Stephen Fairley 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Have you ever wondered how potential clients really make buying decisions? Do you know the triggers that cause them to select one professional over another? Recently I came across a study undertaken by a team of researchers led by psychologist Lee Frederickson. They conducted in-depth interviews with decision makers at 137 different companies and organizations to ascertain how they buy professional services and the internal dynamics of the decision making process during the life of the engagement. They produced a report titled "Professional Services: How Buyers Buy" that's available on their website hingemarketing.com. If your law firm targets companies, organizations, associations, or the government you need to study and apply the results of their research! To state the obvious, a "company" does not hire a law firm; the people who work there do! The same things companies go through in their decision making process are the same ones individuals make when they need to hire a lawyer. The study sought to answer two critical questions: What do buyers of professional services really want? What are the best ways to expand the relationship and get referrals? Rather than ask a very large number of buyers a series of relatively superficial questions, the researchers conducted in-depth and one-on-one interviews with a carefully chosen group of buyers of professional services. Instead of asking buyers about firm selection in general, great thought went into their questions as to reveal the exact details of the selection process and how these buyers worked with a firm over time and the "milestones" of the relationship. The group of 137 buyers came from public, private and governmental agencies who hired professional services in several categories including legal and, quite surprisingly, the results were extremely similar across all the categories examined.The interview topics included: the selection process, how to best market to the decision makers, how professionals can best expand existing relationships, how to ask for and obtain referrals, and the major reasons why clients leave or decide to end the relationship. The buyers of professional services were asked about the major ways they perceived outside companies tried to market to them compared to what actually worked. They reported the top ten ways professional service companies tried to reach them were (in order): cold calling, emails, networking, direct mail, personal visits, conferences and trade shows, by following our structured process through a request for proposal, by using existing relationships, and ads in trade publications. Interestingly enough,almost 9% said they don't believe any professional service is even trying to market to them (which I find very hard to believe).While cold calling is almost never used in the legal industry, 23.5% of buyers claimed that was the top way professional service companies tried to sell them. One interpretation of this is perhaps the professional calling the buyer failed to adequately lay the ground work of how they obtained the contact's number or if they were referred by a colleague of theirs. When asked about how providers of professional serves could do a better job of marketing, buyers painted a very clear picture. Many of the participants said they didn't want to be "sold to." They felt they already had a decent understanding of their particular situation, what they really wanted was a credible expert to sit down with them and lay out practical, realistic solutions. "Show me what has worked before" was a very common response. There were seven other specific things buyers focused on with regards to how they could be better marketed to: A personalized understanding of their situation is critical. The key take away here is: do your homework! Before targeting a company be sure to understand their current challenges. Do not give them a high pressure sales pitch it only turns them off.The larger the company, the longer buying decisions take and the more people who must be consulted. They want to see relevant case studies.This was a major selling point to them. Buyers want to see if you have worked with similar situations, what you did to resolve the legal issue, and what the results were. Buyers want to see a detailed solution presented. There is some risk here that they will take your detailed analysis and solution and try to either do it in house or give it to a cheaper competitor, but buyers want to see if you understand all the issues and are able to realistically address them. They want the actual providers of the services at the initial meeting. Many larger law firms have developed a bad habit of sending in the "big guns" or the top rainmaker for the initial meeting and then passing the work off to lower level lackeys who don't understand the complexities of the situation. Companies have figured this out and they don't want to be "passed off" to someone down the line, unless they interview and approve this person ahead of time. Buyers want to be shown that the firm truly wants their business.This is a wide open response, but the way I would apply this is to "fix your follow up." One of the main ways I determine if a professional service provider wants my business is how often they follow up with me and how persistent they are. Here's a lesson you would do well to follow: appoint someone to be in charge of following up with potential buyers and make sure it's not an attorney! Yes, you heard me correctly.You should have all the people who attended the initial meeting send a thank you email after the event, but appoint a non-attorney to keep the momentum going. In spite of their great intentions, most attorneys do not have good follow up skills. They get busy with billing or meeting with clients or going to court and the ball gets dropped. They wanted assurances that the firm could follow the buyer's processes. Systems are created with a purpose and very few companies become successful without having dozens of systems, processes and procedures that must be followed. Assure the buyer that your firm "plays well with others" and will follow their procedures. The contrast is striking—while most professional service firms use impersonal phone calls, mass emails, and other generic forms of marketing, the buyers want a dialogue around solving their problems, not another sales pitch.This does not mean that phone calls and emails are bad; but it does suggest that your marketing message must be highly targeted, show that you understand their specific challenges, and concisely lay out that you have solutions to their problems. Selection Criteria Most buyers of professional services start out with a good sense of what they are looking for in an outside firm.The buyers in the study were asked to name their t op criteria used in evaluating and selecting an outside firm.The top 10 criteria were: There are four takeaways for me from these findings: Demonstration of your expertise matters! There are several ways to show your level of technical expertise prior to even meeting with potential clients including: develop highly focused white papers that focus on a specific industry or type of company your firm wants to target, give seminars at trade associations, and at the top of my list develop a targeted blog that is filled with content. Larger firms do not have an immediate advantage over smaller firms as only 5.6% of buyers chose that as one of their t op criteria. If you're in a smaller law firm and you are competing against larger firms be sure to emphasize your availability and flexibility. It will often trump any perceived benefit the larger competitor has due to their size and reach. I was surprised personal relationship was not ranked much higher, perhaps because many of these buyer's companies were larger and have a more detached approach to selecting outside professional service firms. We all recognize the importance of building rapport and relationships with prospects as well as clients, but relationships rarely replace results. The one thing most law firms are most afraid of, pricing themselves out of the market, is actually at the very bottom of the buyer's decision making criteria. Only 4.2% of participants noted price was critical to selecting an outside firm. Hands down, experience and demonstrated expertise were the t op things that lead buyers to select one firm over another. Researchers also identified four major factors that buyers seek to avoid in any professional service firm: poor results (47.9%), communication problems with the project team (38.7%), cost overruns (10.9%) and selecting the wrong size firm (9.2%). Another way to look at the internal decision making process is to focus on the factors that tip the scale in favor of one firm over another. The study participants were asked what factors eventually led them to select a particular firm, other than the original selection criteria.What the results showed was that most criteria became less important in the final selection than their original ranking would have indicated. Researchers found there were four criteria that became increasingly significant as the selection process moved along: the availability and flexibility of the firm, the amount of commitment and level of involvement by senior partners of the outside firm, total estimated price, and a disappointment with the other alternatives. There are many other results Dr. Frederickson and his research team found that directly relate to how companies' make buying decisions. You can find some of his other influential research at www.hingemarketing.com. I wanted to point out a few key factors in this article as part of our commitment to educating the legal community on how to better meet the needs of prospects, clients, and referral sources. The real question is, now that you know about these factors, how are you going to implement them into the way you do business?
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