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| 18 minutes read

CMO Series EP110 - Delivering Successful Research Projects: What Legal Marketers Need to Know

In this episode of the CMO Series Podcast, we dive into what it takes to deliver a successful research project; sharing top tips for professional services marketers. 

Simon Hayhurst, Director of Hayhurst Consultancy, a B2B market research agency, joins the series to share his invaluable insights on how legal marketing and business development professionals can get their research projects off the ground, as well as how to avoid the common pitfalls and drive strategic decisions. 

Simon and Charlie explore:

  • The first step to successfully getting a research project off the ground
  • The most common pitfall marketers make when designing a questionnaire and writing the survey questions
  • How marketers should approach profiling and identifying the right people to survey to  give them the information they need
  • The importance of having a hypothesis about the audience you intend to survey
  • The key considerations marketers should be thinking about when it comes to analyzing the findings of a survey
  • How marketers should approach presenting their research findings externally
  • Top tips for professional service marketers undertaking a research project


Charlie: Hello and welcome to the CMO Series Podcast where we discuss all things marketing and business development in professional services. I'm Charlie and today we're going to take a deep dive into what it takes to deliver a successful research project and what legal marketers need to know.

Now, undertaking a research project generally involves a significant investment of time, resources, and budget, and even the most well-executed studies don't always hit the mark or help legal marketers and BD professionals move the dial, someone experienced in delivering impactful research projects that resonate with the intended audience is Simon Hayhurst. Simon runs a B2B market research consultancy, Hayhurst Consultancy. We welcome Simon to the CMO Series podcast today to discuss the opportunities for effective research projects for firms and to share his top tips for legal marketers to avoid common pitfalls.

Welcome, Simon.

Simon: Thank you for inviting me Charlotte. Very happy to be here.

Charlie: You're more than welcome. It's a pleasure to have you on. Now, Simon, you've worked with some of the world's leading firms, as well as conducting research for a number of law tech firms. So including Passle, we most recently worked with you for our General Council study, which was, I'd like to say success and I hope you'd agree. But you've also worked for comms agencies specializing in the legal sector as well. So I guess to jump straight in, can you start off by telling us what the first step is to successfully getting a research project off the ground question?

Simon: It’s a good question because not everyone considers this. The key to any successful project, not just in research, but in any form of business is to my mind, stakeholder management being clear on what you want to find out from your research project, from the very outset who you want to find it from and how you'll use the insights and agreeing that with all your stakeholders. I think the worst situation I was ever in with a research project was when I was actually on the client side many years ago, we commissioned somewhere else. The agency came in and the marketing director stood at the back and after the agency had presented, he said, “So what did everyone say when we asked them X?”  and everyone looked around and said, “We didn't ask them that.” And there was just a long silence because it was a really obvious thing that the marketing director would have wanted us to ask and no one thought to ask the question. So get your stakeholders on board at the outset. Especially if they're awkward. It's better to engage awkward people at the outset and understand what they want from the project rather than don't tell them what's going on until the questions have been asked. Once the questions are in the field for quantitative you can't change them. So you need to get everyone allowed at the outset rather than at the end. To my mind, anyone who's gonna comment on the outputs is a stakeholder. It's a good idea to make them aware of what you're doing at the outset. A couple of other things to consider is how you're going to use the information is your audience internal or external. So intern will be privately commissioned research that you don't necessarily want the wider market to know about. So that might be about client satisfaction studies, for example, where it might be, the results aren't gonna be great. But clearly, that's an internal survey for external thought, for example, the work we did with Passle. We engaged with people used to working with journalists to understand what would be a newsworthy kind of angle to be able to come out with. And we'll come on to this in a little bit, but it's always a good start to develop a high Poth thises about what you want to prove or disapprove, and then you can hang the questionnaire or the qualitative questionnaires around that.

Charlie: Yeah, that's, it's a really good point actually and I guess on that, you know, talking about the survey and the questions and making sure that your stakeholders are all on board when designing a questionnaire and writing those survey questions. What is the most common pitfall marketers make apart from, you know, not getting their stakeholders on board?

