Most people think of research as a means to validate product or business concepts, to determine market opportunities, or for competitive differentiation. But most overlook it as a way to win new business. Here is a proven process to do exactly that.
This approach has been refined and validated in over 20 years of practice. It’s not theory and has been utilized successfully to win business with several of the industry’s largest firms.
Background – In winning new clients, one of the biggest challenges is often getting to the senior decision makers. They typically rely on organization structure and gate-keepers to filter out those charged with winning new business.
The following is a technique that is designed to engage the senior decision makers, as well as their trusted associates. The secret? Bring something of value to them—and do so in a unique way. Here is a step by step way how to do it.
1. List your key prospects
Make a short list of the leading prospects you are trying to win. Ideally, they may be different firms within the same industry or function. For example, let’s say they are OEMs. Now narrow the list down to the leading 3-5.
2. Identify the problem to be solved
Your business is likely built upon creating solutions to some sort of business problem. Your prospects likely deal with those same problems in some sort of way. You and your team want to spend quality time identifying topics that are ideally shared by both you and your best prospects. Though your firm and the prospect may come at them from different angles, at the core, the problem is the same.
This is the toughest and most important step because you have to really nail a topic that is worthy of a research investment by your own firm AND is extremely relevant AND timely for your best prospects. Typically identifying a topic that is important to your firm is not as difficult as identifying one that is key to your prospect, but if you can think about their business and how fresh insights will help them and think about it in a way that is unique, you will be on the right path.
Keeping with our example, think about the themes that most OEMs today are focused on:
Looking carefully at these broad topics, think about those that best line up to your core business and would provide solid return on investment for your firm in either service or product advancement.
3. Develop a hypothesis
What do you want to learn? What do you think you may uncover and what do you want to prove or disprove? Flesh out the top 3-5 key things your research will solve for.
Write out a short but detailed project brief, including the background, objective (how this will be used), what you want to learn from this, and how the learnings will be used (both internally and externally). Define your target audience to get insight from (consumers in general/shoppers/recent purchases/dealers, etc). How will the insight be applied (i.e.,product plans, training, product line extension, thought leadership, etc.) Be very clear on the value to your firm and how you will return the investment to your firm. Do one version that is external facing that can be used to send to forward to the prospects.
Keep it to real research, ideally done by a well-regarded third-party research firm. This ensures your data will hold up to scrutiny of the industry and won’t be immediately written off as findings engineered internally to support marketing needs. The fact that you are not doing it internally will signal to your prospect that the findings will be credible.
Get a bid from a research provider, ideally one with depth of experience in the topic you want to dive into – not just experience in doing research. Why? You don’t want to spend a ton of time teaching them about the intricacies of your business, the industry, the market, consumer habits and the key players within the industry. This takes up more valuable time and typically your findings won’t be as actionable.
4. Reach out to your key prospects with the offer
Once you have internal support and approval to move forward, have your top BD or account management team member reach out to your prospect with a simple offer along these lines: “We are planning on doing this research study and thought we would ask if you have a few questions that you would like to include it. If we end up using your questions, we will be happy to share the results with you. There is no charge for this report.” You also forward your (external facing version) research brief to give them a feel for the study, the approach, and the insights you will uncover from it.
This puts your firm in a position of providing value to them, not simply trying to sell them something like most of your competitors. If you have conceived the study right, they will be inclined to participate. In many cases, they will say they don’t have any questions to contribute but will be interested in learning the findings. Either way, this is exactly the outcome you want.
If you get input from them, which can be actual questions but more often is directional input, try to work it in. This will also help you further your relationship as it will provide you with deeper insight to where they are going—and how your firm can contribute.
5. Prospect follow up
When the study is fielded, drop them a line to let them know it’s in the works and that some of their questions were selected. Also provide them with an updated timeline as to when the final results are scheduled to be completed.
Finalize your study and, if at all possible, develop a derivative work—the ability to illustrate data that is unique to your key prospect or prospects. Using our OEM example, develop additional insights to what customers shopping for your prospect OEM brand thinks, identify any outlying data (i.e., consumers like this in all cases, except for Luxury shoppers who don’t like this, they like that, and so forth). You might show how customers from OEM brand A feel about something contrasted to the industry average or to OEM B or C who should be the key competitors to OEM A (your key prospect). Again, all valuable to you AND your key prospect, but also needs to be designed into your project from the start.
