What Buyers Want 1: Marketing to Potential Clients

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This is the first of three issues devoted to explaining key findings from Hinge's study of purchasers of professional services. This month, we explore how professional services firms typically market themselves. We then contrast these practices against how buyers say they want to be approached. To find out what this means for your firm, read on.

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Many professional services firms are creatures of habit — they rarely change the way they market to prospects. Most of these firms don't consider other options because they have never bothered to find out what marketing tactics actually resonate with their audiences.

How Service Firms Solicit New Business

To provide critical perspective on this issue, we asked buyers of professional services what tactics service firms were using to reach them. Almost a quarter of buyers say they are cold called by potential service providers. Fourteen percent receive marketing emails, another 14 percent are approached at networking events, and a significant number of buyers (11.2%) are targeted with direct mail. And an astonishing 9% of respondents believe they aren't being marketed to at all!

These statistics indicate that professional services firms are getting the word out. But the data also suggest that a great deal of professional services marketing is ineffective. To understand this disconnect, we asked buyers how they want to be solicited.

How Buyers Want to Be Reached

“I don't want to be sold to,” replied one respondent. Instead, a good service firm should demonstrate that it understands an organization's situation then lay out a detailed solution, preferably in a face-to-face meeting. If the firm can show that it's already solved a specific problem that the organization is currently experiencing, that makes a powerful statement.

We heard it again and again: buyers want firms that understand their situation. They like to see relevant case studies and detailed solutions to their problems. Many respondents said they don't want pushy sales calls — the very tactic they experience most often. Instead, they like to engage in frank discussions that deal with their specific issues. Without being prompted, nine percent of respondents said they prefer meeting face-to-face with prospective service firms.

And what of the people that don't think professional services firms are marketing to them at all? Either their organizations are being missed entirely in the marketplace, or marketing messages aren't resonating enough to register.

Is Professional Services Marketing from Mars?

Clearly, buyers are not getting the kind of outreach they expect. Because their problems can be complicated, many buyers prefer to engage in interactive dialogue upfront to explain their situation in detail and understand a firm's proposed solution. Buyers also want to meet the people they will work with to gauge whether there is a good match of personalities.

If the usual marketing tactics aren't growing your business, try looking at the marketplace from your clients' perspective. For instance, drop the high-pressure campaigns. Consider giving high-value prospects an hour of your expertise. Offer to sit down with them, roll up your sleeves and work through their problems together. You aren't likely to fix their situation in an hour, but you'll give them a sense of your firm's approach, character and values. If the prospect is left feeling good, you'll be a lot closer to signing a new client — without even pitching them!

As we explained earlier in this article, any conversation with the prospect should focus on solving the their problems, not promoting your firm's services. But how do you understand a prospect's problems if you've never even met them before? Firms that specialize in the prospect's vertical market have a clear advantage because they know the industry and have likely seen and overcome similar situations before. Usually specialists can make a quick read of the situation and respond appropriately. If your firm lacks specialization, you will need to research the prospect and its industry — then draw on your past experience to lay out a suitable course of action.

The Bottom Line

Once you understand your buyers' needs, you have a tremendous opportunity to connect with the large number of businesses and government agencies that struggle to find the right professional services firm. If you can talk to them in an environment of mutual respect and openness, you vastly improve your chances of selection.


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Coming next month: We'll dig deeper into our research findings and explore professional services buyers' selection criteria — so you can fine tune your marketing approach and close more business.

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