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March 27, 2013

Six marketing and sales mistakes MR firms make every day

If you’re not interested in growing revenue this year, stop reading now.

Thought so! There isn’t a firm in our industry (or any other, for that matter) that doesn’t want to increase revenue – and most reasonably-successful research firms have been able to do it over the years at some level.

However, the majority of the people inside these research firms are research professionals, not business development pros, and as such, tend to flounder a bit as they try to plan for and execute their marketing and sales initiatives. To help with understanding that, here are the six biggest mistakes that most MR firms regularly make that, if fixed, can dramatically enhance revenues and perception in the marketplace.

1. Not focusing on marketing and sales

From a big-picture perspective, marketing and sales are often looked at like red-headed stepchildren. They’re an afterthought or something that just happens without much planning or care. Let me ask you two questions:

  • Is there someone on your staff dedicated to business development?
  • At your weekly staff meeting, is business development a recurring agenda topic?

If you answered no to both (and most MR firms do) then you don’t have the necessary focus on and commitment to business development. It should be no less important to your firm than any other business discipline, like operations or accounting.

“But Steve, taking care of our clients always comes first.” And it should! Unfortunately, rather than a reason, being busy with clients often becomes an excuse for not doing anything. Business development is a lot like golf: to be any good at it and achieve the kind of scores you aspire to, you must play regularly, not just every once in a while. That commitment breeds success.

2. Doing only the no-cost things

The Internet has changed business at all levels and in numerous ways. One of those ways – in the area of marketing, specifically – is that it has opened up all kinds of new marketing channels, many of them at low or no cost. And while all of those kinds of marketing tactics should be tested and employed, too many MR firms use only those tactics, never considering others simply because they’re “too expensive.”

All marketing tactics cost something (money and/or time) and provide a return (i.e., revenue, leads, etc.). But you’ll never know which ones provide the best value unless you test them and measure the return. So, in addition to social media, e-mail and blogging, consider advertising (online and print), hiring your first sales rep, attending and exhibiting at conferences, etc. You might be surprised what happens.

Special note to independents: Please, please, please spend a few bucks and get a personalized domain name. A Gmail or Comcast e-mail address makes you look small, unsophisticated and unsuccessful – not an impression you want to make.

3. Relying too much on one or two large clients, repeat business and word-of-mouth

First, know that all of those things are really good things. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them – at all! But here’s a fact of business: Clients come and clients go. Period. Even those good clients that you have now were some other firm’s good clients – until they lost them. Look back through your files; I guarantee you have lost some clients, too. In addition, the key contacts at your best clients will eventually leave, retire, get fired or die, and then what happens to your relationship with those clients?

Here’s my point: Give special treatment to the big guys, do great work for all of your clients and sincerely thank those clients who say nice things about you to others. But make plans now for when that stops because it will stop.

4. Not differentiating their firm

When I was doing my due diligence before starting Harpeth Marketing, I spoke with scores of research firms across the U.S. to understand their perception and use of marketing and sales inside their organizations. One of the questions I asked during that process was, “How do you differentiate your firm?”

Across the board, the response was something like, “We do great work,” “We have great people” and “We really take care of our clients.”

Sound familiar?! Is that how you would respond to that question? And if everyone is saying that then no one is really different!

Don’t believe me? Try this little exercise: Take a look at the Web site of your top three or four direct competitors. Read through their pages titled “About Us,” “How We’re Different” or “Why Hire Us.” I’d be willing to bet that their words read an awful lot like the words on your own site.

If that’s the case, how can research buyers make a decision? How do you stand out? Why should they choose you over your competitors? Part of your marketing and sales initiative moving forward must be to find a way to stand out from the crowd. As Seth Godin writes in his landmark book Purple Cow, you must find a way to be “remarkable.”

5. Neglecting lead management

In its simplest form, generating sales has three phases:

  • Lead generation
  • Lead nurturing
  • Winning the project

Most firms spend most of their time on the third phase (i.e., delivering capabilities presentations, putting together compelling bid packages, etc.). But here’s the key: The more lead generation you do and the better job you do nurturing those leads, the easier it is to win the project.

Are you doing the things that generate leads (e.g., social media, advertising, networking, awesome Web site, etc.)? This is absolutely a case of more is better. And are you taking some time to nurture those leads? A lead will probably need some time to get to know and trust you and to understand what your firm is really good at and your reputation in the industry. Also, they simply might not be ready to buy right now so stay in touch until they are.

6. Inconsistent effort

We live and work in a project-based industry. Sometimes we’re busy with projects and sometimes we’re not. It’s feast-or-famine, right? One of the other realities is that we often cause, or at least exacerbate, the issue.

It works like this: When you’re busy, you don’t have a lot of time for business development, which leads to a slowdown in business, which opens up some time for you to do business development, which leads to making you busy so you don’t have a lot of time for business development, which leads to . . . Well, you get the picture. It can be a never-ending cycle.

The key to success with marketing is not doing it in starts and stops but to do a little bit every day or every week – without exception, regardless of how busy or not busy you are.

Consistent marketing does two things. First, it helps to move and keep you top-of-mind with all clients and prospects and second, it helps to level out the peaks and valleys. Of course, if you like the feast-and-famine environment, please ignore what I just said.

Make that commitment

One of the messages I try to make sure that my clients understand is that “marketing and sales are simple… but they ain’t easy.” They require focus, some smart thinking and doing a little work every single day to move your firm down the road toward its goals. Do yourself and your firm a huge favor – make that commitment today and stick with it. You’ll be glad you did.

Good luck and good marketing.

This article was originally published online for Quirk’s.


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