6. Bringing it home
Once you are close to having your final report and your special key prospect derivatives nearly complete, this is when you need to reach out again to your prospect representative with a special offer.
I have found success in the following many times: You send a status update email letting them know you are nearly complete and indicate that the data was so compelling that you were able to do a special cut that examines their ________ “product, customers, shopping patterns, etc.” and compares it to their ________ competitors (or whatever version you did).
You include one or two top-line sample stats to support this. Choose those wisely. You want them to want to know more. You make the following offer: “We would be willing to deliver both the public findings as well as the special (and confidential) version we did for your brand to you in person to better facilitate question and answers AND we may be able to do this before we release the main study publicly—if we are able to schedule something reasonably soon.”
“We only have one request in return and that is that you commit to having at least one VP or high-level representative in the meeting when we deliver the findings.” It’s a reasonable offer. They get free insight—not only about a topic they are interested in, but one that has data about their brand as well. All they have to do is have a VP in the room, which is not too difficult if the topic is one that they are trying to resolve. You make it clear that you’re not selling anything in this meeting, just delivering the goods, but that you are interested in developing a relationship—should the opportunity present itself.
Then you and your head of BD do the meeting. You deliver the findings and address all questions. Keep it pure and don’t go into sales mode—keep it just about the research. Your BD guy is there to make introductions, collect business cards, and to begin establishing that ever important relationship with the key execs. The last time I did this I was blown away by having not one, but three VPs in the meeting. And this was one of the largest volume OEMs in the business.
Also, I would never go to the meeting with a hard copy to hand out. Why? Because I want to improve my chances of getting email addresses. Inevitably they will ask for copies of the report which we would gladly provide, via email.
At this point your firm has demonstrated highly relevant and timely knowledge about a topic that is important to your prospect. Frequently they are looking for solutions and it is very typical that during the research delivery, questions would begin to surface from the prospects’ personnel inquiring how we would address X or if we have seen success with Y.
This is the outcome you are looking for. You have the key decision makers in the room. You have the insight and you have the stage to tell them how you can resolve their problem(s). If done correctly, you may have just earned a seat at the table or at least the ability to be considered as a solution provider. If nothing else, you stand apart from your competitive crowd—plus you have insight that can be used for product development, sales and marketing support, true thought leadership, and to help you stand out in the industry. This technique can be repeated with your top 3-5 prospects.
A big tip: When people think of research they tend to think about surveys or quantitative research (stats and charts) which are good to answer how many people think, feel, or did something. When designing your study, don’t overlook qualitative research especially when you’re examining topics that need to answer “why” the people think, feel, or do things. The combination of the two (qualitative and quantitative) are usually far more compelling than one over the other. Qualitative also has one extra major benefit: video.
Capturing people in the moment of using your product, fumbling with a website or software tool, shopping for a car, or interacting with real sales reps is powerful stuff. When video of actual shoppers is combined with a study it makes the delivery of the final results so much more compelling for the audience as it brings the stats to life with expressions of real users or intenders—and addresses not only how many people think this way, but “why” they do as well,which is typically what surfaces the solution that you are seeking.
Timing: Many of our customers have technology production cycles tied to the first quarter and that’s because they like to release products at or around NADA. This means that Q4 is a big period for research releases. This is due to several factors:
Strategic Planning: Don’t fall into the trap of thinking about doing your research 45 or 90 days before you want to be on stage. By then you will have most likely missed the boat. Most conferences require submission for speaking months in advance. For NADA this can be nearly eight months in advance (typically mid May for a February conference). If you want to use this technique to be in front of your key prospects one month before the fall conferences to offer them the preview and be ahead of the budgets being finalized, your study needs to be completed in early September—at the LATEST. The average study is 90 days in duration (from initial discussion to delivery). That means that April and May are exactly the right months to get moving on your research project.
Good luck and happy hunting!