Client relationships have always been a key part of business growth but the latest research from Hinge® Marketing states the landscape of visibility, value, brand recognition, and expertise in the marketplace is ever-changing. As we look ahead, our business development and marketing efforts must meet our customers’ needs. Here, we take a look at five takeaways from Hinge’s findings.
1. What happened to good old referrals?
Professional services firms have historically relied heavily on referrals to generate new business. While clients are more willing to refer colleagues and friends to your firm, there’s less follow-through than before. The prospective customers aren’t doing as much of the asking—they’re looking online to find firms that fit their specific needs. Up from 11% in 2013, online search is used by nearly one in five buyers today. They’re doing their own research and asking for referrals less often. News like this means firms just can’t count on referrals and networking as a successful marketing strategy like they used to.
2. Specialists are winning.
Potential clients are seeking out the super-specialist—teams with specialized skills that directly solve problems with measurable outcomes. A firm’s perceived value seems to be directly tied to how well their professional services resolve key business problems—an increase of 33% since 2013.
Every firm has their experts with marketable skillsets. How can you craft a “farmer’s market” of content that positions you as leaders in your field? Project portfolios, client testimonials, references, and case studies, just to name a few—they all serve to elevate your team’s skillsets and distinguishing expertise. Retain and upsell current clients by proffering different types of access to your content: webinars, newsletters, live training sessions, roundtable discussions, white papers, datasheets, and much more. Inform and entertain prospects in a similar way, keeping them engaged and getting to know your brand.
3. Brand it like you mean it.
Brand recognition, visibility in the marketplace, and reputation all seem to be trending downward. In professional services, a ﬁrm’s brand can be measured as the product of its reputation and visibility. Firm brands that are built on a foundation of specialized expertise are in a better position to maintain their brand strength. Here are some points to ponder:
• Today, only 16% of buyers think their professional services provider is highly visible in
the marketplace, down more than 25% from the 2013 study. This decline suggests that
a ﬁrm’s reputation and relevance to solving client challenges are likely to become high priorities in the near future.
• 53% of buyers believed their professional services provider had a very good general reputation in the marketplace—down slightly since 2013. But why? We can speculate
that the digital world calls for greater business transparency, plus the current climate
may be causing a culture of questioning expert opinion.
4. Buyer challenges have changed, too.
Can you believe that budgets and financial issues are less of a problem than they used to be? Believe it: They’re down 10% from 2013. Dealing with a diﬃcult economy and competitive marketplace was the top challenge facing professional services ﬁrms back in 2013. Yet in the latest results (pre-COVID-19 global pandemic), it didn’t make the top ﬁve, although we’re sure that if the same question was asked today it would be a top concern. So what’s number one, you ask?
Attracting and developing new business is the top challenge facing buyers of professional services. On the bright side, professional services ﬁrms are seen as more relevant and more valuable. And those professionals who make their expertise visible to prospective clients in the right channels stand to win more business and enjoy higher fees.
Here comes that word “relevance” again. It’s all in how often your brand comes in contact with your buyer. Professional services ﬁrms should research their target audiences to stay aware of their shifting concerns and make sure their services are positioned as highly relevant to prospective (and current) client business concerns.
5. What’s love got to do with it?
Is no one loyal anymore? Well, not as much. Buyers are becoming less and less loyal to their providers overall. In a window of two to three years, only 57% of buyers studied were highly likely to retain their professional services firm—a nearly 20% decrease from 2013. Ouch.
Maintaining client loyalty has become a bigger challenge over the past five years. Firms are slightly more aware of competitors, but the landscape is still unclear. We all know competition is fierce. Accounting and ﬁnancial services firms were the ones most aware of competitors.
To stay ahead of your competitors, focus on ongoing research and fine-tuning your message. Make it known you are here to solve problems and fit the needs of your clients and prospects. Firms that understand their true competitors can see opportunities in the marketplace and position themselves to stand apart. Keep digging into your client relationships to find out what they need and create robust, client-focused communication initiatives.
Download a complimentary copy of the Inside the Buyer’s Brain report for more insights.