The following is a guest article by Will Richards of the Research Alliance, a leading business development agency for independent research (www.theresearchalliance.com). This is the second article in a series examining challenges and opportunities facing independent research providers. The previous article can be found here.
In our previous article, we noted that there is a $9.3B market for financial research but that independent research firms tend to be misguided in their approach to gaining market share. So, what should IRPs do to increase market share? We see three main areas to focus on: 1) strengthen the “three pillars of business”; 2) focus on lead generation; 3) understand the details of what your clients need and want.
Don’t disparage the sell-side, emulate them!
As a small-business owner myself, I am fortunate to have a great business coach. In her view, there are three key components: 1) product quality; 2) business development, sales & marketing; 3) financials/back office. And she is relentless in reminding me: “To truly succeed, you need three world-class pillars.”
The secret of the success of the sell-side is not a secret – it is right in their name: They ‘sell’ better!! Analysts at the bulge bracket firms have massive sales and marketing machines behind them. While the quality of sell-side research may be at times suspect, brokers are sales and marketing juggernauts and they invest big resources on the back office and financial reporting sides of their business.
As business owners, Senior Analysts and Managing Directors of independent research firms need to be focused on the well-being of their whole business – not just the quality of their research product. Most IRPs have robust research and provide superior analysis. Unfortunately, they often have abysmal sales & marketing and mediocre back office infrastructure. Out of date websites, little to no market presence and zero brand recognition are the norm in the IRP world.
For IRPs to take market share from the sell-side, they will need to invest in business development and improve their back-office systems, or work with partners that will make this investment on their behalf. In a previous article, we discussed the pros and cons of various business development and back office options for IRPs.
What is hurting business prospects more: MiFID II or a lack of quality leads?
Independent research firms love to blame financial regulators for their financial woes and this continues with concerns on MiFID II. At the same time, we see a more serious problem with the independent research firms we meet: a lack of quality leads.
Lead generation is the foundation for improving the business prospects of any company, and it is even more true for B-to-B companies like IRPs. Unfortunately, most independents will often only have a handful of leads they are working with, and many have none at all.
Investing heavily in lead generation can change the fortunes of a small business. And the great news is that there are so many ways that IRPs can generate quality leads. Targeted e-mail campaigns, improving SEO, modernizing websites, effective blogs, a multi-pronged social media campaign and ensuring market presence on key financial research platforms are all proven methods of attracting and warming up buy-side prospects.
Investing in lead generation is expensive, but the returns are well worth it – and the alternative is stagnant growth. (We will explore lead generation issues further in a future article.)
Understand client needs
There is a gap between the brilliant minds of the independent research community and the needs of the buy-side clients they are attempting to serve. Ironically, it is the brilliance of independent analysts that may be blinding them to truly understanding their client needs. And even worse than not understanding their client needs, most of them think that they do.
Most independents have not worked on the buy-side, nor successfully managed hundreds of million dollars of institutional money. They don’t really understand the pressures facing a buy-side PM, nor what would make the work lives of the buy-side more manageable.
However, because they have a career working in finance, because they have succeeded in securing some buy-side clients, and because they hold their own intellect in high esteem, they believe that they know intuitively what their clients need. But if this intuition were correct, then IRPs as a whole would have a much greater share of the $9.3B financial research market than they do currently.
Thankfully, there is an easy way to gain a true understanding of the needs of buy-side prospects and clients: simply ask them! The client survey is an indispensable tool to gain valuable market information and data points. This intelligence can then be used to shape and modify the research product, making it more palatable for the market IRPs wish to serve.
We have been helping design effective client surveys – and executing them – for nearly 15 years. And we have seen the fantastic difference gaining key client knowledge can improve business fortunes of an IRP to help it win market share. We will discuss the client survey in greater detail in the next article.
The arrogance of independent research
Independent research analysts are some of the smartest people on the planet. Their ability to deconstruct a business and provide detailed financial analysis is amazing. However, they are often myopic when it comes to analyzing why their own business is not growing. While they can come up with solutions for what a management team of a publicly traded company should do to fix their business, they seem unable to do this for their own business.
Worse, the raw intelligence of investment professionals makes them feel that the market should come to them, because they are so smart. Or that the laws of business, business development, sales and marketing do not apply to them because their product is so superior.
While it may be possible to create a research product of such high quality that the market will come to you (the “if you build it, they will come” business approach), the reality is that it may take decades for the market to find you – if it ever does.
We moan that people use our services for free, that the market has shrunk, that MiFID is causing problems, and that the quality of sell side work is inferior to ours – but what if the problem is us? What if it is something that we are doing wrong, something in our product or delivery of the product that needs to be corrected? On one hand, this is quite humbling but really it is very empowering. If we are the problem, then we can do something to change it.
The next article in the series covers a key area for improvement: client surveys.