You can have the biggest advertising budgets in your space, heck you can even have the best product or service, but if you don't know your audience and take the time to understand your customer, your message will get lost in the weeds.
In no particular order, this list is for the people that understand finding opportunities to add value start by understanding their customers. Whether you are looking for insights to engage prospects, or grow current accounts, this list will give you the tools you need to help uncover actionable insights on practically any industry of interest.
1) IBIS World Reports
When you need to get up to speed on any industry, if you have access (read below), this should be the first source you consult. Sorted by NAICS industry codes, these reports will give you a very satisfying SWOT based analysis of each industry. Their data is extremely well organized and their reports are produced in a uniform manner with visual graphics and design elements for easy reading. Review the screenshots below to see a preview of what is covered in each report.
As for accessing these reports, you have two options. If you have access to a University Library, they tend to have a subscription that will allow you to access and download IBIS World reports. For my fellow SIUE alumni friends out there, you can go to the circulation desk at the SIUE Library and ask to use a computer, to which they will log you in. You can then navigate to the A-Z database on the SIUE Library site, select IBIS world reports, and you can download about 50 reports at one time.
However, if you are an avid researcher, or the business you work for requires you to stay in the know about your clients, as well as be on the look out for new market opportunities, I would encourage you to check out IBIS World's website to learn about their various research solutions.
2) SEC 10K Forms
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) EDGAR Company Search tool allows anyone to access the official reports filed by U.S. publicly traded companies. For the purpose of learning more about a company, you'll want to download the SEC 10K Form, or the official form companies must use to upload their annual report. These reports contain an overview of the business, financial statements, and key risks facing the organization. The business and overview of risks sections are usually a great start to any research project centered on either that specific company, or the industry in which that company operates in. - I'd also recommend reading Chapter 11: Security Analysis for the Lay Investor from The Intelligent Investor in order to gain additional insights from a company's financial statements. You'll learn how to identify clues about the health of the company, as well as walk away with the right questions you should be asking when reviewing annual reports in general.
3) The Library of Congress Ask a Librarian Service
Librarians at the Library of Congress are phenomenal research assets to have access to. A completely free (tax-payer paid) service, if you ever find yourself up against a wall and can't seem to find the answers you are looking for, or better yet, the next line of questions you should be asking about any given topic, the Library of Congress Ask a Librarian Service is nothing short of amazing. They typically provide answers within 48 hours and include a breakdown of the sources they found so you can fact-check or cite in your final product.
4) Federal Agency Databases and Reports
If it's qualified content, research reports, or subject matter experts you're after, Federal Agencies can be a great resource. If you are like me, and don't know what agencies exist off the top of your head, the Library of Congress keeps a regularly updated list of every federal agency, with links to each. Keep in mind though, these agencies don't always do a great job of marketing what they publish, so you will definitely need a defined research question before you start mining for answers.
In addition to the reports you will find published by each agency, most of them also have their own ask an expert function. For example, the USDA service connects you with agronomists, food scientists, and other experts who can get into the most nitty gritty of questions about just about any topic across the farm-to-table supply chain.
Lastly, the Department of Commerce provides digital copies of every non-classified research report conducted with federal dollars across all agencies via the National Technical Reports Library. You can search to your heart's delight on any subject matter, organize results by publication date or search relevance, and download the PDF version of each report.
5) Chat-GPT & Other AI Tools
The applications of AI are endless. With ChatGPT you can type prompts like: "I'm selling industrial warehousing. Who are my customers?" and you'll get a pretty great starting list of industries you should be targeting and what their most common use for warehousing is. You can then ask a follow up question like "What other questions should I be asking in order to find customers who will lease warehouses?" and it will give you additional research questions to consider to further your insight finding journey. However, note that this line of questioning only goes so far. If you ask something like "I have 40,000 square feet of space, with 22 foot ceilings, and 20 foot column spacing, who are my ideal customers?" you will just get the same general industry category list as before. When you have complex research problems to solve, that requires a little bit more critical thinking on your part.
6) Deloitte Industry Research Reports
Deloitte is a leading accounting and business consultancy the world over. The reports they publish regularly are part of their content strategy to establish themselves as thought leaders across the many industries they serve. For staying up to date with innovation and human capital trends impacting the economic landscape, as well as insights into what opportunities or threats may be top of mind for your prospects, Deloitte is a great resource to explore.