Simon: The curious one is don't write the questions yourself, leave that to the researcher. Imagine, I don't know, you work for a law firm. A client comes in and says “I want to hire someone, to save you time I've drafted an employment contract. Could you just just give me a few pointers on what I need to change” and you end up with a lawyer critiquing the client's contract. It should be the other way around surely and it's the same with research. If you tell a good researcher, what you want to find out, they will write the questions and then you critique the questionnaire. Otherwise, it's role reversal time. So when you're setting up your stakeholder group, you set out what hypotheses you want to prove or disprove, you set out what information you want to garner and how you're gonna use that. Leave the researcher to write the questions and then critique the questions on the basis of the hypotheses you want to prove or disprove. So that's really important. A couple of other things frame the questions neutrally, especially if you're gonna be talking to lawyers or general counsels, your audience are used to asking closed questions for a living and will see a leading question, a mile off. I made this mistake to a legal audience quite early on in my career and I did not get back the answers I wanted because it was obvious I was trying to get them to say one thing and they just stubbornly said, I'm not gonna give you what you're trying to get out of me. So frame the questions mutually by that, I mean, if you're gonna put some value statements in front of someone say to what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements and then give them a balanced scale on which they can reply. So strongly disagree, slightly disagree, neither agree nor disagree, slightly agree, strongly agree. Then let them reply in that framework, the statements themselves can be quite inflammatory if you need them to be because you're writing for an external audience for journalists who are looking for an interesting angle. So you could potentially have some quite provocative statements. For example, the judiciary system in the UK is a complete and utter shambles. If you write something that provocatively though, again, your audience are probably a little conservative and maybe don't want to strongly agree with that. Those kinds of questions with really explosive prompts may be better for a qualitative survey than a quantitative survey where you're going to allow the respondent to go into detail about why they may hold an inflammatory view. OK. Right. Final. And this is the biggest thing for all questionnaires is to complete to keep the questionnaire as short as you can do not ask more than normally, I would say 12 to 14, 15 questions at the absolute max and it should take no more than 15 minutes to complete. This is really important and I'll explain why. Firstly, the audience you're likely to be speaking to are going to be very time-poor and they're not gonna appreciate you wasting their time asking 40 very similar questions, just trying to explore different angles and lots of different things. What happens is they start off engaged with your questionnaire because they've agreed to do it, but very quickly they will get bored if you're not asking engaging questions and the sad fact is that most respondents are not nearly as engaged in the questionnaire process as the people who write the questions. So don't waste that time. You should be able to get pretty much everything you need by asking maybe 12 crisply chosen questions. The challenge is if you go to more than 15 if it takes more than 15 minutes for a survey that people are completing online - they quickly get to a point where they just want to get off the questionnaire and get on with their day job, which means either they don't complete the questionnaire, which is a waste of everyone's time or they then just start randomly clicking on answers just to get through it. And the danger then is that the final few questions, you get some very unusual answers coming back and you don't really know in a quantitative survey whether that is because people have unusual views or it's just simply that they are bored and randomly clicking to get off. So a good researcher will help restrict you to maybe 12 questions that get you the answers you want, but you don't want to be going longer than 15 minutes to complete.

Charlie: Yeah, I think some really good points there, Simon. Thank you for that. I think it's always tempting from a marketer's perspective to want to ask them the world. But actually having someone like you there to kind of rein it in a bit, it is super helpful and like you say, kind of putting yourself in the shoes of the respondent and understanding what they're going to be interested in is really important as well. So I guess once you've got those questions, how do you, how do marketers approach profiling and identifying the right people to survey to give them the information they need, obviously you mentioned getting the questions right. But do you find that people often go out to an audience that actually aren't the right people to get the answer that they're looking for and how do you approach that in a successful way?

