Insights and Resources

The four market segments you need to be aware of

By Jim Thompson

There are many traditional ways to dissect and segment the professional services market, but regardless of what you do or who you sell to, there are four fundamental segments that you wont find in a marketing textbook – not yet anyway.

One of these in particular (the last one on my list) is completely counter-intuitive. If you want to gain some real leverage in professional services marketing, this is where it is. It’s here you’ll find real opportunity and answers to build an effective marketing engine.

Stick with me! They can be tricky to get your head around but once you do, you will never look at the market the same way again.

Let’s break it down.

It starts with two segments:

  1. Those who are “ready to buy”, and
  2. Those who are “not ready to buy”.

We can then divide these two segments further into:

  1. Those that have good awareness of their situation, that know you exist and are educated in how to solve it (i.e. aware)
  2. Those who don’t (unaware).

Put it another way, we have:

  1. Ready to buy – aware of you, the services you offer and what solution they want to buy
  2. Ready to buy – unaware of you, aware of their problem, perhaps unaware of the best solution
  3. Not ready to buy – aware of you, the services you offer, their problem and potential solution
  4. Not ready to buy – unaware of you, unaware they have a problem or the nature of the problem or how it connects to a solution. Not even looking for a solution.

Let’s look at each segment in more detail and delve into why and how they matter

To start, the table below outlines each of the segments and compares their typical comparative size (volume) versus the typical marketing effort a firm individually and hence competitively put towards them.

Ready to Buy – Aware

These are prospective clients that are ready to buy your services and know that you exist.

This might include:

  • Existing customers
  • Referrals
  • Others who have heard of you by some other means.

Obviously, Segment 1 is the easiest from a marketing perspective as they require the least effort to attract. They know you exist and want what you are selling. If you’re getting no sales enquiries from this market segment, then you have a significant problem.

Ready to Buy – Unaware

This segment is everyone else who is ready to buy a service that you offer but have never seen or heard of you before.

This typically boils down to two types of prospects:

  • Those asking their network for a referral to a firm that can help them; or
  • Those looking for your services on Google

This segment is where most professional services firms spend their time and effort. It’s the most obvious and in some ways, the lazy and often more expensive pond to fish.

Marketing to this segment is designed to catch a prospect (hopefully) at the point where they are ready to buy. This typically includes activities such as:

  • Building a referral network
  • Ranking high on search engines, paid or organic
  • Brand awareness campaigns
  • Cold calling
  • LinkedIn InMail’s – don’t get me started on this one!

Yes, they can all work to varying degrees, but they can be an expensive, ineffective and a finite place to market particularly in a B2B context.

Umpteen reasons why marketing to the “Ready to Buy” has hair on it

  1. They have usually self-diagnosed what they “think” they need and are in total control of who they get to help them.
  2. In many cases, the referral market is a strong influencer so marketing beyond the hygiene level can be a waste of time.
  3. It’s usually 1 minute to midnight in the buying cycle and your firm is blindly sitting back waiting for prospects to make the move.
  4. They have already done research, talked to lots of people, formed opinions and selected potential suppliers without your knowledge and influence.
  5. You will be approached very late in the buying cycle putting your firm in a weak competitive position.
  6. Choosing between the “look-alike” competitors makes the selection process difficult for the prospective client.
  7. It’s expensive to win new business from this position without a very strong referral, and selection will usually be based on subjective decisions or pitch processes.
  8. In most cases, you must hope they find you, as opposed to you finding them.
  9. By default you can’t build even a medium let alone a long-term pipeline if they are ready to buy.
  10. If all your work comes from referrals you are leaving your destiny in other people’s hands and as we all know, over time networks start to dry up.
  11. You can “market” but what you are marketing is most likely not what we would call “marketable”.

And the list goes on… so, what’s the alternative?

Shift your marketing focus to the “Not Ready to Buy”.

Here you can build a new business pipeline where you can:

  • Build trust and influence before you have even met or spoken to a prospect
  • Keep your competitors at bay
  • Attract the clients you want to work with and detract the ones you don’t want to work with
  • Measure and predict future revenue
  • Automate your marketing and reach outs
  • Increase your perceived value
  • Offer smaller bite sized engagements that are easier for the client to digest

Not Ready to Buy – Aware

This group know that you exist but have either made the decision to use someone else or are not ready to buy what you are selling at the current time.

This might include:

  • Existing customers who have bought your service once
  • Your existing database of contacts however they were accumulated
  • Lost conversion/sales leads

We all, or at least should have, these types of prospects. Most firms will either do nothing with them or they’ll send newsletters about themselves, invites to events etc.

