Turning Down a Referred Prospect

Posted by | consumer research, research, strategy | 0 |

ethics referrals and leads

As a small consulting business, we live and die based on referrals and leads offered up by current and past clients and colleagues. Sometimes these leads convert into actual consulting engagements and other times the lead either has sticker shock (research is often expensive) or ends up moving in a different direction (code for used someone cheaper or cancelled the study). There is another scenario, and this fits this week’s update.

I received a phone call today from a solid prospect that was referred to me by a former colleague’s agency (thank you by the way!!). The referred prospect was advised that they need to conduct focus groups and that we’re the boutique specialty shop that can handle their research and advisory needs. I love it when past collogues and clients “sell” my capabilities and services to prospective new clients. This prospect business is in a consumer facing business planning to launch a new product in new packaging to a new market as an initial product launch. As is my nature I started asking business questions. Nothing too extreme, but questions about their business, pain points, research needs, packaging status, collateral material status, legal status, product development plans, etc.

This solid lead has no real idea what they wanted or what they needed at this point. The agency that referred them to me did a great job of “selling them” on consumer research and convinced this business that they needed to conduct focus groups and a quick online survey. The issue with them selling the research, is that they missed step one – qualifying the prospect and fully understanding their business, objectives, scope, needs, concerns, timing, and budget.

This prospect, respectfully, had no clue about selling direct to consumers and were clearly not at the phase where consumer marketing research would be the most effective. Crazy talk right? I’m in the business of conducting research and advising companies, but here I am, after a 50 minute phone call, selling this prospective client on saving their money and pushing pause on the research front. This was an easy sell – they were ready to buy and had cash (a lot of cash!) ready to spend. As a small business, I need that work. As a business professional and corporate advisor, I needed to have them pause and regroup.

I did the right thing, not for my bottom line, but for my professional and consulting reputation.  In the end, I do hope that they come back to me in 4-6 months when they are ready to take things to the next step. For now, their team got a great education in consumer research, marketing, strategy, and how they all play together.

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