7) Industry Professional Associations
Sometimes you just need to be reminded of what to google, and just about every industry has a professional association related to it. With that said, for this list item simply type in the name of your industry and "professional association" and search the results. Some are better than others, but when you find a great one they can be priceless. One of my favorite examples is the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). I've noticed when an industry is faced with a massive challenge, such as workforce needs, international trade barriers, or budget appropriations, you'll discover phenomenal websites, with an abundance of shareable data, content, and resources. Another great example I turn to regularly is the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Infrastructure Report Cards. If you have any interest in what the U.S. needs to invest in to stay ahead of the global competition as it relates to infrastructure, ASCE report cards will open your eyes. They are the perfect example of how to design a white-paper when you are trying to engage the general public.
8) Textbooks & Non-Fiction Designed to Educate
If your goal is to actually learn something and avoid books with filler and pointless stories, look for official textbooks used by universities or books that were designed to teach or instruct readers. Some examples of the latter non-textbook brand of book I'm describing would include anything written by Allen Weiss, Jeb Blount, or Nancy Duarte. A quick tip is to consider the publisher. Wiley, for example, is a go to publisher of textbooks and instructional non-fiction books that typically stand out on the shelf as the leading voice for any given topic. In making a judgement about whether a book meets the common standards of an instructional design, you should look to see if the format includes things like bolded headings, chapter summaries, bulleted lists, graphics to illustrate complex ideas, or other features that make it incredibly easy to read, skim, and take notes. If you have a specific learning objective and want a source you can count on to apply what you learn immediately after you read it, this is a specific format you will find across just about every subject in non-fiction. With that knowledge, consult with your local librarian or book seller to discover which books may be the best suited for your needs.
9) University Professors Who Publish Regularly
When you want to discover knowledge about a subject from 30,000 feet up, but also need insights you can only gain from boots on the ground, consider looking for the leading researchers and professors who not only teach it, but have written about it.
A perfect example is Jessica Eise, and her book How To Feed the World. Jessica is a Ross Fellow and PhD candidate at Purdue University. Her research areas of expertise include climate change, food security, agriculture and global chronic stressors. Her book falls into that instructional format I mentioned in the previous section, and provides a structured journey to understanding what challenges are crucial to addressing as the world looks to meet the rising global food demand. In addition to the insights one can gain by reading a book such as this, you'll often find a treasure trove of other trusted sources in the appendixes. With How To Feed The World, every chapter was crafted from the research efforts of experts and professors specializing in a different subject matter area. If you pick up a copy, you'll discover 15+ additional professors you can reach out to and dive deeper into the topics that interest you most. They are usually thrilled to share their academic research with their fans, so if you are willing to do the extra reading, these can be great resources that would otherwise cost a fortune to conduct on your own.
10) Open Source Intelligence Techniques
If you want the most in-depth book on how you can use the internet to find just about anything, read the book Open Source Intelligence Techniques by Michael Bazzell. Keep in mind this is a guy who served 18 years working as a government computer crime investigator, where the majority of the time he was assigned to the FBI's Cyber Crimes Task Force. He consults on the TV show Mr. Robot, as well as for top tier law enforcement and security professionals on how to use various open source intelligence (OSINT) techniques to serve and protect.
With all that said, this book may be overkill for the average business professional, but then again, I like books that go above and beyond and this one definitely covers some incredibly helpful search engine techniques that are worth mentioning. I would also mention that many of the other techniques are great for anyone involved in corporate communications and PR when a need to find information across a multitude of sources becomes a need. As for some of my favorite takeaways, consider the following search engine tactics.
If you want to search a specific website for a specific search term:
Enter the words Site.com: then add in the website you want to search and place your search term in quotes like this "search term." An example would look like this: Site.com:Forbes.com "Elon Musk"
You can also simply use Site:Forbes.com, and this will give you all of their pages, which can then be used in replacement of navigating an entire site or tell you how many pages a site has.
If you want to find a specific type of file, such as say a PDF, Excel, Power Point, or other document that is often posted by associations and other online sources.
Enter your search term in quotes like this "search term" and add the phrase "filetype:" adding your file type after the colon. An example would look like this: "Human Capital Trends" filetype:pdf
If you have a specific custom search parameter you like to use often, you can create a Google Custom Search Engine.
Say for example you do a ton of research on individual companies, and want a way to easily pull up their corporate social media accounts. You could create a custom search engine by going to "google.com/cse". You would then follow the instructions and add in the search parameters to meet your needs, and then once created you would have a shortcut added to your bookmarks bar that would allow you to use that custom search engine any time you needed it.
If you have any resources or tools that I missed, reach out and we'll learn from each other. Iron sharpens iron.