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Market research for your staffing firm (part 2)

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Market_ResearchLast week I posted a few thoughts on the value of formal market research for a staffing firm. While I expected the research folks to take me to task for my views, I was very pleased by the positive response from a couple of true experts in the field. So now on to part 2:

How to do Free Market Research for Your Staffing Firm

Before I get to the advice, let me preface my remarks by stating that what I am about to recommend is not scientifically valid market research. The sample sizes are too small, the likeliness of bias is significant, and you won’t be able to determine meaningful confidence intervals (see I still remember some of my statistics classes!). However, I do know from experience that the following process works. It will provide useful data, help you understand your real positioning in the market, illustrate where you need to make service improvements, and give you lots of testimonials and other data for future marketing.  Are you ready?

The Five Question Market Research Interview

For this research project, all you need to do is conduct a brief interview with about 20 to 30 people.* Here’s what you are going to ask:

  1. When it comes to servicing your staffing needs, what do we do right?
  2. Where are our “opportunities for improvement?”
  3. With all the staffing firms out there, why did you choose us over the competition?
  4. When we make a mistake, what is the impact on your business?
  5. As you look forward to the next 12 months, what issues are you most concerned about?

Questions 1 and 2 are designed to help you understand the value your clients see in your services as well as your weaknesses. Most of their responses are going to be based on a combination of their experience with your team, and their comparison of your services to other staffing firms. You may find that people are reluctant to give you honest feedback to question 2 (because they like you!), but you can counter this issue by specifically telling people how much you value their candid input prior to asking the question.

Question 3 directly attacts the issue of differentiation. You really want to probe this one to understand all the aspects of your firm’s service that distinguish you from other staffing firms. If you get the generic “your service is really better” response, ask questions like “what is it about our service that makes us better?” You may also want to probe responses to question 3 by asking, “why is that important to you?” This will help you get a better understanding of the bottom line value of your points of differentiation.

Question 4 is designed to help you understand the impact of your services on your clients’ operations. The better you understand the implications of making a mistake, the deeper you will understand your value. You can also use this data to design new services (and new points of differentiation) that will help deliver a higher level of service and provide a greater value to your clients.

And finally, question 5 will help you to forecast the future and plan new and better services. Your goal in asking this question is to learn about the current challenges your clients are facing–and their fears about the future. The better you understand these things, the better you will be able to offers solutions and position your firm as a problem solver and trusted advisor. 

So what do you do with all this data?

This research project will yield a ton of great information about your company, your competitors, your clients and most importantly your current and potential value proposition. You want to analyze the responses to look for trends. Do people see you the way you want to be seen? Do they see your firm consistently? Are you delivering a clear and distinct value to the market? What aspects of your services are consistently the strongest? Where are your greatest opportunities to improve and develop new services?

When you know the answers to these questions, you can then proactively define your positioning message and craft a distinctive value proposition. This information should serve as the foundation of your marketing and sales efforts–and be fully reinforced by your service processes.

And while the process I have suggested is NOT statistically valid, it’s a great way to get closer to clients and prospects, learn more about your firm, and build the foundation for a solid marketing strategy.


* Why 20 to 30 people?

From a research perspective, there is no magic in this number. However, we have consistently seen that by the time you get 20 to 30 interviews completed, trends start to appear. You will see the same responses over and over, and when you stop seeing new answers (or you only see the occasional new response), there’s little value in asking more people for their opinions.

Ideally, your interviewee list will consist of a mix of:

  • Your top current clients
  • Current clients  who are occasional users of staffing
  • Former clients
  • Prospects you are trying to close (you’ll have to adjust the questions for prospects)

And you’ll also include a mix of different levels of decision makers – HR, hiring managers, executives, front line supervisors, etc.

Now if you have lots of branch offices, you might want to conduct this exercise within each office. You may discover that your positioning, points of differentiation and value proposition vary by office based on the way the local teams serve each market. 

You may also discover that different types of decision makers have very different views of your firm. If this is the case, you need to sit down with your leadership team, review the results, determine what parts of the feedback are the best fit with your business strategy, and then focus your sales, marketing and service on strengthening these points of differentiation.

I hope you like the free research idea, and if you try it, please let me know how it goes!

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