The difference between fact and opinion: research for professional services firms

Posted on December 5, 2011 by Man Bites Dog

“Seven in 10 managers working harder 10 years ago”
“UK firms face £2.2bn customer drought”
“75% of City workers believe divide between rich and poor is too big.”

The words ‘survey’ and ‘fatigue’ are increasingly heard in close proximity. But a five-minute scan of the headlines on any given day will reveal an enduring media appetite for research-based stories.

Even at a time when the news, business and political agendas are dominated by unprecedented events, surveys continue to fill column inches, as the headlines above from the past week or so demonstrate.

With so many surveys filling news pages and programmes, it is worth examining which are genuinely robust studies, aligned to an organisation’s sales proposition, and which are simply ‘noise’, providing nothing more than a name-check. For the latter, look no further than the car firm that ran a poll on Christmas gift-wrapping habits.

Showing Not Telling
Intelligently conceived and skillfully designed opinion research can be a highly effective lead generation tool in the professional services space.

Professional services firms operate in fiercely competitive markets, offering almost identical services, experience and expertise. In such a uniform environment, ideas are the only source of differentiation.

Robust research is the tool that validates these ideas. It is the difference between fact and opinion.

Demand Generation
Carefully crafted economic modeling or opinion research can prove a business hypothesis and create a direct call to action for a complex advisory proposition. Robust evidence generates demand for a service by promoting the problems it solves.

We have seen this work time and again in the professional services sphere. Thought leadership campaigns can be designed not only to achieve high impact coverage, but also drive direct business leads for firms offering complex and technical advisory services.

Professional services research

Success Factors
There are three critical factors to creating thought leadership that makes the phone ring: the hypothesis, the research design, and the degree of sales alignment.

• Hypothesis: Thought leadership research must set out to prove a compelling, impactful and original theme that plays to the news agenda at the time. It needs to pass three simple tests journalists instinctively apply to stories: ‘So what?’ ‘Why now?’ and ‘Have I heard this before?’

• Research design: The most critical stage. News hooks have to be designed into the research. The approach must be robust, independent and credible. The sample size needs to be representative. The methodology must be bulletproof.

• Sales alignment: Thought leadership research must be closely – but subtly – aligned with a firm’s sales proposition if it is to make the phone ring. Back to our car firm polling consumers on gift-wrapping habits. What value does that generate in terms of potential sales? How does it drive interest in the car brand in question?

A delicate balance is required. The story needs to promote the problems the firm solves, without overt selling the firm or its services. The aim is to set the news agenda, not promote your own. Another journalist filter applies here: The ‘They would say that, wouldn’t they?’ test.

Rigorous, original, thought-leading research will always provide media – and target audiences – with something new. Whether or not the media is tiring of the poll, thought leadership remains a highly effective tool for organisations to not only get noticed, but create a powerful call to action and ultimately generate demand.


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