If you’re not a prospect researcher, or if you’re new to the field, you might not know that we researchers have a running conversation going on every day on a listserv called PRSPCT-L (affectionately known as “the L”). Researchers, front-line fundraisers, and vendors to our industry post helpful resources, interesting articles, questions and the occasional “Friday Funny.”
Sabine Schuller (who always seems to have her finger on the pulse of what’s important in search) recently shared an article on the L, which she found in a monthly eBulletin published by the professional association of Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP). As we read it, Sabine suggests that we replace “competitive intelligence” with “prospect research”:
It’s an opinion piece by Dr. Ben Gilad, President of the Fuld-Gilad-Herring Academy of Competitive Intelligence, who – rather provocatively – claims that in-house competitive intelligence officers (prospect researchers) will soon be a thing of the past – made redundant by vendors and consultants who provide easier, direct access to information that decision-makers (front-line fundraisers) need. His thesis (for our purposes) is:
If fundraisers can get answers quickly themselves, or have it fed to them by push technology, why do they need an in-house person to do it?
Which is a good question – if fundraisers are truly getting their questions answered. But I don’t buy into the notion that they are. Or that all in-house researchers will go the way of the dinosaur.
Some small-to-midsize organizations might end up eventually dissolving their prospect research departments because (in the long run, with strategically outsourced help), it may be cheaper and more efficient to do so. And by prospect research, I mean profile-writing, prospect identification and data analytics, which are easier to outsource. Prospect management, the other leg on the prospect development stool, is harder – although not impossible – to outsource.
But for large shops like universities and medical centers, research would still be more cost-efficient to keep in-house as part of a dynamic and effective knowledge center. Why?
Experience. Context. Strategy.
In the long-term, small to mid-sized organizations may not want to (or be able to) afford to train and sufficiently support a researcher to the level and years of experience that makes the critical difference when the rubber hits the campaign road. At some point, it is inevitable that a good researcher will want to leave for a more challenging assignment with better resourcing. And then the small shop is back at square one, rebuilding again. It’s a cycle that gets expensive for a shop with limited resources in the first place.
Universities, medical centers and large prospect research groups like HBG can afford to invest in training and resourcing staff to build that experience and strategic knowledge. It’s worth doing. Look at the huge impact it had on Brown University’s campaign.
How do we professional researchers set ourselves apart so that the difference between what can be gotten from technology and what prospect research can do is apparent?
It’s easy: Fundraisers are looking for more than just information, deeper than what’s found in Google.
They want answers to questions like: What does this job title mean? What kind of assets are we talking about? What is the prospect’s lifestyle like? Who do they know? What do they care about? How much should we ask them for? How can we connect with them? Who else should we bring into the pipeline?
Experience, context and strategy. These are the things we can bring.
Is technology going to make prospect researchers obsolete? I doubt it, at least for now – especially considering Google’s obsession with personalized search, which takes them farther away from being a reliable professional search resource. When computers reach Star Trek level, when they can provide strategy based on all of the information provided – then we’ll be in trouble. But based on how Watson fared on Jeopardy, I think we’ve got a couple of years yet before we have to worry about that.
BUT: In order to stay relevant, now and in the future, we professional researchers must provide what technology does not.