What Buyers Want 3: How to Expand the Client Relationship

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This is the final of three issues devoted to explaining key findings from Hinge's study of purchasers of professional services. This month, we look at ways your firm can build on existing client relationships and explore what factors encourage referrals.

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Once upon a time, your firm was hired to address a challenging problem. You did your job with distinction. The client was overjoyed and told you how happy they were with your work — they'd hire your firm again in a heartbeat. A few months go by and you discover that the same organization has hired a competitor of yours to provide a slightly different service. Puzzled and frustrated, you call your contact at the organization to find out why you weren't even considered. “We love you guys,” she says. “But we didn't think you did this kind of work. So we went out and found the most qualified firm for the project.”

Sound familiar? You've bent over backwards to please a client, then they go elsewhere for services you can do in your sleep — all because they don't know what you do.

What They Don't Know Can Hurt You

It's a common story. In our study of professional services buyers, we asked buyers if they were aware of the range of services provided by their current firm. Over 63% said no. That's a pretty amazing statistic coming from people who have vetted the firm they hired, a firm they probably communicate with on a daily basis.

Aware of Services Offered by Current Firm

Aware of Services Chart

We dug a little deeper. We asked buyers if they were interested in buying new services in the near future. 68% said yes, and each was asked to list which services they would need. Next we contacted as many incumbent firms as we could identify. We presented each firm with the relevant list of desired services and asked how many of the services their firm offered. Over 85% of the time, the firm offered the service in need. Only the client didn't realize it!

Desired Services From Existing Client

Desired Services Chart 

How to Communicate Your Services

Now that we've diagnosed the problem, what's the best way to communicate a firm's services and deepen the relationship? Common vehicles to announce new services include newsletters, press releases, firm website or blog. But when asked, buyers didn't think much of these tactics. In fact, three quarters of buyers indicated that personal contact was the way they preferred to learn about services. And an in-person visit from a senior-level individual is probably the most effective means of setting the stage for future work. Here's how the responses broke down:

Offering New Services Chart

Getting More Referrals

Most clients are perfectly willing to make referrals. About two thirds of buyers said they were very likely to make a referral (of those, almost 80% already had). And another quarter said they were likely to make a referral (half of which had already made at least one referral). The most commonly cited reason people didn't refer? Nobody had asked them for one (68.9% of respondents).

How to do you encourage more referrals? It's not an easy nut to crack. You need to get more people asking about you, which means building awareness of your firm. You can begin by publicizing the client work you've done: develop case studies to showcase past successes and publish them on your website, blog and any other medium that is seen by prospective clients. When talking to your clients, tell them about projects you've done for others — there is always a chance that one of these might be the seed for a referral.

There are lots of ways to become better known and generate buzz in the marketplace, including public speaking, publishing and public relations. Whatever routes you take in the end, don't forget to talk to your clients about their challenges. The odds aren't bad that you'll be able to provide the solution they need.

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