a buyer’s decision. Is the firm known for doing great work? Do they have extensive experience? Have they been referred by respected peers? Are they always top of mind? A great reputation creates more opportunities—buyers want a market leader in the proposal mix—but reputation can also tip the scales during the decision-making process.

What Buyers Avoid

Discerning buyers are looking for clues that a service firm is going to make their lives easier, not create new headaches. To some degree, companies and organizations buying services are motivated by fear. When an engagement goes badly or costs skyrocket, the reputation of the individual or group that made the buying decision can suffer.

SEE ALSO: Closing the Sale: Why the Best Firm Doesn’t Always Win

Three Things Buyers Look For

It takes more than expertise to win a professional services contract. You also have to provide assurance that your firm will meet all their expectations. To deliver the maximum confidence to a buyer, you must satisfy three major criteria—and in this order:

  1. Fix their problem.
  2. Make life easier for them.
  3. Build a personal relationship and trust.

Fix their problem: Fixing a prospect’s problem means identifying and addressing any underlying issues—not just reflexively doing what the prospective client says they wants. Communicate to the buyer that you understand their larger problem and that you have a talented team that can solve it.

Make life easier: Explain how your process ensures a smooth engagement and how your firm proactively anticipates problems. The buyer needs to believe that your firm will make their job easier, not more difficult.

Build a personal relationship: Clients want to work with people they like and respect. So reassure any prospective client that the personnel they meet in the pitch, interview, or proposal will be involved in the engagement. This doesn’t mean that a principal has to be doing all the work. But he or she should be involved to some degree on a regular basis, including significant face time and site visits (if applicable). If you can satisfy items 1 and 2, the relationship often takes care of itself.


If you can change your business development approach to address the typical wants and fears of a professional services buyer, your firm will be far better positioned to win more contracts and increase revenue.

Now take a look at your firm’s messaging and proposals from a prospective client’s perspective. How well are you proving your experience and reputation and assuring prospective buyers that you will with them to fix their problem and make their lives—and jobs—a little easier.

Additional Resources

How Hinge Can Help

Hinge has developed a comprehensive plan, The Visible Firm℠  to address these issues and more. It is the leading marketing program for delivering greater visibility, growth, and profits. This customized program will identify the most practical offline and online marketing tools your firm will need to gain new clients and reach new heights.  

Inside the Buyer's Brain: A practical guide to turning buyers into believers