Every important move requires a solid strategy. If you’re looking to successfully grow your business, you need a business growth strategy – a roadmap for growing your firm.
A business growth strategy describes the industries you will serve, the types of clients you will target, the services you will offer, and how you will position and develop your brand. Any strategy worth its salt will explore potential risks in the marketplace and balance them against the expected upside. And a good growth strategy will replace random and opportunistic business development with a reliable and systematic approach to growth.
So what’s the best way to develop a business growth strategy? Primary research.
The best strategies are informed by more than just wishful thinking. They are powered by focused research that provides information about the marketplace, your target audience, the competition, and a host of other factors that can affect what you do and how you do it. Business growth, profitability and research go hand in hand (see graph).
Primary research is essentially talking with people. Talking with your clients, your prospects, industry influencers, and other individuals and organizations that can and will have an impact upon your business.
There are four basic tools for primary research, and they can be used independently just as easily as they can be used to supplement each other:
- Survey research
Perhaps the most common type of primary research, surveys have become a fixture of the modern online experience, but you have to know the right questions to ask and how to interpret the results. Surveys work well for getting a little information from a lot of people.
Get a group of your target customers together in one place and ask them a series of questions. Widely used in consumer products research, focus groups have the advantage of being both face to face (to observe body language, show prototype products or view sample advertising) and flexible enough to be adjusted on the fly by a skilled moderator.
- Face-to-face interviews
Professional services firms are typically better served by individually interviewing representative members of your audience. This approach is perhaps the most effective source of data for professional services firms..
- Telephone interviews
Telephone — or increasingly video chat — interviews are often the best option for most firms. They offer a similar set of benefits as individual face-to-face interviews but at a much lower cost. It is much easier for busy executive to take a phone call then to sit down for a meeting.
To get the right answers, you need to ask the right questions.
Once you choose the tool, or tools, with which to carry on your primary research conversations with clients and prospects, it’s important to know what you need to ask. Our research has shown that the following ten questions can provide the kind of backbone information you need to formulate your business growth strategy:
1. Why do your best clients choose your firm?
Notice we are focusing on the best clients, not necessarily the average client. Understanding what they find appealing about your firm can help you find others just like them.
2. What are those same clients trying to avoid?
In our research on professional services buyers and sellers, we’ve found that the top circumstances that buyers want to avoid in a service provider are broken promises and a firm that’s indistinguishable from everyone else.
3. Who are your real competitors?
Most firms aren’t very good at identifying their true competitors. When we ask a firm to list their competitors and ask their clients to do the same, there is often only about a 25% overlap in their lists.
4. How do potential clients see their greatest challenges?
The answer to this question helps you understand what’s on prospective clients’ minds and how they are likely to describe and talk about those issues.
5. What is the real benefit your firm provides?
Sure, you know your services and what they are intended to do for clients. But what do they actually do? Often, firms are surprised to learn the true benefit of their services. When you understand the true value and benefit of your services, you’re in a position to enhance them or even develop new services with other true benefits.
6. What are emerging trends and challenges?
Where is the market headed? Will it grow or contract? What services might be needed in the future? These decisions should be driven by research and data.
7. How strong is your brand?
What is your firm known for? How strong is your reputation? How visible are you in the marketplace? Knowing where you stand cannot only guide your overall strategy, it can have a profound impact on your marketing budget.
8. What is the best way to market to your prime target clients?
Wouldn’t it be nice to know where your target clients go to get recommendations and referrals? Wouldn’t it be great if you knew how they want to be marketed to? These are all questions that can be answered through systematic business research.
9. How should you price your services?
This is often a huge stumbling block for professional services firms. In my experience, most firms overestimate the roll price plays in buying decisions. Perhaps it’s because firms are told that the reason they don’t win an engagement is because of price However, what appears to be price may really be perceived level of expertise, lack of attention to detail or an impression of non-responsiveness.
10. How do your current clients really feel about you?
How likely are clients to refer you to others? What would they change about your firm? How long are they likely to remain a client? These are the kinds of questions that can help you fine tune your procedures and get a more accurate feel for what the future holds.
There is no question about it. Business growth strategies and frequent research drive success. If your research efforts to date have been spotty at best and non-existent at worst, it’s time to repent. Research is your friend and ally. It will show you the way to growth and increased profitability.
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