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June 24, 2015

Marketing & Sales Advice from Leaders in our Industry, Part 1

c+r research logoMarketing & sales – and the results they produce – are important to everyone in a firm… but perhaps to no one more so than the owners and senior leaders of those firms… those who have P&L responsibility and who are charged with the growth and sustainability of those businesses.

To get an inside look at how marketing & sales are viewed inside the “C Suite,” we interviewed the leaders of five very well-known, highly-regarded firms in our industry. We think their perspective will be helpful to those struggling with marketing & sales in their firms.

Up first in this 5-part series… Paul Metz, Executive Vice President/Managing Partner at C+R Research in Chicago.

Paul, tell us a little about your firm.

“C+R Research is a highly-custom marketing insights agency that has been around for over 50 years. We specialize in answering tough marketing questions using a custom-tailored research solutions approach that often includes a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methods. We pride ourselves in designing and delivering great research, providing our clients with deep perspective about their consumers and customers and providing unbeatable service.”

I’ve been saying for years that Market Research is an industry that does not embrace marketing & sales. Do you agree or disagree… and why?

“I somewhat agree. I know of many firms that utilize a very traditional sales model that includes new business developers, who sell projects to clients and then hand them off to the project teams. On the other hand, I know of plenty of firms, including C+R, that do not employ anyone with a background in sales. While my firm doesn’t follow any particular approach to sales, we do embrace marketing. We know that we are marketing our expertise, and therefore our marketing relies on tactics to help communicate that expertise.”

Give us an overview of the kinds of marketing & sales things that you do?

“Our marketing consists of webinars, conference marketing, directory listings, SEO and occasional advertising – print and online. Since we don’t have a sales function, I don’t think we’re very effective at prospecting. Many of our prospects come primarily through web search and directory listings, and occasionally from conferences. Word-of-mouth recommendations are probably our second largest source of prospects.”

So, what have you found to be the most effective… and why?

“Our best source of new inquiries is our website and directory listings. Our best source of new projects is word-of-mouth recommendations. We feel that our most important and effective “marketing tool” is our work – once we do a single project for a client, we know they’ll come back for another – because our work is very strong and our client service is really top-notch.”

How is marketing getting done at your firm?

“We have a marketing and creative services department. This team consists of a head of marketing, a creative director, and a marketing assistant. Our marketing assistant serves many roles, but chiefly as a social media coordinator and SEO expert. Our creative director is charged with developing our brand positioning and designing/creating our advertising and all representations of our brand. Our head of marketing oversees all marketing activity across the company, and is the one who interfaces with all of the division heads to provide the marketing support they need.”

What about sales… do you have anyone dedicated to it?

“Sort of, but not really. By title or compensation, we have no sales people. But, our President has a role that can probably be described, in part, as “CSO”, and our entire VP tier understands that their role includes business and client development. None of our analysts, including our president, is immune from hands-on involvement in client projects. We ALL work on projects. Because we are selling expertise, we think the most effective way to do that is by having our best and most experienced analysts be on the front line of business development.”

Describe you marketing and sales planning process.

“We use a rudimentary marketing plan. By that, I mean that it is built around our priorities for the year and a calendar of tactics. We don’t go through a formal process of setting a marketing “strategy”, per se. We look across the industry to see what is in demand and we evaluate internally the things we want to grow. We discuss and determine priorities based on what we gauge are opportunities for the year. Then, we build out a calendar of tactics for each of those priorities.”

Does ‘strategy’ play a role in your marketing & sales?

“Not really. We’re not a strategy-obsessed firm in terms of our own marketing. We did hire an advertising agency to do some research among our clients so that we could learn more about our value proposition and brand perceptions from our clients. We then used that to develop and refine our brand positioning. We’ve trained everyone internally about our brand values and our positioning, so that they are able to embrace it and convey it in all of their interactions with our clients. We try to live out our brand positioning/promise to our clients, and we believe that will lead to client loyalty and growth. When we push into new areas, such as online qualitative, we’ll have some strategic discussions about our goals and how we’re going to achieve them, but it’s not a formal strategic plan.”

Does your firm have a true point of differentiation… and if so, how did you discover/establish it?

“We don’t have a strong point of difference. We know that from external industry surveys that our firm ranks as one of the best-in-class for client service and quality of insights. So, clients consider us as different or better. But, these dimensions are hard to market as a point of difference. We know that we have a reputation for certain specialties, like segmentation research and research among children and the Hispanic population. So, I do think we have some niche points of differentiation.”

How do you see marketing & sales changing in the next 3-5 years?

“I think that it will become more challenging to get marketing messages to clients, because there is so much clutter and fragmentation. One thing that we have very little information about is the sources of information that clients use to learn about research methods or suppliers. I feel that search engine rankings are important today, and will be even more important in the future.”

Advice time… If an MR firm is not very engaged in marketing & sales, what would you say are the top 3 things they need to do to get started?

First, pick a few keywords that represent your core capabilities and pepper them all over your website so that your search rankings on those terms will be higher. Second, create a blog and regularly create posts that include those keywords, then re-post your blog posts on business social media sites like LinkedIn. And finally, assign someone who can be accountable for marketing and make sure that person has no client project responsibilities. If their time is split between client work and marketing, client projects will always take precedence… and marketing will not get done.”

Thanks so much, Paul.

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