It’s also not uncommon for firms to randomly reach out and sniff around for any potential work only when they can see an emerging downturn in business and projects. This is the worst time because your prospect is usually smart enough to figure out that’s why you are contacting them, leaving you in the weakest and potentially unsavoury position.

The key to marketing to this segment however is to resist the temptation to “sell” or even ask if there is anything they need help with.

Let’s face it no one wants to be sold to, including you, so why would you do it?

The number one priority for this segment is to know who they are and to have at least their email address given to you.

The second priority is to communicate with them in a meaningful way, and in a way where they are happy to be continually communicated with.

This means not talking about yourself and your firm. It’s not selling! The goal is for the prospect to become sold themselves. When they are ready to buy, they will contact you.

This is when you truly have power in the buying cycle, when you’ve attracted that client via your own means and influence, not someone else’s.

How you do this is a subject in its own right and is covered in more detail in our No BS Marketing Guide for Consulting Firms.

Not Ready to Buy – Unaware

In terms of size, this is basically the rest of the world (within your area of expertise). This segment should be the starting point of your sales pipeline….

There are different aspects of “Unaware” that I want to bring to the surface:

  1. They don’t know they have a problem
  2. Would never have made a connection between their pain points and your services
  3. The problem they think they have, isn’t the real problem they need solved
  4. Aren’t ready to buy or maybe not even thinking about it
  5. Would never have looked for or found you
  6. Don’t know you exist

On the surface, this segment may appear completely unattractive and a lost cause from a marketing perspective. It’s why so few would even contemplate investing their resources in this direction, but there are very compelling strategic reasons and opportunities to be found here.

For me and referring back to the table above, this segment sticks out like the proverbial because of its size and the lack of competitive effort dedicated to it.

The lack of marketing effort dedicated to this segment is not surprising given the fact that in the pre-digital age it was almost impossible to reach this group without spending a fortune on large-scale brand awareness campaigns that had no means of lead capture or follow up.

The problem, or in this case, the opportunity lies in the fact that digital has fundamentally changed the way the buyer buys. Most firms haven’t changed the way they market to them beyond following them to their digital platforms.

But it is now entirely possible to reach and capture the Not Ready to Buy Unaware segment at a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing tactics. This is due to the ability to find, target and get in front of your ideal audience with very specific information aligned to their circumstances.

To reach this segment you need a smarter game plan and more patience. In the long run, it’s cheaper and far less competitive than marketing to the Ready to Buy.

But even more importantly, prospective clients will move from being Unaware to Aware and then to Ready to Buy while bypassing segment 2 altogether and not letting the competition even get a look in.

You capture a prospect’s interest much earlier in the buying cycle. They allow you to guide them, via a predefined and crafted strategy that slowly moves them to the point of buying – from you!

Understanding your clients’ pain points

To do this well, you must understand your buyers’ journey, their world, their problems and their pain points.

Develop detailed customer personas that give you an in-depth understanding of the client you want to target.

Understand your ideal target client well enough, find them online, dangle a carrot (often in the form of downloadable content) under their nose to pique their interest. Get their email address and permission to nurture them over time.

Yes, it can take time to nurture a client through this journey but not all journeys are the same length and the more prospects you have in the pipeline the closer you are to having an endless stream of ongoing qualified marketing leads.

We have been doing this for nearly 10 years but there is still significant arbitrage available as others find it too hard, don’t get it or need the instant hit from segment 2.

I’m sure the same opportunity and arbitrage exists for your firm too.

The Steak Knives

By making yourself attractive to the Not Ready to Buy you by default make yourself more attractive to the Ready to Buy at the same time.

The thinking and content used to capture a buyer at the early stages right through to the point of buying makes you more attractive to the Ready To Buy. You move away from “services” to perspectives and insights into business problems your clients are facing and how you can help them solve them.

If you want to learn more about how your firm can target the “Not Ready to Buy” market, build a real sales pipeline and bypass the competition all focussed on the “Ready to Buy” market get in touch to discuss a Make your firm Marketable Workshop.

Before you start

Before beginning any engagement and to create a more valuable initial conversation we ask you to download and read our guide.


Inside you will find out more about the One Rabbit philosophy, learn some uncomfortable truths and how to market your firm.

Why it’s so hard for consulting firms to market themselves.
Practical steps you can take to overcome the uncomfortable truth and leapfrog your competitors.
The most common mistakes that consulting firms make in marketing themselves.