The old adage in consulting is: clients prefer to buy and not to be sold to.
Exactly How Clients Buy Consulting Services
That is, they don’t like feeling forced into making a decision. Rather, they’d prefer to get as much information as possible to determine which solutions and vendors will deliver the best results with the lowest risk.
Clients like to feel as though they owned the buying process and, trying to rush them through it can submarine your deal or, lead to missed opportunity all together.
Understanding how “buyers buy” not only improves your chances of closing the sale, but also gives you a HUGE advantage in attracting new business with content marketing.
If you can produce great content that aligns with your perfect customer and, gives them the answers they need when they need them, you’ll be in great position to get that first phone call or email when they’re ready to pull the trigger.
This is what we mean when we talk about “nurturing leads” – keeping the customer engaged in every step of their journey from the first time they thought they needed help to when they signed the contract.
So, let’s take a look at how clients do their homework and go from being a researcher to a buyer.
The Consulting Services Buying Process
If you search the inter-Google for “buying process”, you’ll notice quite a few different views. Some have four steps, others ten. Some are geared for consumer focused businesses (B2C) and even more for Internet marketing in general.
All have some roots in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and are open for debate.
The inverted pyramid below, in my view, is the simplest way to boil down what really happens in the field.
The earlier the prospect is in the buying process, the less they know about their options and, the further away they are from making a purchase (and vice versa.)
Make sense? Let’s take a deeper look at the phases and the kinds of content you’ll need for each.
Identify the need or problem
This is the classic “I’ve got an itch” phase. Here, potential clients are most likely to “Google” their problem (or symptom), e.g. “what to do when..” They either can’t articulate their pain, are wondering if anybody else has seen the same thing, or want to know what is causing it.
- “How do I fix/solve/cure X problem?”
- “What’s the most likely reason why I’m having this problem?”
- “What do I call this problem? How do other people refer to it?”
- “Where should I go to find out more information?”
Common types of content: Articles, Blog posts, Press Releases. You’re basic “101” content that should be written to tie-in to more sophisticated content.
Now that the prospect has a better handle on what they’re trying to solve, they go about researching solutions and services to remedy their situation.
- “OK, I can articulate my problem and have an idea of how to fix it, but I need to learn more”
- “Is there more than one solution to the problem? What are my options?”
- “What kinds of companies deliver in this space?”
- “What kind of issues should I foresee? Any caveats I should be aware of?”
- “What’s everybody else doing to solve this?”
Common types of content: Articles and Blog Posts, White Papers, Presentations, Industry Guides and Reports. Think Lessons Learned, more How To’s, solution specific content, Tips and Tricks, Thought Leadership
Establish Buying Criteria
When they’ve educated themselves on all the ways their problem can be solved, they then go about discerning exactly what results they want, how much they’re willing to pay and what type of vendor they want to work with
- “OK, I know my problem, what direction to take in fixing it and found a few consultants who work in this space”
- “What results am I looking for? How will I know the problem is fixed?”
- “What’s my budget?”
- “What other parameters or caveats should I worry about (e.g. sponsors, parallel projects, timing, culture, etc.)”
- “I’m ready to do something, but I need to make sure I pick the right partner”
Common Types of content: Articles/Blog Posts, Books, eBooks, Webinars. Content that focuses on typical scoping activities (measuring ROI, “how big of a bread box”, sponsorship, corporate culture/politics.)
Time to start contacting consultants and other vendors for proposals and identify a best fit.
- “I need some quotes”
- “Do you have any references? Documented projects similar to mine?”
- “Anything I can look at that makes me feel like you understand my project and have worked in similar situations?”
- “How much will it cost?”
Common types of content: Case Studies, References, Sales Collateral, Presentations, Proposals.
Finally! Contracts are signed, kickoffs scheduled and the engagement moves forward.
Don’t Skip On Any of These Phases
It’s been said that the best type of client is the one who wants what you’re selling and not the one who simply needs it. This is absolutely true but, that doesn’t mean you should ignore clients early in the sales process.
Potential clients enter at every stage. In the best case scenario, somebody will reach out to you and know exactly what their problem is, what kind of services they are looking for and, that your consultancy is the best outfit to help them. We call those situations “Blue Birds” for a reason: they are extremely rare.
If you want to build as big a pipeline as possible, then you need to spread a wide net. Build content for every stage in the process from cradle to grave.
Now that we know what kinds of questions clients ask (and when), it’s time to identify exactly what your customers are looking for.