The 4 Stages of Business Research: Are You Prepared?

StairwayKnowledge is power — we’ve all heard this mantra, but how many of us truly empower ourselves with knowledge when tackling a new business opportunity or project?

In the lifecycle of a project, there are four stages where good, thorough research is critical to business success: when pitching a potential client, before signing the client agreement, during project completion, and after project delivery.

Each stage has unique research needs and specific resources that should be consulted. Googling for information is a good start — but your competitors have Google too. Staying ahead of your competitors and shining in the eyes of your clients requires going beyond Google.

Stage 1: Pitching a Potential Client

You’ve identified a potential client and project to pitch on, you’re confident that you offer what the client is looking for, and you’ve secured an hour of their time to prove your chops.

How well do you know this client and their market, industry position, plans for the future, and projects in development? How do you show them that you understand their needs, their challenges, and the fears and concerns that keep them up at night? How do you establish a personal connection — by, say, casually mentioning an article the firm’s CEO wrote for an obscure industry magazine?

The thoroughness of your research and the depth of your understanding of their situation can be the difference in winning or losing the contract. Industry and market indicators, major players and competitors, the regulatory environment, statistics, trends, forecasts, and the backgrounds of everyone in the room are some key pieces of information to research and understand before stepping into that boardroom or office.

Some information sources to consider are industry associations, statistics agencies, government agencies, financial filings, public records, market research reports, journals and trade publications, news reports and social media, investor presentations, analyst reports, and conference proceedings. Some of these resources are available on the open web and can be accessed efficiently if you use advanced techniques, but many must be purchased through information vendors or retrieved from specialized databases. Consult an information professional about how best to find, access, and leverage these resources.

Even if most of the research doesn’t end up in the pitch deck, you will feel confident and connected to the client’s needs. Here, you can never be too prepared.

Stage 2: Signing the Agreement

Congratulations! You won the project! Before you sign on the dotted line, think about the minefield you may potentially be entering, especially if your client is not a large corporation already under constant scrutiny.

A client’s history with vendors and customers could provide a good indication of what you might expect in their dealings with you. Have they ever declared bankruptcy? Are they currently embroiled in a major lawsuit? Do they pay their vendors on time and treat their customers well? Will they somehow jeopardize your reputation by association?

The same goes for your own vendors and suppliers: Can they do what they say they’ll do? Might they take your deposit and run? Have you validated and verified the information they’ve provided you?

Public records, media reports, and social media can uncover important clues to the above questions. This checklist (PDF) provides some key resources.

Taking the time to perform due diligence on a potential client or new vendor may save you considerable time, money, and headaches down the road.

Stage 3: Completing the Project

The due diligence process went well, you’ve signed the agreement, and now you’re ready to undertake the project. What do you need to know to get started?

It all starts with a well-defined problem. What is at stake? What question or questions do you need to answer? What information do you currently have? What information gaps exist? How will the information be used? The answers to these questions may change as the project evolves, but the relevance and quality of the research will depend on how clearly defined the questions are.

Other questions to ask at this stage are: What are some best practices that you can leverage and apply to your project? Are there experts you can consult and interview to provide information and guidance?

Many of the same resources used in Stage 1 can be used here as well, this time in a different way and with a different goal in mind. Whereas in Stage 1 you were likely looking for high-level information, now you may need to dig deeper, use a wider range of resources, and be cognizant of the nuances of the information. If you’re not finding exactly what you need, you may need to conduct primary research such as interviewing experts or undertaking market research.

Stage 4: After Project Delivery

Phew! The project is complete! You did a fabulous job, delivered the project to the client’s satisfaction, and received glowing reviews. Now what?

How can you leverage this project into other projects for this client and even their competitors? Will you wait for the client to call again or will you be proactive in monitoring their needs?

You probably already have some Google alerts set up for your business. Be sure to add the new client and/or their industry and all the major players to your alerts. These days Bing’s news alerts are even better than Google’s. You can receive customized alerts via RSS, and if you wish to see them in your inbox rather than an RSS reader, you could use a service like FeedMyInbox.

Website monitoring tools (such as ChangeDetection), RSS feeds, and social media monitoring tools (such as WhosTalkin) should also be part of your arsenal. Use them to keep up-to-date on changes that are taking place in the client’s industry, what relevant new products or services are coming to market, and what competitors are trying to do to stay one step ahead.

But, as mentioned above, not everything is available and accessible on the open web. Here subscription databases are again critical for monitoring news and specialty and trade magazines, where the information wheat has already been separated from the chaff.

At each of these four stages, accurate and strategic information can help you reduce risk and maximize your opportunities. Good information is the basis of knowledge — knowledge that can empower you and help your business succeed.

Photo source: Unsplash, Pixabay