Beyond a Google search: Tips for effective and thorough business development research

Jenkins Mary 2019.jpgInformation drives business development. Where and how to research background data on prospects, companies and industries is an ongoing challenge for legal marketing professionals. In this Q&A, Mary Jenkins, manager of research solutions at AccuFile, offers tips on where to dig for this vital information beyond a Google search, and provides suggestions on what factors can signal that you have researched a topic thoroughly. 

With the vast amount of information online, what suggestions do you have for law firm business development professionals to most efficiently cull the critical information they need to assist their attorneys beyond a Google search? 

A web search is a fine start for research on a person, company or industry, but it just scratches the surface. Keep in mind that each search engine indexes only a small fraction of the information and sites on the web. When we Google something, we miss more than we find. That's alright if we're looking for dog groomers in our neighborhood, for example, but it may be unacceptable for business development purposes. Researchers should use more than one search engine, and then supplement it with available proprietary information resources (think Westlaw, Lexis, Hoover D&B, ProQuest) to do a deeper dive. Speaking of deep, the deep web may be important to search for less readily accessible and archived information. If you have access to information professionals and a news aggregation service, use them as well. 

What business development research assignments has AccuDesk handled that best exemplify the kinds of information law firms are seeking to help grow business opportunities? 

We do people, company and business research, including financial data, assets, breaking news and litigation developments. Here are typical research requests relevant to business development that we've worked on: (1) locate opportunities and the point people in certain industry associations for potential networking, speaking engagements and sponsorship; (2) identify all major commercial projects before a zoning or other governmental board, any news coverage and any identified legal counsel; (3) find all available information about a prospect, including educational background, speaking engagements, professional memberships, litigation, volunteer experience and charitable giving; and (4) track industry performance and trends that might impact clients. 

What are the significant research challenges you face and how do you meet those challenges? 

As in many fields, librarians deal with the "cheap, good, fast" quandary. It's not always possible to locate high quality material quickly and free, for example. Availability and cost can go hand in hand. There are a number of restrictions on or barriers to use. For instance, we are able to locate needed resources, but they’re behind a paywall. Or the requester is willing to pay a fee for an item but it’s only available in print at a distant academic library so it might take up to a week to obtain. Or the download terms limit use to 24 hours or a single user. We sometimes have to explain to a requester that there is no case law in the jurisdiction, no directly on-point scholarly article or no government-issued statistics to prove a specific point. In those instances, we’ll find the next best thing. We have access to free and fee-based information resources and a wide network of information experts. 

Business development professionals can struggle with knowing whether they've explored all avenues of research. They can be left with a nagging worry that they haven't done thorough research. How do you know when enough information has been obtained to address the needs of any given situation?  

How to tell when your research is probably complete is signaled by a variety of factors. For example, if you are finding the same corroborating information repeatedly with few new details, or you have found authoritative, reliable, on-point sources, then you should feel pretty comfortable that you have thoroughly researched a topic. Other ways to know you've likely done a thorough job include methodically using a variety of information resources, and verifying any questionable or controversial information. We consider a few factors for projects we work on. What did the requester want? Do we run the risk of overwhelming the requester with more information than can be processed in the time allowed? Have we been able to verify or triangulate information via several sources? Are our sources authoritative and reliable? Have we looked for the most current information about a topic or person? Did we follow compelling leads? Have our research paths increasingly led to dead ends or less important or unverifiable information? At the core, though, is an understanding of the research request.

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