Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What Tips the Scale for AEC Buyers?

A Study from Hinge Marketing

All other things being equal, what do you think Architecture, Engineering, and Construction buyers consider the deciding factor in purchasing decisions? What is that crucial quality that tips the scales?

If you said “experience” or “customer service,” you’re not alone among AEC providers. But you’re also wrong.

My company, Hinge, recently conducted research on exactly this question and uncovered some surprising discrepancies between what sellers thought tipped the scales and what really contributes to AEC buying behavior. By examining AEC sellers alongside the buyers they serve, the study was able to isolate two very different views on the same story – including points where the perspectives aligned, and points where they dramatically diverged.

What sellers don’t see

Take customer service. It’s obviously important, but will it give you a leg up in the final selection? According to Hinge’s study, 38% of sellers called customer service the deciding factor – the most common answer among AEC sellers. But only 4% of their buyers agreed!

What about a firm’s experience? 33% of sellers believe it is the most important deciding factor, making it the second most-common answer from AEC providers. This time, 10% of buyers concurred.

If you have a strength like rock-solid customer service, that’s great. But it has to be something that your clients and prospects value in order for the quality to be a meaningful in closing new business. If a prospect doesn’t value the quality in question, then it isn’t a strength that will help your firm grow.

Now, we know AEC buyers want good customer service. We know experience matters. So what’s going on here?  What do buyers truly value, and what pushes an AEC firm over the top?

What really drives the choice

At Hinge, we learned that sellers tend to focus on factors that buyers come to value over time, qualities that are easier to claim than demonstrate. You can tell a buyer that your customer service is second to none, but everyone says that. So how do you make an impression on prospects?

The answer is reputation. In fact, 32% of buyers cite “a good reputation” as the deciding factor in a purchase – far and away the most common answer among buyers. Yet only 11% of sellers thought reputation was a winning factor for choosing a firm.

Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. If you’ve got a problem and you need someone to solve it, you want someone you’ve heard great things about from people you trust. Your problem-solver might have a reputation for solving your particular problem or for fantastic customer service; in any case, it’s their reputation that lends them credibility. Weighed against a stranger who claims that they’re great to work with and can solve your problems, you’re probably going to go with the well-recommended option every time.

Of course, this has huge implications for the way that vendors communicate with buyers. The challenge for AEC sellers isn’t to somehow persuade prospects that their customer service is stellar, or that they’re the most experienced firm on the block. Instead, AEC services have to build up a reputation for their best qualities – and particularly for solving the problems they solve best.

What’s more, the firms who understand how to leverage their reputations will have a massive leg up over the competition.

To read the full results of Hinge’s study, check out the research on
How Buyers Buy AEC Services.

About the Author:
Sylvia Montgomery is a Senior Partner at Hinge, a marketing and branding firm that focuses on professional services. Sylvia is also a co-author of Online Marketing for Professional Services.   She can be reached at or 703-391-8870.

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