Do Your Research

Model's own watch

Those of you in the UK, or who like me can watch British TV despite being fortunate enough not to actually live there at the moment*, may be familiar with an advert for a particular wristwatch brand with a deliberately provocative (and irritating) tagline:

“Never heard of us? Do your research.”

In some respects, this advert is asking the audience to look at themselves and infer that they are either lazy, ignorant or stupid. Interesting commercial strategy!

Of course, we all react differently to marketing messages, and I doubt I am in the target demographic for this particular watch brand. I don’t earn enough and my wrists are too skinny. But I do at least remember the brand and the tagline.

There are the sleight-of-hand taglines as well: “up to 100% flake-free” anti-dandruff shampoo, with “up to” presented in very, very small print! That’s like saying you might grow as much as eight feet tall in height during your lifetime – you might, but it’s extremely unlikely.

Of course, claims like this can’t be made by advertisers without at least some level of supporting data; although the sample sizes are usually (a) surprisingly small, (b) a curiously odd size, and (c) also presented in very, very small print. But at least the evidence is there. Just about.

Bringing these random thoughts back towards the realms of selling and buying, and the work I do as a commercial consultant in scholarly publishing, I strongly believe in the value of doing your research and, where possible, being informed by the data.

Early in my sales career, I was coached to know the answer to a question before I asked it – particularly when having a discovery meeting with a new prospect. Those opening questions are to confirm or correct the research you should have done before the meeting; not to find out this key information from scratch!

At a reasonably early stage in the engagement, you should know what the pain points for your customer are likely to be (and what the impact is of not fixing them); know who the key stakeholders are (and why); know what the buying process and timetable are likely to be (and whether this can be changed, by you or someone/something else); know the real buying criteria (are they purely financial?); know how this organisation measures value (is it purely financial?); know who the ultimate decision-makers are (and how to reach them). This isn’t an exhaustive list of course.

And does your point of contact at the customer really know and understand all of this stuff about their own organisation and their own processes? Can you help them in this regard, and empower them in the process?

If the customer has approached you for a meeting, do you understand why they have come to you? And who else they are likely to be talking to? Ask them!

The same rigour applies to understanding the competitive landscape and where you are within it. Understand who your real competition is, not just today, but in the future. Know where the market is moving and why. Understand what differentiates you and your product from the competition – and understand what doesn’t. Don’t claim to be unique if you’re not, for instance.

From a buyer’s perspective, ask questions. Lots of questions! And not just about the product. Your conversation(s) with a vendor should be about more than just pricing and a laundry list of product features. It should ideally be a prelude to a partnership.

  • How long have you been operating in this sector?
  • What’s your company structure?
  • Who are your investors?
  • How does your company measure success?
  • Why do you do what you do?
  • Who are your customers?
  • Can I talk to your customers?
  • What’s your key value proposition?
  • Where is the evidence and data to support your claims?
  • What can’t you or your product do? Why? Do you have plans to get there?
  • Can I see your product roadmap?
  • Can I take a look at your product?

I am fortunate to have spent most of my career in publishing, an innovative, energising and highly collaborative industry. And I am especially fortunate right now, working to support scholarly publishers at an inflection point of opportunity (and risk), collaborating with the great team at Kriyadocs.

But there are lots of great innovators, technologists, established companies, exciting startups and thought leaders in scholarly communications. I know that I am never the smartest person in the room in this industry. And I never will be. Which is brilliant, because it means I always have something to learn.

I would like to echo (and paraphrase) the great advice of Chirag Jay Patel, in his presentation about AI for scholarly publishers at the recent CSE Annual Meeting in Portland.

Talk to all of these brilliant people. Meet them at conferences. Invite them to meet your team, virtually or in-person. Test their products. Ask about their plans. Pilot their technologies, even if you don’t (yet) have the budget to adopt them (but share this helpful piece of information with the other party in the interests of fairness and transparency!). Understand who these people are and why they do what they do.

So, what’s the overall message here, whether you are buying, selling or just sat at home watching TV?

Do your research. Obviously!

* With the caveat that this post has been written just ahead of the snap national assembly election here in France and who knows what mayhem lies in store!