For decades, professional service providers—including consultants, accountants, lawyers and others—were reluctant marketers. They thrived in a cozy world where networks of personal relationships and word-of-mouth brought them enough new clients to grow a profitable business. Those days aren't gone, but they're fading fast.

For many services buyers, personal relationships are still the driver of purchase decisions, but the cracks in that buying model are now apparent.

In a recent study of client buying behavior, analysts at found that more than half of professional service purchasers are open to switching service providers. Golf, theatre tickets and other perks are still part of the business development game for many. But even those tactics are running out of gas.

To compete for and win the most profitable work, professional service providers must rethink familiar marketing practices and focus their marketing strategies on the issues that really matter to clients.

Begin that shift in your marketing mindset by challenging four common myths.

Myth 1: Great work speaks for itself

Some believe that delivering outstanding results in the present is the foundation of a successful marketing strategy. That is, if you do great work, your client will hire you when new needs arise and will send you valuable referrals for new business. That logic seems reasonable, but don't bet your business on it.

It's true that flawless delivery is essential for long-term success. It's not likely that a professional service firm would survive a string of service failures. But you can't assume in today's business environment that word of your great performance will travel through your client's organization—and beyond that to others—without sustained effort on your part.

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Michael W. McLaughlin is the coauthor, with Jay Conrad Levinson, of Guerrilla Marketing for Consultants. Michael is a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP and the editor of Management Consulting News ( and the Guerrilla Consultant. For more information, visit