So you think your business is "all that." And maybe you're right. Maybe you've got the moxie to play big and win big. But the question is, why should your prospective clients believe you? What compelling evidence are you offering that you're really that different from your competition?
Your website may be host to impressive claims. Your people may be incredibly talented. Your client portfolio may be growing. But to land and retain the large accounts that can take your business to the next level and make you an industry leader, you need more.
You need to put on your research hat and find out what your competitors don't know. In other words, you need to conduct proprietary research, discover something significant, and get that discovery out there to woo bigger clients into a long-term relationship with your business.
Benefits of conducting proprietary research
Alleviate client FOMO
Prospective clients often bring serious levels of FOMO to their search for the right business partner. They want to make sure that in choosing your business over your competitor's they're not missing out on anything. This is especially the case in today's rapidly evolving business environment, where it's much more important to demonstrate you provide state-of-the-art products and services for your industry and market.
Conducting proprietary research and sharing your discoveries through seminars, social media, TED Talks, white papers, high-profile articles, and even through books demonstrates that your business has its finger on the pulse of innovation and is actively pioneering what's next. In this way, you show prospective clients that you have something your competition doesn't, offering a truly unique value proposition, thus alleviating FOMO and delivering on your promise of competitive difference.
Distinguish yourself as a thought leader
Prospective clients want to know your thinking is ahead of the curve and you have the research to prove it. When a prospective client can Google your name and see you've presented your research at an industry event or published it through a leading trade journal, you build credibility for your thought leadership. You also show that you've got hustle; you're not content to simply be current in your approach and instead are actively evolving your industry's mindset and market conditions.
Nearly ten years ago when I first published The Zen of Social Media Marketing, Millennials and connected consumers were barely on the radar of most marketers. But by having my ear to the ground for what was next and embarking on a research quest to test my hypotheses, generate actionable data, and get my findings out about the Millennial-driven future of social media, I was able to prove myself as a thought leader and land big-name clients that otherwise would never have taken notice of my business.
Act like an intelligence agency
In the business world, competition is the name of the game. For those at the top of their game, retaining their position means having access to "intelligence" about how they are viewed by their peers and what their competition is up to. Even small businesses can attract large accounts by conducting research into the competition of the accounts they most want to land, using this reconnaissance as a powerful bargaining chip in sealing the deal with a coveted account.
For example, a relatively unknown boutique consultancy wooed huge clients away from several Fortune 50 consulting firms by conducting market research that generated insight into how major industry players could dominate their competitors. When the findings of this research were published, it generated upwards of 1,000 leads as well as multiple large clients for the innovative upstart.
10 tips for conducting proprietary research.
Identify the three biggest problems you're called on to solve for clients and make each problem the subject of a research question.
Familiarize yourself with state-of-the-art research for your industry to prime your investigation.
Decide how the research you plan to conduct is different from research that has already been done.
Conduct qualitative and quantitative research through focus groups, interviews, case studies, and in-depth analysis.
Consider creating new metrics for your research. To see something new, you often need new ways to look.
Consider researching the sacred cows of your industry. Conducting research that challenges long-standing, untested assumptions can generate unusual levels of buzz.
Don't just analyze the data and report your findings. Make a business case for them with actionable recommendations.
Create an elevator speech about your research findings. You never know when a casual conversation could turn into a business opportunity.
Be prolific in disseminating your data. Get the word out through multiple mediums and channels: speeches, seminars, podcasts, articles, social media, and so forth.
Don't rest on your laurels. Put on your research hat often, always looking for new opportunities to disrupt What's Now with What's Next.
Proprietary research is a powerful way to differentiate your business and attract big-name clients. By alleviating FOMO, distinguishing yourself as a thought leader, and gathering intelligence about a desired client's competition, even small startups can land large accounts, proving they've got the moxie to play big and win big.