Professional Services Marketing Blog
By Katie Sanner
If you have talked to anyone at Hinge, you’ve probably heard us talk about the importance of market research for professional services firms. You might think we’re all a bunch of broken records, but honestly, we’re not. We know what works and I’m here to tell you, as a previous client of Hinge, they’re telling the truth!
Hinge’s Research Guide is available for download, but for this blog post I want to dive more into my personal takeaways from my research experience I had with Hinge as one of their clients.
Takeaway #1: Perceived vs. Actual
It’s a hard one to chew, but at some point you have to face it… you don’t know EXACTLY what your clients are thinking! You may think you know, but therein lies the problem. The word "think!"
Compare these two scenerios:
Your firm decides to conduct market research on its own. You have identified a handful of clients and prospects. You have finalized your interview questions and start making calls. You receive an overwhelming amount of positive — even glowing — responses. You compare your results and heave a sigh of relief for NOT spending your marketing budget on research.
The Conclusion: you know your clients and your clients know you, so you don’t need to spend time revisiting your firm’s positioning and messaging.
Your firm has decided to conduct market research using an outside consultant. Together, you carefully select a sample of clients, prospects and "got-aways." And you identify the appropriate questions to ask during interviews to uncover the information that will be truly useful. The research firm conducts the calls, analyzes and scores the results and then presents their findings. Chances are, you will learn a lot of things you didn't expect. Your company heaves a sigh of relief for SPENDING your marketing budget on research!
The Conclusion: your clients know mostly what you do and you mostly know what is important to them, but you have some tweaking to do to your brand positioning and messaging to align the two. You may even discover something dramatic.
So why is the firm in scenario 2 happy to spend money? Because they’ve invested the time and energy to have an impartial, third-party firm conduct their interviews, which revealed honest responses! When you call references supplied by a job candidate, do you really expect any bad reviews? So why would you expect your own client, when you’re call them yourself, to tell you anything but what you want to hear?
Takeaway #2: Leverage
Another benefit of conducting market research is internal leverage. Occasionally there's that employee at your firm who thinks the research is a waste of resources. Without research results, it would be hard to prove that person wrong. But I've found that there can be sometimes staggering differences between internal and external perceptions of a firm. As we say in our Research Guide, "there is nothing like being faced with objective statistics to motivate change."
Takeaway #3: Proactive vs. Reactive
You have your market research results. You know what your clients have said about your firm. You know what your employees think about your firm. And now you know where you need to improve your brand positioning and messaging. At this point, it’s not uncommon for folks to ask "what do we do now?" I’ll tell you what you don’t want to do — shelf the research!
You’ll more than likely start to see insightful trends emerge in your results. You might even identify new services you should offer or new verticals you might consider entering.
You’ll want to use the results to your advantage. Based on your research results, take this time to step back and look at your marketing strategy. Re-evaluate where your efforts are currently being spent and where it makes sense to re-adjust those efforts. You’ll be glad you took a proactive approach compared to a reactive one.
The Real Importance of Market Research
While we know we’ll continue to hear objections from clients and prospects such as "I already know my clients," "our clients might get upset if we reach out to them," or "how do I know the research will outweigh the costs," we’ve been proactive and done our own research. In a recent study of professional services firms, we found that firms that conducted even occasional research showed major increases in growth and profitability. Those firms that conducted frequent research grew even faster and were even more profitable. How can you argue with that?
I’m willing to roll the dice and say that at least one thing will surprise you when the results of your research are revealed — and you probably won’t find your research as a waste of money. It's a gamble you probably can't afford not to take.
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