In our first post in this series, we detailed the very beginning of a relationship – that harrowing stage where some key characteristics tip the scale to leave one seller with a new client and send the rest home empty-handed.
But the curtains don’t close at the beginning of a relationship, except in romantic comedies. Once you’ve closed a sale, you have to get down to the hard work of delivering on the promises you’ve made. And at this stage, your reputation alone won’t be enough to get you where you want to go. If you want this relationship to be as fruitful as possible, you’ll have to start asking yourself what your clients really want from you. In our research on over 1,300 professional services buyers and sellers, we found that service providers often don’t know the answer.
What clients value most
We asked buyers what they valued most in the services they received – not hypothetical qualities of a hypothetical service, but real benefits, right now. We also asked sellers to identify the most valuable benefits they provided.
Above all other benefits, the majority of clients (68 percent) valued specialized skills and expertise. Service providers recognized that this was the top value, but dramatically underestimated its importance. They almost completely failed to recognize the next two more significant factors: a provider’s network and impact on clients’ bottom line. You may recall that in the first article of this series, we discussed how reputation trumped other considerations when winning the sale. So why are specialized skills and experience suddenly so important? Put simply, it’s time to deliver. In the marketing and selling stage of a relationship, your reputation is the best way for buyers to understand your abilities and experience, but once you’ve sold them, they want those qualities to go to work for them.
The need for new services
In fact, new customers may want your skills and experience to go to work for them in more ways than you realize. 79 percent of buyers report being interested in new services from their current provider:
This is fertile ground for expanding the relationship to new services – and sellers don’t even fully recognize what a strong opportunity it really is. For many, the wrinkle is that buyers don’t know which services sellers offer, so they might go to someone else for a service you provide, even though you have an existing, mutually satisfactory relationship. The key, then, is to educate your clients about the range of services you provide. But how do your existing clients prefer to learn about your services?
Selling new services
We asked clients how they wanted to learn about new services, and their answers pointed to a clear trend.
Overwhelmingly, buyers want the personal touch, whether that takes the form of a call or visit, a personal email, or regular contact with their account manager. Taken together, this data paints a picture of what a growing and mutually beneficial professional services relationship looks like. Simply doing good work often isn’t enough to expand the relationship – buyers may not see opportunities for expansion.
But likewise, marketing new services without having delivered on what buyers have already purchased isn’t likely to be very effective. Your specialized skills need to be evident to clients through your work, and they need to be aware of other ways you can help them. When these two pieces are in place, the relationship will be primed for growth.
Lee W. Frederiksen, Ph.D., is Managing Partner at Hinge, a marketing firm that specializes in branding and marketing for professional services. Hinge is a leader in rebranding firms to help them grow faster and maximize value.