by Lee W. Frederiksen
Good news: Your prospect has a problem. You’ve nurtured this particular lead carefully, educating the prospective client through various forms of content. You’ve even had tentative conversations with a contact at the business. Now they need outside help, and they’re reaching out to several trusted service providers, including you.
Sounds good, right? The story’s not over yet; you’re not done closing the sale. A few variables are going to determine whether you or your competitor wins the day, and Hinge research of over 1,300 professional services buyers and sellers has found that this variable—the characteristic that “tips the scale”—is often more consistent and predictable than you might imagine. Businesses that understand this are closing sales and growing faster.
So what exactly tips the scale? And who is going to win this deal? For the answers, we’re going to have to take a step back.
Getting in the running
First, it’s important to emphasize that customers’ priorities aren’t static. They will differ somewhat from buyer to buyer and situation to situation, as you might expect. Just as importantly, a given firm’s priorities are going to change over the course of their search for a service provider. What matters to them at the beginning of the process won’t necessarily be top of mind toward the end. And though priorities may vary somewhat from business to business, there are clear patterns.
For example, let’s take a look at the selection criteria that matter most to buyers, as well as what sellers think matters most to them. These are the criteria that put a seller in the running in the first place. In other words, early stage priorities.
At the selection stage, a good reputation is the most essential criteria—and sellers recognize its importance on the whole. Cost is the second most important factor, though not nearly as crucial as sellers believe it to be. Good fit and shared values are nearly as important to buyers as cost, but this goes widely unrecognized by sellers. You can see how these disparities in buyer and seller perspective might impact the effectiveness of sellers’ messaging. Cost is important to address at this stage, but if a firm places too much emphasis on it, they may neglect to speak to qualities that are as, or more, important. Effective, genuinely educational content marketing that helps your audience and shares your firm’s personality can help build your credibility, boost your reputation, and share your spin on the industry.
But what about qualities that can disqualify you?
Don’t get ruled out
As a buyer narrows the field of potential service providers, they’re going to look for characteristics that might rule out a given candidate. As with selection criteria, we’ve identified some clear trends: A reputation for, or past experience of, broken promises is the most dangerous characteristic a provider can have, but at this stage, it is also important not to seem like every other competitor.
Again, cost matters—you can get disqualified based on price—but note how dramatically sellers overestimate its importance. Ironically, by deploying cost-centric messaging, a business can end up sounding just like everyone else, missing a crucial opportunity to differentiate themselves. At this stage, if your business has communicated its unique value proposition effectively and cultivated a reputation for follow-through, it is well positioned to move on to the final stage of competition.
Tipping the scale
It’s down to the final contenders. You’ve done everything right. So what matters now?
Most sellers think expertise and experience are the elements that will push them over the top, but your business takes a more nuanced view, and that is why you will win. Expertise and experience are important, but reputation is the characteristic that communicates those qualities, and a relationship with the prospective client cultivates a sense of trust and familiarity that can make all the difference.
Notably, cost is pretty far down the list at this point, meaning all the effort sellers put into cost-based messaging earlier may have been for naught. Using content to cultivate and bolster your reputation for expertise and using lead nurturing strategies to build a reputation even before an engagement, your business has given itself the crucial advantages it needs to win. In fact, this strategy is strong enough that it can even give you an upset victory, unseating a business banking primarily on its relationship with prospects.
Congratulations! You’ve tipped the scales and finished closing the sale, but of course this isn’t the end of the story. In fact, it’s just the beginning of a new one.
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.