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20 Marketing & Sales Guidelines for The Marketing Research Industry

Marketing and sales are fundamental building blocks for a successful (and sustainable) business. As you begin to re-focus the business developments efforts at your firm, follow these 20 marketing and sales concepts to solidify that foundation.


Editor’s Note: Steve Henke will be speaking at Insights Marketing Day on September 30th in New York City. Join us to hear Steve and other industry experts share their marketing philosophies and perspectives on research companies’ marketing. Register today – Early Bird discounts end August 31st. 

By Steve Henke, President of Harpeth Marketing

Most of the CEOs in our industry are researchers who either started their firms or rose through the ranks to take the helm. Virtually none of them came out of the marketing & sales world. Yes, they have responsibility for the overall growth of their firm, but many (if not most) built their business on good work, referrals and word-of-mouth. And many (if not most) are uncomfortable with the concept of a proactive, outward-reaching marketing and sales initiative. It’s not necessarily that they don’t want to do it, they’re simply not sure how to go about it.

  1. Marketing and Sales are processes.

Being successful at revenue growth is not about luck, gut-feel or serendipity. And it’s not just about doing good work (because everyone does good work!)… it’s the result of a well-planned, disciplined, step-by-step approach.

Too many organizations are re-active with their marketing… almost making it up as they go. They simply don’t take the time to think through their business development efforts, to clarify the processes, to create a functional plan and then to execute that plan.  But those that do are almost always come out on top.

Most importantly, the processes are learnable. At Harpeth Marketing, the process that we follow for ourselves and for our clients is The Marketing & Sales Pyramid™.

  1. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

In business development, you must measure your results. You need to understand what’s working and what’s not. If it’s working, do more of it. And if it’s not working – stop doing it, or figure out a way to improve the results.

Years ago, John Wanamaker, the founder of a major department store was quoted as saying, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” And while today it’s much more than just advertising, that kind of thinking is still sound.

Consider these quotes about measurement…

  • What gets measured gets done.” If the boss is watching what you do, your marketing and sales team are more likely to pay attention to it and do it right.
  • You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” If you don’t know what’s broken, you don’t know what to fix.
  • Measurement eliminates argument.” It’s awfully tough to argue with results in black and white.
  1. Divide your marketing & sales efforts.

There are two kinds of clients – “first-time” clients and “repeat” clients.

Most marketing & sales initiatives tend to focus on finding new clients. But, you can’t build a business on first-time clients… to be sustainable, you need repeat/long-term ones. Key takeaway: getting existing clients to come back to your firm for additional projects is significantly easier and less expensive than trying to convince a prospect to “give you a try” for the first time.

So, as you put together your marketing & sales plans, remember to allocate time and resources to help you accomplish both.

  1. Be patient… success takes time.

Too many business owners give up on their marketing & sales plan if it’s not generating immediate returns… a decision that can be detrimental to your business.

To be successful, marketing requires a sustained, multi-faceted approach to move your firm and its services from “unknown” to “recognized” to “preferred” in the minds of your prospective clients… and then to keep it there.

This means that your marketing & sales efforts must be frequent and consistent… not done only when you can “get around to it,” but executed every day and every week for a sustainable presence in the markets you serve.

Important: On a related note, too many sales reps have lost their jobs in our industry because they didn’t close a big deal in the first month or two. In an industry with sales cycles of 6-12 months (or more), that seems a little premature, doesn’t it?

  1. Think… then execute.

Far too common in our industry is the issue of implementing all kinds of marketing and sales activities without giving any real thought to what should be done, how it should be done and if it even aligns with the goals and needs of your firm.

Before you do anything, put on your thinking cap and start working on your strategic direction by answering these four questions:

  1. Who are you selling to? (company type and buyer type)
  2. What are you selling? (products/services and pricing)
  3. What is your Position/Unique Value Proposition/Point(s) of Differentiation/Brand in the marketplace? (if you don’t stand out, why should you be selected?)
  4. What marketing messaging are you taking to the marketplace? (you have to answer the prospects’ questions: “what’s in it for me?” and “how can they help me?”)
  1. The customer is always right.

Just because you want to sell it, doesn’t mean that anyone wants to buy it. Or better yet… you can only be successful when you sell what the market wants and needs.

