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Most turn to friends before Google for advice

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

As a business 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.

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 fellow humans for advice on how to spend their coin.

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

LemonpicAlthough referrals are important 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. If 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 days of old 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 today people nearly always begin their assessment online.

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

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