Simon: OK. So as a professional researcher,  I have a particular methodology for finding the right kinds of people to ask these questions of. Typically, what will happen is a client will say, as Passle said to me, we want to speak to 100 general counsel. We want 50 in the UK, we want 50 in the US. Ideally, we want 80% of the respondents to be coming from large businesses that turn over a minimum of five... I think it was $500 million straight pounds a year depending on whether the US or the UK with a sprinkling of businesses that go lower than that, but we tend to want high-end businesses. Now, what I do as a researcher, I work with a fieldwork agency and I give that brief to them because they find these people for a living. It's what they do. They will then draw down various databases. They'll use things like Dun and Bradstreet's Hoovers Database. They may well buy in lists from the Law Society or subscribers to the lawyer magazine and overlay that with LinkedIn and they will use permission data. I'm sure the audience will understand the importance of permission data to reach out to these people by phone and give them over the phone. Explain the nature of the questionnaire, how the data is gonna be used, what we want them to do, get their permission and engagement, and send them a link to the questionnaire and by using a fieldwork agency to do that, it means it's done professionally within market research guide society guidelines by using permission data. We aren't trying to contact anyone who doesn't want to be contacted, which is just a disaster frankly. If you start breaking GDPR and phoning people up because you've randomly found their information and try and phone them at work and ask them questions and they are lawyers, you're gonna get into trouble very, very quickly. That's how I work. Now, if you're going to run this yourself, it may well be that you already have a raft of clients who might help you with this research, and therefore you don't have GDPR issues because you can approach them directly because you already have a business relationship with them. So it's fair use. If you want to go out to a wider audience, I would probably, yeah, if it's unknown respondents, I think you probably need to use a fieldwork agency or a researcher who works at a fieldwork agency to get your respondents.  Believe me, if you try and do it yourself, it's a lot of leg work.

Charlie: Yes, that makes total sense and you mentioned having the hypothesis at the outset of the project.  But once you have that list of people that you want to go out to with the survey, how important is it that you have a hypothesis about that intended audience?

Simon: I think it serves three purposes, firstly to get the stakeholders to agree on what it is you're trying to prove or disprove. I think particularly in the law firm sector, people are… It's not a guilty, not guilty verdict, but it's almost a proven, not proven. I think the concept of hypotheses, whether they're gonna be able to prove or disprove a theory is something that's readily understood, in terms of engagement with the stakeholders, I think that's important. I also think it's quite useful when engaging the respondents to say we as a… if you want to identify the name as your law firm or my client, it's interesting in finding out the extent to which these things are true within the London legal landscape or within the commercial sector you work in or whatever it is because it helps to give context to what you're looking to discover. I think it encourages participants to want to participate because they have strong views on it. If they have no view on it you're not gonna get very rich data from it. So being able to engage with your potential respondents and tell them the sorts of things you're looking to prove or disprove, I think helps with engagement. It also helps when you finally come to write up your findings because you have a structure, a framework on which you can write the findings. It's not just we asked these 10 questions and here are the 10 things we found from it. You could certainly go into that detail, of course, but you'll start finished by saying we attempted to prove or disprove these four things, these six things or what have you. You can take each of those hypotheses in turn and use the data and the insights to talk about whether you've proven or not proven those things, and that's pretty useful. Particularly if you're going externally, if you want the press to take an interest, then by choosing hypotheses that are current and newsworthy, you're much more likely to get the press to pick up on what you're saying and what you're proving or not proving - because journalists aren't just gonna say this company has produced a report here. It is, do your worst. They usually want an angle, if that angle can be proven or comprehensively disproven, then you've got a viewpoint that they can go to market with and talk around. I think for where you want to get press coverage, having a viewpoint going into the research and having that proof viewpoint proven or disproven is actually quite an interesting and useful and valuable thing for the press to get hold of.  

Charlie: I guess on top of everything you've just mentioned there, you know, when it comes to analyzing the findings from that survey, what should be front of mind aside from, you know, having that hypothesis and having potentially those headlines to go to the media with, what else should they be thinking about?

Simon: I think it's just the freshness of the angle. If you look at the outset around what stories are running in the press having something that just confirms what everyone already knows isn't gonna get traction. It's almost worth talking to a journalist or apr expert about what current issues are and what is newsworthy currently and what it would be great to be able to prove or disprove or explain your company's viewpoint on. And so having something fresh to go to market with, I think is a very important thing to keep in front of mind when you're actually commissioning the research proving what everyone already knows isn't really very much use at all.

Charlie: No, absolutely not. No, that's great. Thank you, Simon. So how should marketers once they have all that brilliant research, how should they be thinking about presenting their research findings externally? And again, should this be something that's agreed from the outset with stakeholders or can they kind of be a bit more organic once they have those findings?

