Sometimes you hear a metaphor that just seems to work. That's the experience participants had at a recent CEO Roundtable where we were discussing Hinge's recently released study on High Growth, High Value professional services firms. We were discussing how professional services firms that conduct frequent research on their target client groups often grow faster and are more profitable.

As you might imagine, folks were very interested to explore how this relationship worked and exactly why. What kind of research? Why would greater knowledge of target clients impact growth? How would it impact profits? The discussion was spirited. Finally one of the participants offered a metaphor that made the relationship obvious.

“Now I'm not a deer hunter” he said. “If I went deer hunting I'd probably get lost. But one thing is for certain. I'd never get a deer.” He then went on to explain how deer hunters prepare for a hunt — researching a deer's habits, how their behavior varies by season, what they do at different times of the day, even how their senses work. “This gives them a tremendous competitive advantage over me,” he explained.

It was immediately obvious to everyone in the room how regular, systematic research into target customer segments could impact the growth and profitability of your firm. Understanding the habits, capabilities, priorities and proclivities of your target clients will make it far easier to anticipate their needs and offer services of exceptional value and timeliness.

It's also clear that if you have a very diverse or poorly defined client base, your task becomes much more difficult. When confronted with the complexity of an undefined audience, it's easier not to do any research. That puts you in the same circumstance as other non-hunters, wandering aimlessly in the woods and hoping to encounter your prey. This sounds a little bit like a typical networking event, doesn't it? No wonder so much of what passes for professional services marketing is of questionable value. Poorly understood targets makes for wasteful spending.