The hunt for services begins offline

When strategizing about how to gain new customers businesses should pay attention to the purchasing behavior of their target market. Where are they hiding? What influences their buying decisions?

It is easy to assume that prospects opt for Google to guide their research. However, in service-related industries – those that operate on trust and relationships – prospects depend on positive recommendations to find their candidates before turning to the search engine.

In fact, according to a 2014 report by the Hinge Research Institute, 87 percent of buyers turn to friends or colleagues first for recommendations when shopping for financial services, while only about 1 out of every 10 shoppers start their research online. This may be the digital age, but humans still rely heavily on other people for advice on how to spend their dollars.

Although search engine optimization (SEO), inbound marketing, and AdWords are important to online and local retail businesses, service related businesses may be better off leveraging their existing loyal customers for growth.

Although referrals are important however, they do not guarantee prospects will sign on the dotted line. The Hinge Research Institute also noted that 81 percent of referred buyers end up judging a business by researching its website. When the website is a lemon the referral dies on the vine.

Therefore, a professional website goes a long way to closing the deal. Compare it to the good ol’ days when companies were judged on the appearance of their storefront, cleanliness of their office, and credentials hanging on the walls. Sure, those are still important, but when it comes to judging a business after the referral, most people reach as far as their computer or smartphone.

Having processes in place aimed directly at increasing referrals will get the ball rolling for service companies as buyers simply turn to friends and family first. But a professional and informational website is just as important in converting those referrals into sales.

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