Let’s get right to the point: Any professional services firm that doesn’t conduct market research before formulating its brand or marketing strategy is asking for trouble.
With all the information available online today, even the most basic research can yield a treasure trove of information about your target audience and what they really want from a professional services provider. If you decide — to save time, effort, or money — to move forward without such insights, you’ll just be guessing at what might make your brand more attractive and valuable.
In other words, you’ll never experience the amazing benefits of market research.
A Guest Post By Lee Frederiksen, Managing Partner at Hinge.
At Hinge, we recently completed an in-depth market research study that involved almost 1200 decision-makers, including company managers and C-level professionals who influence the purchase of services. The results were eye-opening. High-growth firms were over two times as likely to conduct research on their target client audience as their no-growth peers.
Why is market research so important? Because it’s the key to growth and profitability.
As our research shows, firms that conduct regular market research to understand the changing needs of their buyers grow faster and achieve greater profitability than firms that don’t do research, or that do it infrequently. The reason is simple; research provides the up-to-the-minute knowledge necessary to build a compelling marketing strategy in a fast-changing environment.
After all, how can you successfully influence someone if you don’t know what motivates them?
Research can produce invaluable information about your target audience, your competition, and even your own firm. It’s interesting to note that many firms, after conducting research, find significant gaps between what they think and what the market thinks.
Research isn’t a one-time thing. Firms that conduct research on a regular basis are equipping themselves to meet changing market preferences, needs, and priorities — and to keep their firms relevant to both current and prospective clients.
Market research can help you grow your firm in four ways. Specifically, it can help you:
- Create more compelling marketing messages.
- Better engage and influence prospects.
- Understand how your own staff perceives and communicates your brand — so you can align what they’re saying with what your audience needs to hear.
- Confirm that your brand differentiators are valid and unique.
If your firm is not already using market research, there’s no time like now to get started. Professional services firms tend to conduct four types of research. Of these, only two are truly effective. Let’s start with the two that many firms use, but shouldn’t:
Informal or unstructured client interviews – While this is the most common type of research — asking current clients what they like or don’t like about your services — this approach rarely provides valuable results. Why? Because current clients have a relationship with you and they don’t want to say something that might damage it. Chances are, any negative statements that emerge will be minor and will not reflect the client’s true feelings.
Focus groups – Another ineffective research methodology. While focus groups may provide useful insights into consumer products, B2B participants are often reluctant to say anything significant or revealing in front of potential competitors. You also need to consider the cost and logistical challenge of rounding up high-value decision-makers in the same room at the same time.
So how should you conduct research? The following two methods are the most valuable for professional services firms:
Online surveys – These can be highly effective — provided they’re conducted by experienced professionals who understand your target audience and know how to design an insightful survey.
Structured interviews – Interviews are often the most revealing type of research. Because they can be conducted by telephone, direct person-to-person contact can uncover details such as tone of voice and nuances in language. Structured interviews can also be used in conjunction with surveys to provide deeper insights into your target audience. To get the most honest answers, however, the interviews should be conducted by an impartial third party.
If your firm is looking to jumpstart growth and profitability, the benefits of market research are unmistakable: it can uncover the perspective you need to craft an efficient, effective marketing strategy. Where your competition stumbles around in the dark, you will have a clear guiding light. It’s a strategy the best performing firms use to stay on top of their game. You should, too.
Lee Frederiksen is an award-winning marketer, Visible Expert®, researcher, author, and renowned business strategist who helped pioneer the field of research-driven marketing. As the Managing Partner of Hinge, a leading marketing firm for the professional services industry, he draws on his Ph.D. in behavioral psychology and his entrepreneurial experience as CEO of three successful firms to help clients achieve high growth and profitability.