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Inside the Mind of Professional Services Buyers In Good Times and Bad 

By Mike Antonczyk and Matt Hirschland Ph.D., H2A Partners

One of the evergreen questions our clients ask is: “what are the key factors that drive executive buying of high-end professional services?” The answer to this question is critical because it determines how to market, sell to and connect with these potential buyers and has become all the more important in the face of market head-winds. So here’s the good and the bad:

  • The good news is that the answer is actually quite straightforward (see below).
  • The bad news is that each individual company and executive have their own triggers, thresholds and pain points that absent a real relationship with them, you will miss.

From our more than two decades of working with senior buyers of professional services of all types, here is what leaders tell us in answer to four key questions about what influences their decisions.

1. What triggers the need and the search for service providers?

Answer: The desire to seek out insights or help from professional service providers comes from a “burning platform” which are typically manifest by:

    • A change of leadership/strategy
    • Board mandate
    • Crisis or disruption (internal and external) e.g. advent of new technology (think generative AI), lagging stock performance, the retirement of legacy systems, regulatory change, budget cycle expiration, etc.

2. How do buyers evaluate competing solutions?

Answer: The criteria that buyers tell us that are fixed at the top of their list:

    • Reputation of, track record with a particular provider (good or bad)
    • Relationships and familiarity with provider leadership/staff
    • Demonstrated provider capabilities and bona fides (can they deliver and have they done so in similar situations)
    • Comprehensiveness and cost competitiveness of the bid
    • The option to select (make modular) chosen areas of service provision

3. What are the typical barriers to a purchase or choosing a particular vendor?

Answer: The barriers that buyers tell us shape their decision making include:

    • The absence of leadership team consensus on approach and/or provider
    • Sense that the issue can be solved with internal resources
    • Mismatch of proposed timeline to desired/needed results
    • Inability of the buyer organization to tackle and digest the project given its size and scope
    • Absence of proper initiative funding

4. Who do executives trust for input on whom they should hire?

Answer: The sources they trust are found both in and outside their organization:


    • Leadership team peers
    • Procurement team for vetted/approved providers
    • Own-team direct reports with vendor experiences elsewhere
    • Staff who are alumni of potential provider firms


    • In- and out-industry friends and peers for their experiences with service providers
    • Current/past service providers
    • Known alumni of service providers in their network

Given all this, what is a service firm to do when it comes to supercharging their efforts developing new work and expanding their footprint in ongoing client situations?

  1. Create platforms that keep you connected a broad array of c-suite executives on a recurring basis (those you know and those you don’t), providing a constant flow of information and “hang around the hoop” opportunities.
  2. Invest with an eye on relationship AND brand building together – recognizing that these are similar but not the same.
  3. Heighten investment in alumni, professional and other networks, being active and engaged with their members.
  4. Train and support your own organizational leaders in the skills required to be great at 1:1 relationships and being “one call away” from influencers – do the same with your up-and-coming leaders of the future.
  5. Understand that there are no technology substitutes for individual relationships with the executives you serve or hope to serve in the future.

If we can share more with you about what we see working best when it comes to growing large professional services businesses and practices, we’d be happy to have a conversation.