How risky is it to hire you? A little? A lot? Maybe more importantly, how risky does it APPEAR to be to hire you? What about your website — is it helping you overcome your buyer’s perceived risk or is it creating more of it?
The idea of “buyer’s risk” is, of course, not a new concept — remember the old adage, “nobody got fired for hiring IBM.” Unfortunately, there aren’t that many A/E firms that have developed a brand reputation as pervasive as that. For most firms, mitigating buyers’ risk is a very important aspect of marketing and business development.
Ultimately, we’d like our ideal clients to see us as the absolute perfect choice for their infrastructure need — yet, we also want to avoid giving them even the smallest sense of doubt that we might not be.
What Looks Less Risky is Probably Less Risky
So, in the absence of a larger than life brand reputation, how do buyers perceive a firm to be more or less risky? What influences their thought process on whether or not to short list or select a firm? Ultimately, a buyer is looking to gain confidence in two areas:
- Expertise — Does this firm have the skills to solve my unique business challenge?
- Experience — Do they regularly solve problems similar to the one I face?
Where Does the Web Fit Into All This?
Traditionally, these questions are answered through offline business development activities — preliminary conversations, qualifications materials, interview processes and proposal documents. But, increasingly these days, the decision of which firm to hire is largely made long before those processes begin. By the time our business development people can get involved to shape the conversation, it’s too late. As a result, the firm website plays an increasingly critical role in building the potential client’s confidence that the firm has the sufficient expertise and experience to solve their problem.
Historically, A/E firms have used their websites to reduce perceived risk in three ways:
- Check out our awesome client list — “hey, these guys worked with HyperMegaGlobal Corporation, they must be good.”
- Look at our blow your mind designs (if you’re an architecture firm) — “holy crap, I’d love to have a facility that looks like THAT.”
- Our leaders rock — “geez, look how long that list of credentials is; she must be a big deal.”
But, that’s not good enough today. The fact is, most firm websites leave a lot of unanswered questions. Some examples:
- Oh, you worked with HyperMegaGlobal Corporation, so did every other firm we’re looking at, what did you actually do for them?
- Who actually did the work? How long did it take? How much did it cost? How close was that to the original budget assigned by the client?
- What were the client’s objectives? Did you meet them? How? If not, why not?
- What were the biggest hurdles you faced?
- That’s an unbelievable facility, what were you trying to accomplish with the design?
- Who led the work? Who did the work? Who managed the work day-to-day?
- What was their perspective on the process? What was the client’s perspective on the process?
- What do you see as the biggest facility challenges facing a company like mine right now? How would you suggest I solve them?
- Wow, the firm’s leadership is a really well seasoned group — what is their perspective on where facilities are going right now? What are they thinking about? Writing about? Passionate about?
Most A/E Firm Websites Actually Heighten Perceived Risk
The fact of the matter is, a whole lot of architecture and engineering firm websites today are still little more than a short list of past clients, a collection of project profiles with sometimes stunning photography plus a few short sentences about each project, and some short bios of firm leaders. Sites like these are unable to answer any of the questions we just outlined above.
In the absence of information, people tend to assume the worst — you’re not telling me these things because I wouldn’t like the answer.
6 Ways Your Content Can Reduce a Buyer’s Risk
Your website should offer a repository of educational content to frame your firm’s unique perspective on the markets and clients you serve. This content can take many forms — blogs, short-form articles, long-form articles, webinars, research studies, eBooks, white papers — it doesn’t really matter as long as it’s useful, educational, thought-provoking, and demonstrating of your firm’s unique perspective. Here are 6 things you can do with your content to help reduce your buyer’s risk:
- Get deep and narrow — The objective of your content should be to build a comprehensive body of work on a set of narrow, well-defined topics. The more content your firm has to offer on a topic, the more likely a buyer is to feel confident that your firm has the deep expertise needed to solve their problem.
- Use tags and content categories — Make it easy for readers to identify what the topic of an article is and to seek out other content like it.
- Guide readers to content — Use related content widgets and other calls-to-action to provide readers with recommended content that is similar to what they’re already reading. You can use technology to dynamically serve content in this manner or you can do it manually.
- Author all content — Readers feel more confident about the quality of a firm’s perspective when they know who the individual is offering the opinion.
- Provide author profiles — All content contributors should have author profiles on your site that include background on their educational experience, prior project experience, current project responsibilities, special skills and expertise, and other authored content. We reduce risk greatly when we can connect the expertise of the firm directly to an individual within the firm.
- Connect articles to finished projects — The biggest fear a buyer has is that the firm is expressing all kinds of useful perspective on a topic, but really has no experience applying that thinking in the real world. Provide examples of past projects alongside topical articles to demonstrate where you’ve applied that type of thinking to facilities already built or in development to mitigate this risk.
6 Ways Your Portfolio Can Reduce a Buyer’s Risk
The portfolio is the backbone of most firm websites. In fact, a lot of firms virtually tell their whole story through their portfolio. As a result, striking imagery of client work takes center stage throughout the site. Sometimes, this imagery is accompanied by a short back story related to the project, other times nothing more than a few sentences exist to describe what was done.Here are 6 things you can do to your portfolio to reduce a buyer’s perceived risk in hiring you:
- Be clear about objectives — While most firms will offer a quick summary of design intent, often the business objectives of the client are conspicuously vague. If the firm can’t speak clearly and succinctly about a client’s core business objectives after the project is complete, what hope do I have of them truly understanding mine?
- Describe outcomes — Just as we need to be clear and concise about a client’s objectives, we need to be equally clear about our success in meeting them.
- Share the client’s experience — One of the biggest fears a client has is the fear of hiring a firm that produces great work, but provides a wholly miserable client experience. Most firms try to reduce this fear by providing some vague references to process. Yet, what proves to be much more powerful in the early stages of the buying processs is describing the client experience through the people involved. Quotes from key people who lead the work along with comments from clients describing what they were thinking at various points along the way are powerful ways to build confidence.
- Use numbers — Data is a powerful thing. Wherever possible speak in quantifiable terms about the performance of your work. Don’t be afraid to share budgets and your performance against them. If you don’t have client approval to share this type of information, you can use budget ranges.
- Personalize it — Your firm’s experience might look great on screen. But, architecture and engineering services are delivered by people. Wherever possible, it helps to recognize the key people involved in the work. Highlight who worked on the project and link out to their author profiles on your site. It’s much less risky to hire a firm when you have a sense of the people who’ve lead the firm’s best past projects.
- Connect to your content — Each project should connect out to 1-2 pieces of useful content that your firm has authored on a topic that is related to the project.
For clients, selecting an A/E firm comes with a lot of risk — financial risk, business risk and personal risk. The firm’s website plays a pivotal role in building confidence and reducing perceived risk before the firm is able to enter into a business development conversation with a potential client.