What are the benefits of market research for professional services firms? Is it worth the cost? And does it really matter?

These are some of the questions we get from our clients when we recommend researching their current clients and target markets. While on some level we all know that market research is a good thing, these are legitimate questions. What exactly are the costs and benefits of market research?

Why Market Research?

Let’s start with why your professional services firm should consider using market research in the first place. There are a number of occasions where market research is appropriate. Here are some of the most typical situations where you’d use it:

  • When your firm is launching a new service
  • When you’re looking to select verticals to concentrate on and specialize in
  • When you’re developing your organizational strategy
  • When your firm is seeing a diminishing market share
  • When your industry environment is changing
  • When your firm needs to accelerate growth

The Benefits of Market Research

While there are many intangible benefits of market research on your current and prospective clients, such as better targeting and a more accurate understanding of how your firm is viewed, there is a much more tangible and direct measure of benefits. In a study of high growth professional services firms, we found that professional services firms that do systematic, structured research on their target client groups are more profitable and grow faster.

This relationship is documented in the figure below.

This figure shows that professional services firms that do frequent research (at least quarterly) grow more and are more profitable that firms that do occasional or no research on their target industry or client group.

Because of the specificity of these findings we are in a position to project the true economic benefits of market research for services firms. But first let’s consider the cost side of the equation.

The Cost of Market Research

The cost of a specific market research program is determined by the research method used (face-to-face interviews are more expensive than phone interviews, for example) and the sample size needed. Larger firms will typically require a larger sample. Taking these variations into account, we have estimated the typical market research costs for both occasional research (once per year) and a program of frequent research (quarterly).

Below are estimated costs for a single round of research for three sizes of firms:

  • Small ($5M revenue): $20,000
  • Medium ($20M revenue): $40,000
  • Large ($200M revenue): $60,000

For a program of frequent research (quarterly) you can simply quadruple these estimates. And keep in mind that the average duration of a market research project ranges from about 2 to 8 weeks.

The Return on Investment of Market Research

With estimates for the costs and economic benefits, we can now calculate the return on an investment in a program of market research for a professional services firm. For each of the three firm sizes, we’ll subtract the total research cost from the economic gain. This shows the net increase to top line revenue and bottom-line profitability over a one-year period.

Chart - ROI for Small Firm Chart - ROI for Medium Firm Chart - ROI for Large Firm

Two things are immediately apparent from this analysis. First, the net return on invested research dollars is very sizable. If your firm realizes even a small fraction of the documented benefits of market research, you are well advised to make the investment.

The second observation is that the larger the firm, the greater the return on invested dollars. This is a very straightforward relationship arising from the observation that the expense of market research does not rise in lockstep with firm size. Put another way, market research is a relative bargain for larger firms.

Putting Research to Work in Your Firm

Sadly, market research is not magic. To enjoy the generous benefits it can provide, you need to take it seriously and systematically use it to adjust strategy and shape staff behavior. As it turns out, well-conducted and well-presented market research is often a powerful catalyst for change. 

Historically, professional services marketing has been driven by hunches and habits. But most professionals are pretty logical, and fact based in their work. Consequently, they are often refreshingly open to new data on their clients’ behavior and perceptions. Perhaps that is why it works so well. This is where a research organization such as The Hinge Research Institute can help. The Hinge Research Institute believes that research can not only help you make more informed planning and strategy decisions—as premium content, it can also educate your target audiences, thereby increasing visibility, trust, sales leads, and engagement.

There are two viable ways to use research as premium content: customized research and licensed research. The advantage of customized research is that it allows you to get specific responses to specific questions from specific audiences. The downside to some is that customized research takes months to produce and can be perceived as expensive. This is where licensed research may be more appealing. Some research organizations offer licensed research on reports they publish. This type of research is typically available immediately, for 12 months, to be used in part or entirety. The advantages of licensed research are that it costs less than customized research and it is available almost immediately. The downside to some is that you are limited to existing or available topics so you give up some control. However, whether you use customized or licensed research, you should get a level of visibility, trust, and sales leads that you have never experienced before.

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Another tip when looking for a research organization. Choose one that can help you launch your published research so that you can use it as premium content to generate more visibility, leads, and revenue for your firm. A research firm that can support your rollout with webinars, blogs, articles, videos, and more will ensure you get a higher level of prospect engagement through trust and credibility. 

Free Resource

The Professional Services Guide to Research

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How Hinge Can Help

Need help conducting market research? Research gets to the core of what will resonate with those audiences—and is an integral part of what Hinge does for clients. Learn more about our research services or contact us to learn whether research makes sense for your professional services firm.

Additional Resources

  • Our Research As Content guide gives you the tools and knowledge you need to use research to make better decisions AND educate and persuade your target audiences.
  • Understand your buyers. Win more business. Download our research study Inside the Buyer’s Brain and read the latest findings from the biggest study of professional services buyers to date.
  • If more of a hands-on approach is for you, register for one of our courses through Hinge University and become the next Visible Firm®.