Research - your competitive advantage
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"The engine room of executive search" - "our differentiator" - "our clients love it" - that’s how the best search firms describe their research function to me.  When I was a young Detective in London in the sixties my boss told me “a detective is as good as the information he gathers”.  Well you can transpose the words detective and headhunter because the intelligence provided by our research is what separates the good from the bad, the excellent from the mundane, in our industry. 

Researchers fall into a number of different categories.There are those who will happily dig deep into companies and "ID" people in key roles and spend hours in front of the screen building databases for you. Then there are those who can create a relationship of trust and extract incredible amounts of intelligence from key players in companies through the sanctuary of anonymity offered by the telephone.  They have no desire to meet anyone face to face and you must respect that and not try and take them out of their comfort zone.  Some in this category regard it as a personal challenge to create that "virtual" relationship and extract a level of detail that no one else could do even in a two-hour face-to-face confessional.  Then there are those who really want that face to face encounter as part of the team preparing, presenting, pitching and prising an assignment/s out of a client against intense competition where they firmly believe their gathered intelligence is superior to that of any competitor and will gain the confidence of the client to build a lasting relationship. The very best of them understand the market sector, its "movers and shakers", their personal, corporate culture and ambitions, what will and won’t appeal to them, how their shareholders and investors view them and what challenges lie ahead that their search firm can articulate into a solution.  They build client and candidate databases that are current and can often be the only "asset" that doesn’t walk out of the building every evening.

 The late and great Jane Crosthwaite – doyen of researcher recruiters – shied away from being retained simply because the research community was never great enough to supply the need so she did not want to be committed to something she could not deliver.  That same situation remains today – there are simply not enough researchers to go round in any category.  If you really know your research team they will tell you they get more than a call a week from your competition – even though the caller knows absolutely nothing about them!  So which category does your researcher or team fall into? 

The best of them will be at your side seeking opportunities, designing your business case for the client, delving into appropriate candidate profiles and walking you through the client presentation.  Do you know which of your research team fits which role or who wants to be developed and who simply wants to stay on the phone?  I do hope so because research is the most powerful of market tools and often the deciding factor on whether you win business or lose it.  Filefinder and Boardex are great tools but a researcher with a hunger for knowledge and an instinct for what and who will fit and provide a solution can double their effectiveness and is to be nurtured and treasured.  They are an essential companion on the journey to the top of our business so as you climb that mountain just look below and check they are roped on!

Nigel Lilley,
Lilley & Co
“delivering leadership to the global executive search industry”
nigel@lilleyandco.com

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