When somebody's looking to hire a new vendor in the B2B world, they're not going to pick the first one they see, especially in the building trades with big-budget projects. People obviously want the job done right to a high standard, but they are also looking for the right ‘fit.'
Every potential client you've ever had (or will have) goes through five stages before they decide to work with you.
During these five stages, two stages are ‘gaps.' These gaps are where your chances of losing that prospect to the competition are highest.
Think of it like an obstacle course prospects have to travel through. At one end, there's their current situation. At the other end is the solution to their problems (YOU!). In between is a series of obstacles, including two shark-filled pits (your competitors, just waiting to chomp into this opportunity to land the prospect's project and the sweet cash).
To make it through to the end and win the prospects' trust, you need to MIND THE GAP(s).
But what are these stages? And what are the gaps?
The five stages of choosing who to hire include:
- The searching stage
- The evaluation stage (gap here!)
- The contact stage
- The narrowing stage (gap here!)
- The hiring stage
Let's take a look at all five of these stages and figure out how you can prevent your firm from falling down a gap and losing out on those sales.
Stage 1: The Search
You won't be aware that your potential client is actively searching to find new vendors for their B2B project during the searching stage, but you should be ready to be found.
Your potential clients will be searching for the right contractor for their job based on past experience, referrals, and in-depth Google searches, so you have to make sure your website is easy to find, up-to-date, easy to use, and showcases your best work.
This process goes quickly and is based on the first impressions of the searcher, which happens in a few seconds. Search, no, no, no, no, yes, maybe, no, no, yes… and this goes on until they feel confident they have enough good firms to evaluate.
What is important for you in this phase:
- Be findable
- Look like a vendor worthy of more attention
- Get added to the evaluation list
The best way to get them to see you in this initial search is to have your website optimized to appear higher on the search engine results page. If your rankings currently suck, check out our super helpful blog on common website problems that affect SEO.
We both know word-of-mouth referrals are huge – and the online version of word-of-mouth is online reviews of your work on your Google My Business profile, your website, and your social media profiles like LinkedIn. That will give prospects the proof they need to see you're a potential partner for their project.
Stage 2: The Evaluation (Gap #1)
During this stage, you still aren't aware that a prospect is looking for a contractor, but they are there – and you need to try your hardest to convince them to keep you on the list because you are worthy of getting invited to the table.
They are looking for reasons to eliminate you from the list to narrow down their search. You are trying to stay on that list and stand out – all while not knowing this search is actually happening.
In the evaluation stage, you have to make sure your company is accurately reflected online. That means no outdated websites, no out-of-use phone numbers, and no busted-up graphics.
What is important for you in this phase:
- Be clear on what you do for whom
- Be consistent online in what you say and how you look
- Be seen as credible as you are in real life
- Be aware of and eliminate anything that could be a trust trip hazard
Remember, they are looking to narrow down their list, and they are making quick decisions. Do you look the part? Do you seem experienced and credible? Have you done work like this before? Who are your clients? Will it hurt my own credibility by selecting you?
Your brand should stand out for all the right reasons.
Keep your social media up to date with informative and valuable posts.
Optimize your Google My Business profile so it includes all the latest information about your business, highlighting positive reviews and feedback from previous clients if you can get them. For some industries, a GMB profile is not as important as LinkedIn.
Update all your business listings on online directories as this is an ‘I'm starting my search' hotspot for prospects. They're going to be scanning pages and pages full of different companies, so make sure you stand out.
What are these potential future clients looking for?
Prospects are looking at multiple key factors, including:
- Your location
- Your skill level
- If you're a specialist/certified
- Your service list
- Company credentials
- Staff qualifications
- Your unique style/approach
They're looking for a company that solves their problems and can deliver their vision. Make it obvious what you do, who you do it for, and why you're the best choice. If they see something that catches their interest, then they'll call you instead of letting you slip through the gap.
How can you communicate that without even speaking to them?
Keep your website updated
Keeping your website updated is a vital part of getting prospects to call. Prospects don't want to see who you were five years ago when you last updated your site. They want to see who you are now. They expect to see a modern website from a modern company that shows up and gives a damn in everything they do.
Look at your site with a critical eye. Is it obvious what you do for whom? Is it clear that you are damned good at what you do? Is the site full of blah blah blah corporate BS, or is the content written for your audience in the voice of your brand?
The goal is not to look super slick, fancy, and cutting edge. It is to look and sound like the firm built to solve your chosen audience's problems. Sometimes looking slick can be a major deterrent. Align your brand verbally and visually to who you are and what your audience needs to see and hear to invite you to the table.
Update your portfolio
If you've got work on your website that's over 15 years old, it's time you swapped it out for something new unless it is incredibly noteworthy. Otherwise, your portfolio should be kept current.
Your style and craftsmanship have probably changed a lot over the last decade, so don't let your company down by having a trust trip hazard on your own website. Replace it with something new so your potential clients will have more relevant examples. Be clear. Be consistent. Be credible.
Highlight awards, certifications, and affiliations
So you worked your butt off and finally got some recognition for it? Add that sucker to your website's home page. Seriously, promote the heck out of it. Announce it on your social media accounts. Add it to your LinkedIn. Hey, you won it – get the most out of it.
If awards aren’t your thing, there certainly are certifications and affiliations you can hype. The key here is to make sure what you are adding is meaningful and relevant to your audience.
