Increasing numbers of professional services firms are waking up to the fact that effective client research, as well as being a cornerstone of effective strategy making, can drive immediate and long-term improvements to marketing and BD.
The questions they care about are varied, but can include
- What are the most profitable opportunities?
- What is the potential demand for new specialisms?
- How is the firm perceived by key clients and referrers, and how does it compare to key competitors in fulfilling these needs?
- How can more revenue be generated from the current client portfolio and in which clients is there untapped potential for more work? ?
- How can you reduce client loss?
- In which intermediary relationships is there untapped potential for more work?
However, sometimes firms and marketers can get frustrated by the lack of clarity they gain, and action they can take, when conducting in-house research. The following items are some of the key areas anyone considering a client or market research in a professional services firm should cover:
- Be clear about research objectives.
Doing a “satisfaction survey” because other firms do one, or from a vague interest in client views, won’t help you much. Define the most important questions you need insight on – as without it, your firm’s strategy may be founded on guesswork.
What are the real challenges and key issues for the firm? If you are considering merging, what areas are most in demand from your client base? If competitors are beginning to win more business from your clients and target markets, how and why are they able to do so?
2. Utilise the right method
You can track service performance with a paper questionnaire, but if you’re trying to gain insight into important issues, it won’t bear much fruit.
Think about your own response to questionnaires – How many do you complete? If the client is long-standing, or has just involved you in a major issue, does a standard letter with a form full of boxes show you value them?
3. Think about those who should take part
One answer is to identify “which clients we least want to lose”.
Research not only identifies the risk, but determines the corrective action which can “rescue” the relationship.
Do you think certain clients may need additional advice? Research can identify if there is extra medium term potential for you, from their future plans, and where you can win business from competitors.
4. Engage clients effectively
If done professionally and appropriately, the research will enhance perceptions of the firm.
Explaining the rationale for the research pays great dividends. Showing interest in their views, to improve client service or to inform your future strategy, is very well received.
- Engage other partners and staff
Partners and staff can feel slightly threatened by client research.
However, their concerns can be alleviated if they are well briefed about the process. Partners should be involved in contacting those you would like to take part.
Engaging with colleagues makes it more likely that the actions you may need to take – with individual clients as well as across the whole firm – will be supported. The reality is that not just the firm as a whole, but each partner, will gain benefits from the process.
Unless you will respond to what you learn from research, don’t do it!
Participating clients expect that the insight gained by the firm is used. Their view of the firm can worsen if they believe the firm hasn’t listened to what they have said.
Gaining the return from your investment requires that you act. After the feedback is gathered, partners should identify priority actions, set accountability, and track them.
These are some of the key steps that can ensure the research effort can lead to an improvement in financial results, a stronger strategy more capable of being implemented, improved competitive positioning, and a healthier client portfolio with more opportunity.