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13 Lessons for Researchers Who Don’t Want (or Like) to Sell

Question: How can you tell if a market researcher is extroverted?elephant

Answer: He looks at your shoes when he’s talking to you!

I’ve written before about how the skill set to be good at market research and the skill set to be good at business development are very, very different.  And yet, at many – if not most – research agencies, there are researchers who fell (or were pushed!) into a sales position that don’t necessarily have the background or experience to be successful.

If that describes you… then maybe this article can help.  Below are 13 suggestions you can implement to enhance your selling efforts:

Leveraging existing clients

  • Lesson 1: There are 2 kinds of clients new and existing.  The problem is that most people in a business development role feel that they should focus on finding new clients… often to the detriment of their existing ones.  Getting an existing/previous client to buy from you again is several times easier than trying to convince someone new to try you for the first time.  Make sure to split your time across both groups.
  • Lesson 2: Managing large clients.  Do you have a handful of large clients?  Probably.  Doing anything special for them?  Probably not… but you should be!  For many firms in our industry, a majority of their business comes from just 2 or 3 clients.  Lose even one of them and your business is in big trouble.  Develop a separate, customized “relationship plan” for each of your top clients – figure out ways to be especially helpful and useful to them.  Consider establishing a Key Account Manager position at your firm, a person whose only job is to keep and to grow your business with those big firms.  Get to know multiple people at multiple levels inside each of those firms… just in case your key contact decides to leave.

Effective communications

As you look around at MR websites and listen to presentations from MR firms, you soon realize that in our industry, we are very much focused on “me first!”  Not a good thing.  As you think about communicating in the marketplace, remember one thing:  Your clients don’t really care about what you can do… they care about what you can do for them!

  • Lesson 3: Capabilities presentations.  If your capabilities presentation starts off with several screen shots titled, “About Us,” then you’re already in conflict with the message above.  Don’t start with ‘who you are’ or ‘what you do’ (they already know that – that’s what websites are for), start with ‘how you can help them.’  Also, stop putting 10 bullet points on every slide with tons of text.  Remember the 4×4 rule – no more than four bullet points per slide and no more than 4 words per bullet.  ‘White space’ is a good thing.
  • Lesson 4: Networking.  Almost nobody likes to network… but if you’re in business development – then you have to do it.  If your “elevator pitch” sounds something like, “I’m Joe Smith with ABC Research. We’re a full-service shop based in Chicago and focus on the CPG and automotive industries… blah, blah, blah”, you need a fresh script.  Instead, try something like this, “I’m Joe Smith with ABC Research and we help Fortune 500 companies that are having a difficult time taking new products to market.  Our methodology helps them to not only get to market quicker, but for a 20% savings, on average.”  Focusing the elevator pitch on how they will benefit is much more effective.

Stop relying on others

Before starting Harpeth Marketing in early 2012, I asked research firms across the country to tell me about their marketing efforts.  Almost everyone told me that, among other things, “…we rely on repeat clients and referrals.”  While not inherently bad, relying on others for your success is a dangerous place to be.  To be successful in sales, your firm must have a marketing program in place that helps to build awareness and “fill the funnel” so you can be proactive and stop relying on others.  There are two key areas where marketing can really help:

  • Lesson 5: Lead generation.  Your firm’s basic awareness-building activities (e.g. website, directory listings, etc.) will help to generate a certain number of inquiries and call-ins, but to go beyond that, additional activity is required.  You need to implement activities that capture data from prospective clients (e.g., name, company, e-mail, phone number, etc.) for later follow-up.  Consider making materials downloadable from your website (e.g., ebooks, white papers, etc.), hosting an event, networking, exhibiting at conferences and connecting on social media (especially LinkedIn).
  • Lesson 6: Lead nurturing.  Just because you’ve generated a new lead doesn’t mean they’re ready to buy right now. It might take some time for them to get to know you/like you/trust you… and you want to be top-of-mind when they’re ready. Consider regular and consistent e-mails, sharing articles and engaging in social media, as well as the occasional phone calls or in-person visits (the “human touch” can be critical).

Using your in-house data

You work in the research industry… time to do a little research.  At your fingertips exists data that can help you focus your sales efforts so that you dramatically increase your chances for success.

  • Lesson 7: The 20-80 Rule.  We all know the business adage that 20% of your clients account for 80% of your revenue.  Applying that rule can help your sales efforts.  First, look through your clients to determine who your top clients are.  Then search across that list for commonalities – company size, location, industry, services used, research applications, etc.  When you find the parameters that show up consistently, use them to help define your “ideal client.”   Sales prospects that match the “ideal client” profile become your new target list.
  • Lesson 8: Find the holes.  Look across your sales data – by client – for the past five years.  Who are your repeat clients?  Your occasional clients?  Your one-time clients?  And your lost clients?  Now, based on their status, you can determine the best way to move forward with them.

The Selling Process

There are literally thousands of selling lessons that we could include here, but here are a few I think should be at the top of the list.

  • Lesson 9:  Start with a plan.  Don’t just pick up the phone and start calling.  Think through what you want to do, create a plan from it, then execute that plan.  Implement some of the ideas above to help with your decision-making.  Think through budgets and timelines.  In addition to setting revenue goals for the month and year, also consider setting them for specific large clients (see Lesson 2), service lines and industries.  And unless you’re calling on thousands of businesses, look at your revenue opportunity on a client-by-client basis.
  • Lesson 10: Measure activity.  You will never achieve revenue results without some level of selling activity, so set targets for your activities: X-number of phone calls, X-number of presentations, X-number of bids, etc.  – as a way to do ‘sales diagnostics.’  For example, if your number of calls is good, and your number of presentations is good, but the numbers of resulting bids is really low… then perhaps the ‘presentation’ is a stumbling block to success.
  • Lesson 11: Ask good questions.  Of all the selling skills you can enhance, I believe the most important is “asking questions.”  Done properly, your sales prospect will tell you everything you need to know to be successful – their pain points, exactly what they’re looking for, why you’re there, who or what they’ve tried in the past and so on.  In essence, they’ll give you the roadmap for what they need to hear from you.  Try this: the next time a sales prospect says, “Tell me about your firm,” respond like this, “I’d love to… but first, let me ask you a few questions about your business.”  And see what happens…
  • Lesson 12: Build trust.  Seek first to help… then to sell.  If you believe that sales prospects must trust you before they’ll buy from you (I certainly do), then your focus must be on helping your clients before trying to sell them something.  When you talk with them – talk about their problems, provide resources they might need, develop content (articles, eBooks, etc.) that helps them to do their jobs better.  Such actions are proof that you’re not just interested in making a sale… but in doing what’s best for them… and it’s that attitude that will earn the business for you.
  • Lesson 13: Never forget that you’re in the people business.  All things being equal, people do business with people they like.  All things NOT being equal, people still do business with people they like.  Part of selling is genuinely connecting with people on some personal level.  Do that… and the opportunities will fall into place.  Without it, there is no chance for success.

Selling for non-sales types isn’t always comfortable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be good at it. Sales is like every other business discipline… it’s a process.  Learn to follow the process and you can be successful.  Good luck and good selling.

This articles was originally published in the 2014 CASRO Journal.Print

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