Last week, we began a 5-part series on how business owners and leaders in the market research industry really feel about marketing & sales. For this week’s post, we interviewed Brett Watkins, CEO at L&E Research, based in Raleigh, NC.
Brett, tell us a little about your firm.
“The best research is the art of asking the right questions with the right people that result in true insight. L&E Research focuses on connecting our clients with communities that reflect Real America, utilizing the best talent and technology, to enable insightful research. We are passionate about facilitating the best research: our investments in our clients, our communities, our people, and our technology, reflect that passion. As stated in our core values, we have a passion to deliver excellence by doing the right things, as a team, resulting in positive relationships that allow us to give back to our communities and inspire happiness: that is the L&E Research way!”
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?
“So much of the industry has evolved from a consultant’s vantage point – they’re really good at market research… but what do they know about running a business, or later on, a company? I think many don’t include that in their educational process, which leads to what you see that suggests the industry isn’t sales centric. This includes knowing the proper sales and marketing investment for their business (or later…company). I find most companies in the MR space grossly underfunded their sales and marketing initiatives.”
“As for marketing…well if by embrace you mean “good at it,” I tend to agree we’re not. My theory is the analytical minds that are prevalent in our industry struggle with the creative importance of good marketing… that also requires us to “let go” and rely on someone else to handle our marketing needs, which is another area that isn’t our industry’s strong suit. If I had to guess, a lot of our personality profiles would not put us into the highly creative category, or very comfortable with delegation.”
Your firm is recognized as one that does a good job with marketing & sales. Give us an overview of the kinds of marketing & sales things that you do?
“I think the biggest thing is getting out of the monotone messages we always see today: “we’re the best recruiting company in the world,” or “the experts in online research” as examples. A lot of firms focus on the what… but I am a firm believer in Simon Sinek’s analysis that we buy because of the why. We try to stay there.”
“I also think we are getting better at staying relevant with clients… you cannot just do a good job on a project and expect they will keep coming back, or only call a client about a bid and think that translates to a relationship. Few if any businesses in our industry have intellectual property that makes them proprietary: in the absence of that, one has to differentiate in other ways that brings value to a client, and particularly in service businesses.”
How is marketing getting done at your firm?
“We have a dedicated marketing team focused on two populations: our clients and our communities. As a qualitative recruitment company, without good connections within our communities, we have nothing to offer to our clients beyond a focus group room, and anyone can offer that. For our community marketing, this is why we have digital marketing analysts that tap into a much larger audience than the typical facility database, among other resources we apply to find the best recruits.”
“On the client side, we partner with clients (among other marketing initiatives) to share their subject matter expertise with our entire client community. It provides great opportunities for cross learning, and sometimes, business opportunities. Marketing is a long term investment, and it has to be more than just advertising in industry publications (which we also do).”
How is sales getting done at your firm?
“We have a dedicated team… the industry evolved into a fishing model where operations and business development blended together. I’m not familiar with anything that succeeds without measurable goals and metrics that define whether one is succeeding or failing. Someone has to own the responsibility for sales; otherwise, there’s no accountability, and your business is flying blind. And as we have learned, having someone responsible for more than one department whose interests can sometimes conflict will not result in the outcome desired. Sales is important to any business…you really need someone(s) dedicated to the sales Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s).”
Does your firm have a true point of differentiation… and if so, how did you discover/establish it?
“We believe we do. Our leadership team spent several days discussing nothing but who we were, what we believe in, what we are about, and how we intended to communicate that to our clients. Being passionate about the best research using our talent and technology in Real America is a reflection of our commitment to invest in our people, and in new technologies, to deliver the best recruits in markets that are the most representative of the United States. It is our core focus. Our core values reflect our commitment to that core focus.”
As the leader of your firm, describe how you are involved in marketing & sales.
“My involvement in sales and marketing is the same as it is in operations, HR, finance and information technology: to provide leadership. Leadership to me is having a vision, communicating that vision, building trust so others believe in that vision, providing the tools and resources necessary that allow your team to execute on that vision, and establishing the metrics that will judge whether everyone has succeeded or failed in helping achieve the goals set forth in that vision.”
How do you see marketing & sales changing in the next 3-5 years?
“MR is beginning to take on the attributes of the technology industry… not surprising, given technology’s rapid ascension as a fundamental element of research. I believe we’ll see more partnerships – “channel partners” as they are called in most technology circles. Rather than generalists, I think we’ll see people that excel at one or a few things, and partner with other companies that combined result in a truly superior solution. Corporations are seeking competitive advantages, and we can best facilitate that by getting really good at what we do, and partnering with others that are really good at what they do so combined, we can offer a superior solution. Thus, marketing and sales will be less about what “I” can do but rather here’s what “we” can do.”
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, commit to a plan, including measurable outcomes. Reverse engineer the business and determine how you will get there. Even if you intend to run a lifestyle company, you really need to at least annually commit to what you want to achieve. A vision without a plan is a hallucination…so once you have the goal, create the plan to achieve the goal. I’m confident you won’t get there without that plan including sales and marketing efforts to help achieve it, clients are not just going to come to you and give you money!”
“Next, ask trusted peers and advisers what they are doing and if possible, see if you can get them to review your plan once you have committed to it and built it out. A friend recently wrote a book on how to successfully take your business to the next level and ensure its long term success: in it he quotes a colleague that said “Smart men learn from their mistakes. Wise men learn from others.” There is much pain and suffering that can be avoided by asking others for their help and feedback, and then listening and applying that knowledge.”
“Finally, 50% of businesses fail within 4 years…in the highly competitive space that is the market research industry, not being committed to sales and marketing is the surest way I know to be a part of this statistic.”
Terrific insights, Brett… thank you very much.