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March 5, 2024

Pigeonholed by Clients? Here’s How to Break Free!

A while back, I was asked by one of my clients to talk to some of their clients. They wanted to get unfiltered feedback about how they were doing and those companies’ perception of them. I was happy to do it.

Now, all of these companies were good, fairly long-standing clients, so we expected pretty positive feedback. What we didn’t expect was the ‘pigeonhole’ conversations.

While I talked with only a dozen companies, three of them (again, good, long-standing clients) said that they would be interested in learning what else my client could do for them.

What?! My client had a good, ongoing relationship with these three companies, had been working with them for a couple of years, and yet, was providing only one service, when they could’ve been providing others?

How does this happen? And how can you change it?

How you get pigeonholed generally happens the same way for most firms. The first time you get hired by a client, it’s for one particular thing – to conduct a client satisfaction study, for example. And you do a really nice job… so they bring you in to do it again. And again, it goes well. But before you know it, you and the client have found yourselves in a nice, mutually beneficial relationship, and without really realizing it, you’re kind of stuck there… neither of you are even thinking about doing other things.

If that’s your situation with some of your clients, how do you get unstuck? Here are three options to help you break free:

Option 1: Ask questions. Learn all you can about the kind of work your client is doing and where else you might be able to help. Ask questions like:

  • [General] “Besides client satisfaction studies (from the example above), what other kinds of research are you doing? And who’s doing it for you?”
  • [Specific] “I’ve been noticing your ads online recently. Are you doing any sort of ad testing before you launch them? And who’s doing it for you?”
  • [Internal] “This work we’re doing for you supports your XX brand. What are you doing for YY? And who’s doing it for you?
  • [About us] “We really enjoy the customer satisfaction studies that we do with you. Do you know that we’re also really good at concept testing, innovation and segmentation work?”

Option 2: Get known. The most common group inside a client company to work with when it comes to Market Research is the Consumer Insights department (or some other similarly-named team). There are other people though – outside of consumer insights – that need or influence the purchase of market research. This could include marketing, brand management, R&D, etc. – the departments that actually use the insights from the research.

So, make it your mission to get introduced to these other people, add them to your CRM database and connect with them on LinkedIn. And then, over time, start talking with them about their business needs and how your research services can help address them.

Option 3: Smart Marketing. Not comfortable asking questions or meeting new people? Then try a little subtlety (note: this works well for extroverts, too!).

Be smart with your marketing. Make sure that your marketing tactics – website, blog posts, white papers, social posts, webinars, conference presentations, etc. – span all of your methodologies, applications and the industries you serve. Then, make sure that you proactively promote that content via email, social media, SEO, advertising, etc.

In addition, make sure that all of those client contacts who have pigeonholed you are entered in your CRM database and are connected to you on LinkedIn so they see your marketing and learn about all you can do… frequently and consistently.

Getting Started

OK, you’re buying into my pigeonhole process. So, now you’re asking, “How do I start getting out of this hole?”

Here’s my recommendation… Since most of us have a fairly finite and manageable number of clients, start with an account-by-account review. Gather together your internal team that interacts with each client and put down – in writing – everything you know about that client, everything you don’t know and who on your team is responsible for that client. Then, lay out a step-by-step game plan for each client on how to expand your relationship with them, and the necessary steps and timeline to make it happen.


Being pigeonholed isn’t a totally bad thing… it means you have some of that client’s business. But only some. If there is an opportunity to grow with them, what are you doing about it? I hope this article gave you a couple of ideas to think about.

Good luck and good selling.

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