• Research: How Buyers Check Into Professional Services Providers

    Many professional services providers believe that referrals and references are the most important ways that buyers “check out” a seller. For a long time that was true – in some circles it has become a piece of received (but not always closely examined) wisdom.

    As a consequence, these sellers sometimes focus all of their reputation-building efforts on references, ignoring other strategies completely. But is their basic assumption true? And if not, how do buyers actually evaluate providers from whom they’re considering a purchase?

    Hinge set out to find some definitive answers. How are buyers checking out service providers today? And based on this knowledge, which strategies should firms consider using to share their expertise with the marketplace?

    We researched 1,028 buyers of professional services to find out. The answers and their implications form the basis of our new research report, Beyond Referrals: How Today’s Buyer’s Check You Out.” We’ve made it available to the public in the hope that firms will draw some useful lessons to help them shape their reputations more effectively.

    Taking a closer look

    We studied buyers purchasing a wide range of services, including accounting and finance, marketing and communications, technology, legal services, management consulting, and architecture, engineering, and consulting.

    We asked them how they “check out” sellers, and the results pointed to a decisive shift toward online tools, with over 80% of respondents looking to sellers’ websites. In fact, provided references ranked lowest among the search methods, below online search and social media. Respondents used an average of 3.2 search methods, and the top three were:

    • The seller’s website (80%)
    • Google the seller (65%)
    • Ask friends or colleagues about the seller (62%)

    The implications for professional services providers are massive. Most importantly, buyers are making decisions based on your online image – whether or you’re shaping that online image or not.

    The time when professional services sellers could afford to ignore online tools for sharing their expertise has passed. Today, it must be a priority. References and referrals will always be important, but they’re no longer enough. In order to keep up, firms will need to make sure that their expertise is visible where buyers are looking.

    If you’d like to explore these new findings in detail, we welcome you to download the report. We hope you find it useful.

    Elizabeth Harr is a partner at Hinge, a marketing and branding firm for professional services. Elizabeth is an accomplished entrepreneur and experienced executive with a background in strategic planning, brand building, and communications. She is the coauthor of Inside the Buyer’s Brain, How Buyers Buy: Technology Services Edition and Online Marketing for Professional Services: Technology Services Edition.

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