Here’s an example… if you own a boutique qualitative shop specializing in ethnographies… and several of your clients start asking for bulletin board focus groups, should you start doing them? Maybe… maybe not. But you do, at least, need to think about it. In business, you need to pay attention to the market and be prepared to respond to it – maybe in ways you weren’t expecting.

  1. The definition of marketing is not what you think.

Marketing isn’t just about ads, websites, social media and the sales team. Anything and everything that touches a client or prospective client and that influences their perception of your firm should be thought of as ‘marketing.’

  • Think about when you’ve waited in long lines at the DMV and how that influences your perception of that organization and the people who work there.
  • How about getting stuck on the phone with an uncaring, even belligerent customer service rep… how does that color your opinion of that company?

And neither of those issues generally falls under the umbrella of ‘marketing.’

As you’re working on your marketing & sales plan, make sure to give some thought to those “touch points” not normally associated with marketing & sales. For example, how your phone is answered, your billing process, project personnel, project proposals, your offices and decor and, of course, the quality of the work you do.

It’s not just about the project… it’s about the entire experience.

  1. You still have to DO something.

The fact is, planning isn’t all that complex. It takes time and effort… but when it’s done, it’s done (at least until next year). The real challenge in marketing & sales is in the execution of the plan… in making it come to life.

Sticking to the timeline, making sure all the details are covered, doing things on a consistent basis (even though they might seem boring or redundant), taking the time to measure and report… now that’s hard. Plan execution requires discipline, persistence and determination.

  1. Make friends.

“All things being equal, people do business with people they like. All things not being equal, people still do business with people they like.”

There are all kinds of tools and technology to help with our marketing and sales efforts. And they are important and necessary, to be sure. But we are still in the “people business”… so good people skills and solid interpersonal interactions are still critical. And over time, with more interactions, that ‘like’ evolves into ‘trust.’ When that happens, you begin to build clients for life.

  1. Seek first to help, then to sell.

“People don’t like to be sold… but they love to buy” (thank you, Jeff Gitomer). So the role of the business development function is to help them buy. This happens with things like:

  • During each step of the Buying Funnel™, providing information that will help your sales prospect make a buying decision; this could include articles, case studies, white papers, etc.
  • Offering up good industry resources (even if it might be a competitor).
  • Connecting people to their mutual benefit.
  • Engaging in online threaded discussions (in LinkedIn groups, for example) and sharing some of your expertise.

Helping others is not just a good and beneficial thing to do… it is a non-threatening way to ease into a buyer-seller relationship.

  1. Take charge of your own success.

When we ask business owners in our industry, “What are you doing about marketing at your firm?”, the answer we hear more than any other is, “referrals and word of mouth.”

Understand, referrals and W-O-M are both good things… the trouble is, they rely on someone else to make you successful. Is that really what you want? In addition, this kind of help from outsiders inevitably lessens or even dries up (your supporters retire, resign or otherwise move on).

To ensure your success, you must take a proactive approach to your marketing and sales. It starts with a well-thought-out plan, smart go-to-market strategies, a consistent level of activity, measurement and continual improvement (based on the measurement findings).

  1. Stick a stake in the sand.

In our ultra-competitive, commoditized marketplace, why would a potential client pick you? And, “We do great work… have great people… and provide great client service” doesn’t cut it anymore. Everybody says that… whether it’s true or not!

To stand out, you must find something that helps to separate your firm from all (or most) of your competitors – something that you want your firm to be known for and that your clients and prospective clients will care about. Maybe it’s one of these: an industry focus, a methodology focus, an application focus, a market focus, a technology advantage or a unique business model.

Regardless of which direction you go… commit to it, integrate it into your operations, then build your marketing efforts around it.

  1. Potential clients can’t do business with you if they don’t know you exist.

So, your marketing & sales must start by building awareness for your brand name and positioning in the markets you serve. Here are some awareness-building tactics to think about:

  • Your website, of course
  • Social media marketing
  • Email marketing
  • SEO
  • Advertising
  • Networking
  • Blogging and other content marketing
  • Speaking at conferences
  • Exhibiting at conferences
  • Press releases
  1. Not on the social media bandwagon? You need to be.

Like it or not… believe it or not… agree with it or not… social media is here to stay. More importantly, it IS where your clients and prospects spend time… so you have to be there.

Learn to get comfortable posting, sharing and engaging. Do a little every day. Social media marketing is a proven way to build awareness (see #13), share your expertise and help to position your firm (see #12). All of which can lead to a buyer-seller relationship.

