What Customers Value … and Are Willing to Pay for

by Jake Poinier

art_featured_customers1As business people, we like to believe we’ve got a pretty good idea of what our clients want. But a recent survey by Hinge Marketing, a Reston, VA-based branding and marketing company that specializes in professional services firms, may have you rethinking some of your assumptions. How Buyers Buy: Architecture/Engineering/ Construction Services involved interviews with purchasers of A/E/C services as well as interviews or surveys of the firms that they selected—a total of 522 respondents in all.

“We perform a lot of primary research, although it was the first time we’d done this particular survey to assess the gaps between buyers and sellers,” says Sylvia Montgomery, CPSM, a senior partner at Hinge. “In a prior study, we found that high-growth, high-profit professional services firms had a good understanding of their target clients, and the more they knew about their clients, the faster they were growing. The high-growth study was designed to figure out what high-growth firms were doing, what was working well, and what can be learned from them.”


Montgomery calls attention to a few notable gaps between seller and buyer opinions on the most important factor in a purchase decision. Customer service, for example, was ranked the highest by sellers at 38%, while just 4% of buyers mentioned it as a deciding factor. Similarly, importance of experience ranked second among sellers, at 33%, while just 10% of buyers agreed. This does not imply that customer service and experience are not important, but rather they are not as important to buyers.

In buyers’ minds, ‘a good reputation’ was the runaway winner as the deciding factor in a purchase—cited by 32% of the respondents—while only 11% of the sellers gave the same answer.

“I think these results very much reflect the industry as a whole—architecture, engineering, construction—and all the flavors in between,” Montgomery says.

“The industry thinks if we just do a good job, people will find out. Well, the truth is that you need to do a good job, but you develop that reputation by letting other people know about the types of work and projects your firm handles. Are you educating clients and helping them understand best practices? Are you informing them that your company doesn’t just do painting, but a wider range of other services? Can you effectively convey your value, and not just your price?”

In essence, experience and customer service are expected. “It’s like having credentials,” Montgomery says. “If you say you’re an engineer, of course you have an engineering degree. What our research shows is that the important thing above all is whether you can solve the client’s problem, and how you convey that.”


Montgomery suggests putting yourself in the buyer’s shoes. If you’re a commercial painter, that means understanding your target audience and, specifically, the person who is making the decision. Maybe it’s the office manager and their biggest issue is mitigating disruption of the employees in the space during the job. By understanding their primary concern, you have the opportunity to speak about your crew, experience, and awareness for surroundings. If you’re a residential painter, the client may be concerned about damage to the landscaping or dust being tracked around from sanding. Again, by understanding the homeowners’ concern, you can move the conversation away from painting as a commodity and more to the sensitivities your firm has around the living spaces.

One of the items that Hinge has learned from their research is that sellers often overestimate the importance of their services, unless they explain why the service is important or can be helpful. “Forget about what you care about as a service provider and focus on what your clients and prospects care about, and then frame your capabilities in that way,” Montgomery says. “It’s a much more powerful way of positioning than the traditional catchall list of services.”

Get the facts—free: for a free copy of How Buyers Buy: Architecture/Engineering/Construction Services, click on the A/E/C link under Clients & Industries at

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