During the time I’ve been in this industry, I have often said that, “Market Research is an industry that does not embrace sales and marketing.” And in 12+ years, no one has ever disagreed with me about that.
To be fair, certain segments – tech providers and panel companies, for example – have done a better job of making sales and marketing an integral part of their organizations. But one of the core segments of the industry – market research agencies and consultants – uhhh… not so much!
And when I chat with the leaders of these agencies about their lack of sales and marketing activity, they always respond with some sort of reason. Make that, some sort of “excuse.” So, for each of these excuses, I want share a new way to think about it.
#1. “We don’t know how.”
This is fair. All of your background and experience is in running a research firm and executing for clients. There are three ways to address this lack of knowledge.
- Hire for it. Bring on full-time or part-time help to plan, manage and execute your business development efforts.
- Outsource it. Find a firm (like Harpeth Marketing, coincidentally) to plan, manage and execute your marketing activities or those things that you can’t get done in-house.
- Learn it. It addition to all of the available paid conferences, workshops and subscription websites, there are virtually an unlimited number of free resources for you to take advantage of. Think blogs, webinars, eBooks, etc.
#2. “Our clients love us and keep coming back.”
And that’s great! But one of two things will inevitably happen…
- That good client will look elsewhere… perhaps because one of your projects with them did not go quite right… or maybe they received a provider recommendation from a trusted source… or they ran into another supplier at a conference. But it is going happen.
- The other [all-too-common] scenario… your business with a great client is based on a relationship with just one key contact. And when that contact leaves – and they will – your business with that company disappears. So, before your key contacts start leaving, commit to getting to know as many contacts as possible within all clients, but especially within the largest ones. Different departments, different levels… and then work to build relationships with them.
#3. “Work will come because we’re good.”
Sure, you are… but so is everyone else. Two questions:
- Do you have a program in place to continually improve the quality of your research work? You need to work toward not just getting better… but being the best.
- How do you know you’re good? I am amazed at the number of research firms that don’t have a simple, post-project Customer Satisfaction process in place to measure the quality of their work. It’s an easy thing to implement and can tell you specifically where you need to improve.
#4. “We get plenty of referrals and good word-of-mouth.”
Again… those are both good things. But, do you really want to rely on someone else for your success? And eventually, those referrals will dry up, or, at least, slow down and have a negative impact on your revenue growth. Regardless of your network of ‘friends,’ you need to plan for and implement a proactive approach to revenue growth. You need a sales and marketing plan.
#5. “We don’t have the money to invest.”
Sure, money is always a concern for any business owner or senior leader. Two notes about that:
- The old adage is true… if you want to make money, you have to spend a little. You need to be willing to commit a certain dollar amount to invest in growth. It’s not going to happen on its own.
- And, as importantly, you don’t have to invest a ton. So much of what you can and should be doing requires little or no money. Think email marketing, social media marketing, blogging, making sales phone calls and so on.
#6. “It doesn’t work.”
Sure, it does… if you do it right. If it hasn’t worked for you in the past, it’s for one of three reasons:
- You jumped into it without any thinking or planning. You’re just wingin’ it… and that never works.
- If your marketing isn’t working, there’s a good possibility that you’re not measuring what you’re doing. And if you’re not measuring it, how do you know what’s working and what’s not? But, if you are measuring it and the results are lousy, are you using that data to adjust your marketing to help you achieve better outcomes moving forward?
- Sales is pretty clear… if a sales rep is not hitting his/her sales goals, then they might not be the right fit. On the other hand, ineffective sales management (yes, I’m talking to you) is just as often the culprit. Without good management, a sales rep may be aiming for totally unrealistic goals, may be subject to a compensation plan that doesn’t drive the right behavior, may not have been trained well and may not have anyone to chat with (yeah, you again!) when they need advice or direction.
#7. And the closely related: “Our industry is different… It doesn’t work here.”
OK, Market Research is different than Accounting which is different than Engineering which is different than [fill in the blank]. But the steps in the revenue generation process for all industries are very much the same… you must build and maintain awareness in the markets you serve; you must generate sales leads and nurture them until they are ready to buy; you must convince sales prospects to become first-time clients; and you need elements in place that encourage one-time clients to become repeat clients.
#8. But the one I hear the most… “We don’t have the time.”
To me, this is just another way of saying, “Sales and marketing are not important to me.” It’s a mindset and a choice. Think about it… if a company calls you with a new project, you are never going to tell them, “I don’t have the time.” You figure out a way to get it done. You need to have that same kind of committed thinking about sales and marketing. They must become a priority for you.
Running your research firm is not just about doing research. You’ve got employees to hire and manage. You have bills to pay, clients to invoice and finances to keep an eye on. And you’ve got to market and sell your services. Make the same kind of commitment to revenue growth as to the other functional areas… and you’ll reap significant rewards. Only then can you stop making excuses.