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Can you really be “all things to all people?”

Transforming your firm from ‘generalist’ to ‘specialist.’

specialist2Here’s a really interesting exercise… spend some time over the next day or so scrolling through the websites of a number of market research firms – even small and mid-sized ones – and one of the really unusual things you’ll find is this: the majority of firms claim to be experts in a whole bunch of different research methodologies… serving all kinds of industry verticals or markets… with the ability to seemingly solve every kind of marketing, branding or product problem. Kinda strains credibility, huh?

In addition, these “generalists,” have a really BIG problem they have to deal with every day… not only are they competing with every other generalist out there (which is the majority of firms), they’re also competing with a different batch of specialists on every project. Yikes!

Question 1: So, if you are a generalist, should you consider transforming your firm into some sort of specialist?

First of all, I understand that if you’re a long-standing, established firm (and especially if you’re a large firm), you can’t just shut down all of that infrastructure and break off relationships with some of your clients. But, if you don’t start making some moves in that direction, you’ll continue in the position of trying to be all things to all people.

Try this analogy: If you develop a heart problem, are you going to see your family doctor… or are you scheduling an appointment with a cardiologist?! You’ll pick the heart specialist every time. The same thing applies in research… if you’re a research buyer and need to conduct a study of senior citizens, for example, are you going to pick a research firm that does a geriatric study every once in a while… or a firm whose specialty is researching seniors?

Question 2: OK, let’s say you should morph your firm from generalist to specialist. Is it even possible?

Possible? Yes… but it won’t be easy. These 3 steps can provide some guidelines…

Decide where to specialize. Will it be by industry (e.g. CPG or Tech)… by market (e.g. Hispanic or Millennials)… by methodology (e.g. online qual)… by application (e.g. concept testing or CX)… or some other way? Or maybe a few of those… or even some combination of them? Whatever the focus, how do you decide? Since you’re in the market research industry… do a little research:

  • What areas of specialty are the biggest drivers of revenue for your firm today? Leverage those areas where you’re already successful.
  • What in-house expertise do you have? Build around your existing strengths.
  • What’s your vision/what do you want to do? While the market will largely dictate what you should do, as an owner or senior executive, your interests are also part of the equation.
  • What are the top trends in the Market Research industry that you need to consider?
  • What about top trends in the Industry Verticals or Markets you serve?
  • Anything interesting going on with your clients, prospective clients or competitors that needs to be factored in?

The more data you gather, the better decision you’ll be able to make.

Focus your marketing & sales. One of the benefits of the focus that comes with being a specialist is that decision-making becomes so much clearer. For example, suppose you decide to specialize in market research for the Financial Services industry. Where do you advertise? Simple… in those publications that Financial Services marketers and corporate researchers read. In which conferences do you exhibit? Same thing… where the FinServ research buyers are. What type of content should you develop… which LinkedIn groups are best to join… which hashtags should you use in Twitter? You get the picture.

In addition to where to do your marketing… you can now deliver a clear, targeted message to the Financial Services industry… highlighting your experience in that area, your in-house expertise, your client success stories from that industry and so on. It’s the message of a specialist!

Finally… stay strong! Moving from generalist to specialist is not an easy path. There will be times –driven by opportunities outside of your specialty – that you’ll want to back slide and maybe “cheat” a little bit. Do everything you can to resist that temptation. It’s a slippery slope and it’s difficult to stop the slide back to becoming “all things for all people!”

In particular, stop accepting projects outside of your specialty. This will be your biggest challenge! After all, who wants to walk away from revenue? But if you’re going to be a specialist and build your brand around it… you have no choice! Yes, the reality is that you close yourself off to certain revenue streams. The flip side is, though, now that you’re a specialist, you move to the top of the vendor list for those firms looking for suppliers in that specific area.

Next steps…

Should you transform your firm from generalist to specialist? It’s a major strategic shift that will impact nearly everything you do… so only you can answer that question. Obviously, I believe in it… but if the idea intrigues you, at the very least, block off some time to think about it and talk about it amongst senior management at your firm. Whatever the outcome, at least you’ll have a clearer direction on how to move forward.

Good luck.

Need a little help brainstorming on this topic? Download our 7th eBook: Why Should I Choose You? How to Differentiate your Firm in a Crowded Marketplace. To access it, Click Here.

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