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As humans, our relationships are constantly evolving. What initially attracts us to someone is often quite different than what we come to value over time.
As it turns out, this is also true with buyer-seller relationships in professional services. What attracts a company to a provider is not necessarily what that same company values most as the relationship evolves. In other words, you’ve closed the sale, but to expand this relationship you’ll have to ask yourself a familiar question (even if the answer seems to evolve), “what do my clients really want from me?”
Recent research results from our new ebook, Inside the Buyer’s Brain, shows that you are playing under different rules to expand the buyer-seller relationship. The factors that won you the account — your reputation, visibility, skill at crafting a model for success — won’t be enough to keep this new relationship flourishing. Now that you are the chosen firm, your clients expect you to deliver. We can see this evolution in priorities in the figure below.
When we asked buyers what they really value most in working with their provider (i.e. what they care about after they have awarded the business), we found that above all other criteria most buyers (68%) value a firm’s specialized skills and expertise. We found a persistent gap between what is inside the buyer’s brain, and what sellers think is inside their buyers’ brains.
Sellers must understand that while reputation might get them in the door, after closing the sale they are no longer in the marketing and selling phase of the relationship. Remember, most buyers are not well equipped to evaluate skills and expertise. So they tend to look at other factors, such as reputation, to compensate. After all, a firm with a good reputation must have sufficient skills to do the job well – right?
After closing the sale, your specialized skills and expertise are exactly what the client values most. Clients want to see that their issues are being addressed. Reputations sell, while skills and expertise deliver. Too often sellers overlook the evolution of their relationship with buyers. They assume buyers will always seek the same thing. But these priorities can shift and, over time, buyers come to value factors that directly impact their business.
Unfortunately, sellers often underestimate the importance of these components. At the same time, sellers can overestimate factors like being a trusted team member and the quality of their work. Sure, all of these aspects are important. But they aren’t as crucial to buyers at this point in the relationship.
What’s the lesson here? Make sure your client recognizes the expertise you bring to their challenges, as well as any impact you may have on their bottom line. This will allow your firm to be well positioned to expand the relationship, get more repeat business and receive more referrals.
Professional service firms love additional business from their clients. Our research shows more than 79% of buyers would like to purchase more services from their current provider (see figure below).
Despite this, clients often go elsewhere for services that the provider offered. Why would this be? As you can see from the figure below, 48% of buyers admit that, even as they seek more help from their sellers, they don’t always know the scope of services they provide. Buyers are unaware – and opportunities are left on the table. Buyers want to buy more. But most professional services firms are doing a poor job of telling their clients what their firms have to offer.
After closing the sale, clients’ expectations change. Keep these points in mind as your relationship with your own clients evolves and you seek to expand your business:
To learn more about what really drives clients’ decisions and buying behavior, check out our new free ebook, Inside the Buyer’s Brain.
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, management, communications, and alliance development. 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.