Where do your customers come from?

For any business, attracting new customers and maintaining current ones are important keys to successful growth and development.

But, how is this achieved in the environmental consultancy sector? And, what factors are considered important in influencing customer choice – advertising? Reputation? Press coverage?

To the horror of a trade-magazine publishing company, we received a depressing response from a majority of the consultants we spoke to: “We don’t advertise!”

As Dermod Sweeney, Managing Director of Atkins Water and Environment told edie: “Using the media is part of our strategy, but if we had to rely on the business that generates we’d soon go under!”

Reputation, personal recommendation and good aftercare were seen as far more important factors from the consultancies’ point of view, with advertising way down on the list of priorities.

Repeat business was also seen as a major factor for most consultancies’ development, often obtained through the good working relationship developed from the initial contract. Doug Morton, Commercial Director of Entec told edie that repeat business or extended work on existing projects now accounts for around 40% of their contracts.

This serves to consolidate the reputation of the consultancy involved and can often lead to further recommendations within that sector.

With large well-established consultancies, in-house teams often target specific clients, building campaigns deliberately tailored to meet their needs. In this way, many consultancies said they effectively ‘picked’ their own clients, rather than needing the customer to come to them.

However, could this be seen as short sightedness on their part? Emma Hayward, marketing and communications manager for Environ told edie that they had only really started advertising in a traditional sense over the past two or three years.

Coincidentally, the past two years have seen the biggest increases in turnover that the company has seen. These two events may not necessarily be linked, but it does tally with the results we received from the customers’ point of view.

To the relief of trade publishers, an overwhelming majority of respondents said they use trade-websites such as edie or trade-magazines such as Environment Business to source consultants.

“I’m not entirely surprised by that,” said Hayward. “Using trade websites – and there’s only really two – you can find exactly the company you’re looking for within about five or six seconds.”

The survey results reflect usage of the edie website, where the number of pages viewed each month has nearly doubled from May 2004 to May 2005 (from 334,000 to 675,000).

Internet search engines such as Google also scored highly as a means for sourcing consultancies, possibly reflecting the more technically minded nature of the people surveyed as well as the importance of developing a company website as a resource.

The results also sound the death knell for old-fashioned paper directories and the Yellow Pages, with only three and five per cent of respondents respectively saying they would use either.

Exhibitions and conferences are clearly still popular ways for customers to find consultants, and it would seem, vice versa. The range of events on offer such as Nemex, ET, or the annual CIWM conference and exhibition make ideal locations for informal meetings and networking, and with more of these taking place across the country at all times of the year, there is plenty of scope for business opportunities.

However, as reputation is seen as such a key factor by consultancies, we will now look at who has the best reputation, and in what sector.

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