Simon: I think that the work that we did together at Passle in terms of how General Counsel consumed their content was very clear. For example, in General Counsel time poor, they spend a lot of time reading around their subject, but it's rarely at their desk in time, in work time, they consume content at weekends, they consume content on their commute, they consume content on their phones, they listen to podcasts, they view webinars. So ideally, you want content that can work in a multimedia environment. So, not just a string of numbers and tables, but audiovisual as your webinar content helps. It's always useful to have a blend of qualitative and quantitative. You can't always do quant. So if I quantitative, you generally need at least 100 people responding for it to have any statistical robustness. The second extreme example, if you wanted to do a survey of people who've walked on the moon,  there's only 12 of them in the history of humanity and I think only 10 of them are still alive. So you can't do quant then, so you would use qualitative to get in-depth views rather than quantitative, to get overall views. If there are enough people to do quantitative, it's always helpful to augment that with some qualitative quotes and again, we did this on the Passle survey. Yep, we did quant with 100 general counsel, but then we also spoke to probably about a dozen subject matter experts in the field, and quant is very good at finding out what and is very good at finding out why. So what we did with the pale survey was, right, we've got the results, 100 people have told us these things. Now let's go out to subject matter experts in the market and say this is what the market is saying. What's your view? Why do you think people do this or disagree with that or what have you? And it's really useful to be able to have external qualitative quotes to explain what the quantitative numbers say. And then ideally, you'd augment that with senior management within your firm. Think about what those results say, so this is our law firm, this is what we've got to the market. This is what it's telling us. This is what um subject matter experts are saying about it. And this is our law firm's view or this is our accounting firm's view or what have you about what the market says because that then allows your firm to set itself up as being a subject matter expert on the subject at hand you name their partners within the firm who are voicing their opinions. So it's clear that it's not just a corporate view, there are individuals within your firm that have expertise in these particular issues and have a strong commercial viewpoint about what the market generally is thinking. So it's not just words and it's not just numbers and it's not just pictures and it's not just recordings, it's all those things together make for a really powerful newsworthy output that give your marketing team mileage. And again, if you consider this at the outset, when you're doing your stakeholder management, and new project setup, then you can consider those new timelines. OK, It's gonna take us X weeks to do the quantitative, let's build in two weeks at the end to do qualitative and then interviews podcasts, webinars, etcetera, the full media mix.

Charlie: Yeah, I think that's a really interesting point and, you know, you talked about having, having a mix of both gives you that fresh angle as you mentioned before, you know, having those kinds of opinions as well from the firm and being able to comment on what those findings actually mean. Is what makes, that piece of research different and unique in the market. So, I think that's really insightful and I'm sure very helpful to our listeners as well. So thank you for that, Simon. We're actually on to our, our final question of today, and knowing you, Simon, this is probably gonna be a hard one to answer because we're going to ask you, aside from all the other brilliant tidbits of information that you've given us today. What would be your one piece of advice to any professional services marketers looking to undertake a research project?

Simon: Right, okay. That's tough because there are 100 and one things I could bore for England about it, which I'll try not to do. OK, yeah, the paradox of research, especially quantitative research is the more, the more questions you ask the worse quality data you get back. So I would just argue six well-chosen questions will get you much greater quality and richness of insight than 25 random ones. Just bear in mind whatever you are asking about, your respondent will rarely be as engaged in the process as you are, treats their time respectfully and you will get some really rich information that waste their time, you will piss them off and they will just give you rubbish in return.

Charlie: That's a brilliant piece of advice, Simon, and actually something that I imagine all marketers will probably struggle with. You know, including myself when I've been on that end of things.

Simon: I've been a product manager, I've been in research groups and I've been enthused about my product and appalled at how disinterested my target audience are in the thing I am trying to promote and it is not quite soul-destroying, but it does keep you grounded when you speak to people who find out actually what's really important for you maybe isn't quite as important for them.

Charlie: Yeah, absolutely. Very humbling, but nonetheless brilliant advice, and I think everyone can take that on board. Well, thank you, Simon, for today. That's been really insightful for me and hopefully to everyone listening. How can people get hold of you if they're interested in talking to you more about their research project?

Simon: Well, you can find me on Linkedin, Simon Hayhurst, there are about six Simon Hayhursts on Linkedin, but I'm the only one doing market research and we're all linked to each other. By the way, there are very few others. It's kind of a little clique we have or you can find me online at you'll see my website and you'll see the sorts of clients I work with who are mainly professional services, technology, and financial services kind of clients. You'll see examples of my writing on what makes for good questionnaires and lots of other things about business-to-business marketing generally.

Charlie: Well, that's all we've got time for today. Thanks again, Simon for coming on and I'm sure we'll be speaking to you very soon.

Simon: Thank you very much for inviting me. 


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