How to stand out to a client-side researcher: what we learnt during the IMD London client panel

From email marketing, to SEO, to blogs and thought leadership, there are numerous techniques to consider when building your company’s marketing strategy. But which of these techniques will get your company’s message noticed by the clients you’re trying to attract? Are there any key techniques for standing out in a competitive market?

To help answer these questions, we invited three client-side researchers, Begonia Fafian, Western Europe knowledge and insights director at Coca Cola, Sonia Whitehead, head of research at BBC Media Action, and Maciej Partyka, global head of customer insights at Barclaycard, to join us on the client panel at Insights Marketing Day London. We discussed the things they want to see, or perhaps don’t want to see, from the agencies they choose to work with.

The panel was chaired by Mustard’s MD Lucy Davison. Her goal was to find out how clients like to be approached by agencies and what methods and resources they use to discover new research techniques. Here are a few of the tips:

Inspire with forward thinking thought-leadership

Clients want to know exactly what skills and expertise your agency can bring to their company, so it’s important to position yourself as a thought-leader in your field. When asked how she likes to be approached, Begonia explained that she looks out for new and exciting offerings from agencies at exhibitions, or companies taking part in programmes that make her feel a ‘spark’. As Maciej also explained, ‘I’m a curious person, that’s why I’ve chosen a career in insights – I always want to know what’s new and exciting.’

Solve their problems

As well as providing inspiration, clients want to be assured that you actually have the ability to help them. ‘If an agency is interesting and gives me some idea about solving my problem,’ Maciej said, ‘then I’m quite happy to pick up the phone.’ With so many options to choose from, agencies who provide a differentiated offering and illustrate a specific ability to help will stand out to clients.

A personalised approach shows you care

To stand out to a potential client your approach needs to be tailored. Sonia explained how she wants agencies to show their understanding of her research needs. A common problem, she explained, is agencies confusing BBC Media Action with the BBC more generally. Agencies who demonstrated an understanding of this difference stood out because they showed a high attention to detail and a genuine desire to help. Clients want to know they’re not just receiving a generic business proposition thrown out left, right and centre, but that you genuinely want a partnership with them.

‘It’s great if you can show how you an ask a thoughtful question and you have perhaps done a bit of background research and then approach us in a tailored way,’ said Sonia. ‘We’ve had a few agencies who have done this recently – even tiny things go a huge way.’

Email marketing isn’t dead

While some client-side researchers might be irritated by the consistent email marketing approach, Maciej welcomes this technique. ‘Approach us as much as you want,’ he said. ‘At Barclaycard we believe in the power of direct marketing. We spend millions on direct marketing. It’s not dead yet and we believe in sending people messages all the time.’

However, to stand out from the other emails that Maciej and other client-side researchers receive your emails must be targeted. Unfortunately, an email sent to your entire database is not going to be able to provide solutions for everyone. So, take the time to segment your database and get to know your different clients and, like Sonia said, do some background research and provide a solution to their specific problem. This will illustrate your relevancy to the company you want to work with and will emphasise your enthusiasm to help.

The importance of a human connection

With B2B marketing, it’s easy to focus too much on the ‘business’ side and forget that companies are actually made up of people. The reality is that your potential clients experience feelings just like everyone else. So, while the wider business is of course important, it’s also about the individual relationship. As Lucy explained, it’s ‘all about building human connections’, it’s about ‘partnerships and working together’ as well as the differentiated offering.

When asked which was more important, the business or the individuals, both Begonia and Sonia concluded that they are equally important.

‘When working in less populated places where there are perhaps only three research agencies, it’s the people […] but I think more broadly, it’s about feeling you can trust them; it’s about their protocol, which is definitely from the organisation,’ Sonia explained.

Lastly, here are some techniques to avoid:

Sending calendar invites out of the blue; phone calls on a private phone; assuming you know the company and its problems without properly researching; and contacting multiple individuals from the same company – these are just a few of Maciej, Begonia and Sonia’s pet hates. While these approaches may seem personal, there is a fine line between a friendly approach and just plain creepy.

It’s an all too common problem that the market research industry doesn’t invest in their own marketing, despite advising clients on marketing decisions every day. So, inviting clients to share their likes and dislikes provided agencies with some solid advice on how to put their money where their mouths are in order to get the best results.