Prospect Research and Why It’s a Good Ideaby
Selling accounting services has become even more challenging when you factor in competition for the attention of a target audience faced with unfamiliar pressures. So what can you do to stack the cards in your practice’s favor? Conduct prospect research.
Sales of accounting services presents a unique set of challenges different from product sales. Physical goods can be more easily evaluated using tangible characteristics such as material, construction, color and quality. Evaluating and selecting a service provider is an exercise based on experience, knowledge, trust and relationship building.
Prospect research is a highly effective marketing tool to identify, evaluate and gain insight into individual prospects or market segments with the goal of developing new client relationships. It typically involves using multiple secondary research techniques to qualify, nurture and close new prospects.
Now, you might be thinking, “wait a minute…that sounds way too difficult and time-consuming to be worthwhile.” It’s important to understand that prospect research is what you make it.
You can do some quick research to get a better picture of who the prospect is and what they do. You can also dig a little deeper and gain an even better understanding of the person you’ll be talking with, their company, the industry they’re in and what issues are important to them.
Ultimately, the kind of research you do is up to you and prospects may be worth more time and effort than others. The point is that any prospect research is better than none at all.
But prospect research done right won’t waste your time. Regardless of the industry or organization you’re targeting for your sales and marketing efforts, there are three basic levels of research in which you can engage. Let’s take a closer look at each of them, starting with the most comprehensive:
If your accounting firm is looking to expand into a particular industry, it’s vital that you gain some basic knowledge and context. Our research shows that industry knowledge is the top criteria buyers use for evaluating accounting and financial service providers. This criteria has surged 56 percent in importance since 2018.
To draw these buyers’ attention and earn their trust, it’s important to know their industry’s size, major players, and current trends and issues. This knowledge will establish you as an expert and encouraging these buyers to engage with you at a time when their industry is going through unprecedented changes.
Good industry research resources include trade publications, industry association websites, analysts’ reports, proprietary business databases and general Web searches. Other resources can fill in more details, such as SEC filings, census data and original research studies.
Once you have a general picture of the universe, you can focus on specific targets and gain an understanding of their company structure, financial status and key stakeholders. Prospect research uncovers details such as names, titles, business functions and biographical information that enable you to reach out and engage these businesses in a way that’s more relevant and personal.
Business research resources include a company website, LinkedIn page and general Web searches, as well as SEC filings and analysts’ reports (for public companies), news releases, trade and business publications, customer and employer review sites and proprietary databases (such as D&B Hoover and ZoomInfo/DiscoverOrg).
Once you’ve determined the industry and targeted a number of companies that offer potentially profitable marketing opportunities, focus on the specific individuals within those target companies with whom you’ll need to engage. Whether they’re a referral, a website lead, or a cold call, it’s always a good idea to do a little research first before contacting them.
Even a quick online search can provide enough background information to get you started on a dialog. Valuable information about their current and former status is often available in their LinkedIn profile, other social media such as Facebook and Twitter, their bio on their firm’s Team website page and even a simple Web search of their name.
Even a Little is a Lot
Regardless of the amount of prospect research you’re willing or able to conduct, it is important to do at least some because it will:
- Save time and effort: Prospect research can qualify prospects up front, enabling you to focus on the most promising opportunities. You’ll waste less time on unqualified prospects.
- Show that you understand their issues: Research enhances your credibility. When a prospect realizes you already understand their challenges, they are more inclined to trust your expertise.
- Demonstrate familiarity with their industry: Research can arm you with relevant information on their industry, market, and competitors.
- Indicate that you’ve done your homework: When you’ve done even a basic level of research into a potential buyer, it signals that you cared enough about them to put in the extra effort.
- Fill potentially embarrassing gaps in your knowledge: When you know nothing about a prospect, it is easy to say something awkward or inappropriate.
- Build trust: When it becomes clear to a prospect that you can talk intelligently about their problem, understand their business and can solve their problems, they are far more likely to trust you.
- Help you close business: Research provides the inside knowledge it takes to tip the scale in your favor.
When the stakes are high, it helps to learn as much as possible about a prospective client before you get on the phone with them. The more you know about a prospect’s business, industry and role, the greater your chances of building an emotional bridge with them and the easier it will be for them to trust you.
Lee W. Frederiksen, PhD, is managing partner at Hinge, a marketing firm that specializes in branding and marketing for professional services. Hinge conducts groundbreaking research into high-growth firms and offers a complete suite of services for firms that want to...