There is a fine line between fueling your site with trust and draining it.
Testimonials are amazing
I highly recommend adding testimonials to your site if you can get them. But your site isn’t the only place testimonials play a role in whether you are invited to the table or not. They are available on the web in the form of reviews, endorsements, and recommendations.
Your potential client is going to check your LinkedIn endorsements, and they might even have a browse on Glassdoor to see if your employees are satisfied with their work environment.
You don't want to fall at this last hurdle, so make sure everything is easy to find and really sells you as the ONLY option to go with.
Don’t forget your about page
The about page on most sites is highly trafficked, often the second most viewed site after the homepage. Check yours out and make sure you are not wasting this opportunity to connect with this potential client. This is a great place to talk about your firm’s story, your leadership team’s give-a-damn, your firm's core values, and what your mission is in this industry.
For the love of all that is holy, if you list the firm’s vision/mission, make sure it is meaningful and not full of useless corporate BS. Connect, don’t repel.
FYI: A vision statement is where you want to go, and the mission statement is how you plan to get there. Often it is smooshed into one “this is why we exist” type of statement.
Stage 3: Finally! Contact Made.
Phew, what a load of work to get your firm to stage three! This is the first point in the entire process you'll be aware that somebody is interested in working with you. This stage is usually an email contact to tell you about the project and request information from your firm.
You made it here based on a referral, your reputation, or they found you and deemed you worthy of being invited to the table. Congratulations.
What is important for you in this phase:
- Evaluate the project to make sure it is the right fit for your firm. Self-eject if it is not.
- Respond promptly
- Meet submittal deadlines
- Be clear and as jargon-free as possible
- Convey in action that you are an expert practitioner
- Be seen as easy to work with (but only if you are)
- Be consistent in what you say and how you look (email footer, proposals, etc.)
- Be seen as credible as you are in real life (mitigate that which drains your credibility)
- Be aware and eliminate anything that could be a trust trip hazard
Any of the items listed above can get you moved to the next stage or eliminated.
Stage 4: The Narrowing Down (Gap #2)
During this stage, your prospect will have a list of companies they're thinking of working with, but you need to persuade them to choose you.
This is the second gap. The phase where they are in the weeds evaluating your experience and looking for the elusive ‘fit.’
As with each stage, they are looking for reasons to remove firms from the list, which gets them closer to the one that will be hired.
If they don't believe that you're the right fit, then this potentially wonderful project will slip right out of your grasp and into your competitors' hands.
So, are you the right fit?
They'll want to talk with you or your sales team to see if you can truly do what you say you can do.
Depending on the size of the project, this phase can have multiple meetings, presentations, or rounds of narrowing down. They'll check out your references, carefully look at your previous work, and scan your portfolio. Sometimes it comes down to cost, but if we are branding correctly, other aspects like expertise will weigh heavily on the hiring decision.
What is important for you in this phase:
- Continue to evaluate the project to make sure it is the right fit for your firm. Self-eject if it is not.
- Actively listen for unmet needs and opportunities to demonstrate your value.
- Don’t be seen as just another vendor.
- Position your firm as an expert practitioner.
- Try to gain the inside track if possible.
Make sure you have a solid follow-up strategy in place. Don't let them walk into another company's arms because you forgot to call them back.
Stage 5: You're Hired!
Finally, we move on to the last stage.
Congratulations if you've covered those gaps and sold the prospect on your services! You are at the hiring stage where they've decided to work with you.
If you didn't cover those gaps or came across as a bad fit, the prospect has signed on the dotted line with one of your competitors.
One of the best ways to stop your potential clients from sliding through the gaps is to build a solid brand foundation that ensures your offline and online experiences are cohesive.
I often hear, “my website doesn't do anything for us.” Websites rarely get the attention they deserve. Your website is critical in the first few stages. It can help you advance to the next stage, and it can hurt you. Rarely do you hear about either.
I had a guy call me and say, “Hey, I've decided you are my new branding firm “… Um, what? He had found my site, liked what he saw, called four of my clients and had lengthy conversations about me and my team, and made his decision that my firm was the one. That was an exceptional situation, but the key here is that all the work I did putting out what we do, what we stand for, and showing evidence of trustworthy experience paid off.
That was an example of the power of branding. The investment you make in branding will pay off, maybe not like this, but minimally you will start the conversation at a totally different place in the buying process.
Don't go in the cold when you can warm prospects up with effective branding.
Here at Branding & Beyond, we'll help you define your brand personality and build a solid foundation that will make sales easier and marketing more effective.
We don't fabricate brands. We find what already exists within your company and craft it into a verbal and visual identity to apply to everything internally and externally. So you will be ready when the right prospect starts looking for a firm like yours.
It isn't our first rodeo.
We'll help you build a solid brand foundation to implement a marketing plan that actually delivers.
Tracy O’Shaughnessy Founder / Lead Brand Strategist of Branding & Beyond
Tracy and her team help firms in and around the B2B building trades look and sound credible online and off.
She has been in the industry since the early '90s and is tired of seeing fantastic firms struggle, blend in, and get bypassed by prospects who judge them solely on the outdated information found online.
Branding & Beyond's mission is to solve real business problems and build the brand foundation clients need to get noticed and hired.
You can find Tracy on Linkedin and here on this blog.