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Ramping Up Research. Maximising your research resource

As a researcher at heart, it has been encouraging to witness an increase in research and analysis efforts in the last few months across professional services (PS). All of the accounting and most of the law firms I speak to are now resourcing dedicated research and/or insight teams. There is though, I believe, further room for improvement in terms of deployment.

Most of the increase in research that I see is content-related, supporting lead generation and client engagement. While this is essential, there are also additional areas where research and analysis can make a significant difference around improving understanding of clients and competitors – and then developing a proposal in response. I thought it useful to highlight where extra focus might be beneficial to your top line efforts.

Let’s look at three areas: clients, competitors and sectors. Consider resourcing, repurposing or investing in the following as they will focus your strategy and increase engagement levels across clients and prospects.

1. Client analysis

I split clients further into three specific sections: Internal research, external research and relationships.

Internal - Analysing client growth

Internal analysis is one area professional services firms have improved dramatically in the last few years, especially as finance and BD have begun working more closely together. It’s a truism that your clients are your most likely source of additional revenue because they already know and trust you. Refining your MIS so that you can track fees in real time and against previous years, then split them by service line and sector is straightforward technically, if occasionally a cultural challenge.

If you haven’t had the time to analyse fees and discuss how else you can support them, then make this a priority. Every time I have conducted the exercise of approaching clients that lapsed, we find contacts that had drifted away and are pleased to re-engage. Analyse fee trends, project type and service lines – where are the cross and upselling opportunities?

If there is a decline, can you understand why? – Is the client less active or at a different phase of growth? Have key individuals changed and impacted the dynamic, was a mistake made that hasn’t been addressed, or are fees under pressure?

Assessing your share of wallet can also be very useful in prioritising targeting and retention strategies. One client recently added significant fees by highlighting to an investor that it is equally adept in Europe, where the investor was currently focused, as in emerging markets – where the investor had thought it specialised.

External - Keeping abreast

You’re on top of current fee trends but what’s happening at or to the client that might be an opportunity or a threat? Change is the key finding for business research and even trusted advisers struggle to keep abreast of all of the issues.

Look for changes in strategy – is it buying, entering, or exiting? Are there changes to the competitive dynamics, business models, supply chains, markets served and people? In all cases, sharing relevant info is at worst appreciated and often leads to an exchange which can become a proposal.


Map your key client and contact relationships through your CRM. In a large company, it’s rare to know the C-Suite, the GC, the NEDs and the business unit heads, yet all have a say in your ability to expand or maintain that relationship. While it might not be appropriate to ask for intros to the decision makers (though sometimes it is) it’s very useful to at least be aware of who you know, how well you know them and how you might improve on that so that if an issue breaks you can be responsive and immediately helpful.

Make this info as accessible as possible internally – at least at the company name level. Every firm has a tale of a junior staff member’s aunt being the CFO of a key target.

2. Competitor analysis.

Understanding how well, or not so well, your competitors are doing can be very useful – as long as it feeds back into your action plan. For example, impressive lateral hires across fee earning and BD can present an immediate threat that requires a response – and both are usually announced. The increased activity or profile linked to increased marketing spend, or a shift to strategic marketing is straightforward to track, as are client wins and promotions in the rankings – all of these will be signposted.

Also watch for the emergence of impressive boutiques from top tier firms that can promise magic circle advice at more bearable rates. There will always be noise in the market around new entrants. A little more negatively, if a firm has been embroiled in a damaging story, the commercial reality is that it is less likely to be retained by some going forward.

3. Sector analysis

What trends are impacting the sectors in which you are expert and how might you leverage those? Examples include:

  • Transactions. Be it consolidation, capital markets activity, new entrants, or activism, such activity will require professional support. The next two years will see growth in transactions as the pandemic winners emerge. Where you already have client links, how can you help? Where you don’t act for them, can you offer something the existing team might not have? Highlighting such activity to a client or contact can be a great way to stimulate a conversation.

  • Business models & IP. Within your sectors, what will happen to business models as companies continue to adapt and require, for example, changes to supply chains, renegotiating of IP rights or bolt-on acquisitions to improve their technology?

  • Restructuring. It might be valuable to map who is financially stronger within the sector, whose balance sheet appears less strong and the potential fallout if and when support is withdrawn.

  • External factors. Commodity prices, regulatory change or interest and supply chain integrity are all great examples of external influences that keep boards awake.

Related to sectors are higher level issues which are impacting clients’ strategies and operations. ESG, Covid and Brexit are three good examples on which clients must remain informed. Prioritise these and find 1-2 hours per week to stay informed.

While Google and social media are fantastic for high-level research and real time updates, additional sources can further improve accuracy and I’ve highlighted some of these below.

  • Business news – Examples include the FT, the Economist, HBR, plus news databases such as Factiva

  • Financial analysis – Capital IQ, Thomson ONE and Bloomberg all, at a price, provide excellent analysis of sectors, M&A activity, Investors and management – along with access to investment research which can be extremely useful

  • Sector news – While the sources above cover the key sectors – additional insight around trends, investments, M&A and key contacts can be gathered through industry specialists and trade media.

  • Company databases – Services such as D&B and BvD can be very useful for mapping players within markets, identifying key individuals and understanding ownership.

  • Contact harvesters/relationship mappers - All the hard work above is undone if you can’t contact the individual involved. LinkedIn and services such as Lusha and Rocketreach all provide means of contacting people directly, while BoardEx and similar provide links between executives, which can be more effective than a cold email.

As ever, please get in touch with feedback or if you wanted to discuss any of the areas I’ve touched upon.

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