  1. Growth doesn’t happen by accident.

We often hear from small (and some not-so-small) firms that, “We just don’t have time for marketing and sales.”

My response? “Then it’s not a priority for you.” By contrast, regardless of how busy you are, you still manage to pay the rent on the first of each month, right? And you still find the time to invoice your clients after each project? Of course you do.

Business development is no different… and is just as critical to the success of your business as having an office and getting paid.

Want to be successful at marketing & sales? Make it a priority.

  1. Selling skills first… then research.

Does this sound familiar? “We promoted one of our PMs (or researchers… or analysts…) to a sales position and it didn’t work out.”


When hiring for ‘research sales,’ too many business owners worry about the ‘research’ part… and not enough about the ‘sales’ part. Which is, after all, the goal of the position.

Rule of thumb: it’s a lot easier to teach research to a good sales person… then to teach selling to a good researcher.

  1. Focus on the ‘benefits.’

People don’t buy drills at Home Depot because they need drills… they buy drills because the need holes!

Learn to talk not just about what you do… but about how your prospect can benefit from what you do and what that might mean for them. Think featurebenefitadvantage. For example:

  • Feature: “Online bulletin boards are asynchronous, which means they are not in ‘real time’…
  • Benefit: “…so that participants can log on at times that are most convenient for them…”
  • Advantage: “… which results in deeper, richer and more complete comments – and ultimately, better research.”

So, what are your ‘holes?’

  1. Avoid feast-or-famine.

One of the biggest challenges every firm in our industry faces is the feast-or-famine nature of the business. This general happens because we squeeze our business development efforts in-between projects… which gets us into the on-going cycle of project – biz dev – project – biz dev – project… and so on.

One way to mitigate that is to make sure your marketing & sales efforts are spread out over time. That is, do a little bit every day and every week… regardless of how busy you are.

Try this… block off 30 minutes every day (maybe over your morning coffee) to do some small things… write a blog post, make 2-3 sales calls, connect with others on LinkedIn and so on. And pretty soon, all of those little things will start to add up!

  1. Sales isn’t just the responsibility of your sales people.

Managing sales people is uncharted territory for many (if not most) business owners. They hire a sales rep, provide “training from a fire hose,” give them a list of potential clients and then send them out to sell.

Then, when the rep fails to deliver a new client in the first couple of weeks, the owner seems surprised. Really?!

Most good salespeople are solo operators… but that doesn’t mean they don’t need help, guidance, refresher training, patience and empathy from the owner, help from marketing, technology tools, reasonable goals, an understandable compensation plan, sales meetings and so on and so on.

Without these support mechanisms in place, the chance of your sales rep(s) achieving their sales goals (and yours!) is drastically reduced.

  1. Learn to listen.

We work in the Market Research industry where we help the end clients get feedback from their target market. Yet, we rarely do the same thing. But it’s critical.

By getting regular feedback from your clients, they will tell you what products and services you need to develop for them, what content they want you to write for them, what issues they have that you can solve for them… and not insignificantly, how to sell to them.

So consider the easy ways of gathering client feedback:

  • Post project surveys
  • Annual surveys, which should ask higher-level questions than project surveys
  • Talking with them at conferences
  • For tech companies, establishing user groups
  • Participating in social media conversations
  • Including them in product development cycles
  • And when all else fails… picking up the phone and talking with them.

Wrapping up

Marketing and sales are fundamental building blocks for a successful (and sustainable) business… no less important than HR, operations and finance.

So, as you begin to re-focus the business developments efforts at your firm, follow these 20 marketing and sales concepts to solidify that foundation.

Good luck.


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2 responses to “20 Marketing & Sales Guidelines for The Marketing Research Industry

  1. These are good insights.

    However, a fair # of them #2, #6, #9, etc. are generally applicable to other business functions. Not just sales and marketing.

    And I would add, at least for sales, I’ve won more sales by telling folks what we “don’t do.”

    Frankly, many services firms have a porous boundary around their firm’s practice areas. Which is a kind way of saying they’ll do any project that has a PO attached to it. 🙂 This is why potential clients always ask some variation of “what is it you do well” when interacting with new vendors.

    By contrast, if you make it clear in your marketing, your sales efforts, your research efforts, etc. that you are willing to turn down business that doesn’t meet the definition of a right client or right project…well you and the client are going to be much better off in the long run.

    And the industry will benefit as a result.

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