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Market research for your staffing firm – is it useful?

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Market Research for StaffingI had an interesting conversation today with one of the founders of a very successful LI staffing firm. Despite years of success, the owner feels like his company doesn’t have a very clear or distinct positioning message. He contacted us after attending the Staffing Industry Executive Forum because he heard we knew a thing or two about marketing and staffing.

What made the discussion interesting was the debate we had about the value of formal market research. And you might be surprised by my view, but more on that in a mnute…

First, the debate. The owner of this firm had been in contact with a very well-respected consultant who specialized in differentiation and branding. The consultant had recommended a multi-step research project consisting of in-person interviews with clients to determine possible points of differentiation based on the firm’s service delivery experience. This was to be followed-up by a double-blind study to validate potential sources of differentiation and positioning messages.

Sounds like a pretty good approach, doesn’t it?

Well, here’s the surprise. I did not think this research was worth the time or money. Don’t get me wrong. I am all in favor of conducting research and gathering market data on which to base decisions. But I think this specific investment would have been a giant waste of money (and all you marketing research folks, please rip me to shreds and tell me the error of my ways so I can learn more!).

Here’s my view:

  • If you ask buyers of staffing what’s most important to them, they will tell you: candidate quality, responsive service, making the right match, and then about 5th or 6th on the list, price. (And I know, because we have done this research 2 different times with more than 900 staffing buyers each time).
  • If you ask a staffing firm’s clients why they use a specific firm, they will most often tell you it’s about the service and/or the consistency of providing quality candidates (they almost never mention the price). They may also say it’s because of the staffing firm’s responsiveness or flexibility in providing solutions. (Again, we’ve seen these exact results with dozens of our clients).
  • If you ask prospective clients what they value most in a staffing firm, they may give you a variety of answers, BUT how they will really act depends on their role. If they are in purchasing, it’s all about price. If they are in HR, it’s probably about price and your ability to deliver (unless they are in a small company, and it will be more about the relationship they have with specific people in your firm). And if they are in higher level management, they probably think that they don’t care that much about staffing decisions (and I apologize for the gross generalizations, but this is what we’ve heard over and over again the past 14 years).

Add it all up, you end up spending a lot of money to learn that staffing firms need to provide great candidates, excellent matches, responsive service, flexible solutions, and fair pricing.  And I think most staffing executives know this without spending anything on research.

So am I wrong? Let me know your thoughts.

PS: I’ll share another blog post soon with a way you can do this same kind of market research for free.

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