When I attended my first APRA conference in Chicago in 2001, the responsibilities in my job at the time consisted mostly of writing lots and lots of research profiles. I had written enough at that point, that I often wondered if there was a better way to do things. With that context in mind, I listened attentively at one session as I heard Debbie Miller–who was, at the time, running the research department at Virginia Tech–describe how she had worked with her IT staff to design research reports that could be run from their database. She said that there were some places for storing blocks of text in the database, but otherwise, the goal was for researchers to keep the many fields of the database up to date so that the report could be generated at any time and so there was no need to go in and write a new profile whenever one was needed.
This seemed like a revolutionary idea to me, one that could potentially change the focus of my work. If I could work in a manner more akin to that she had described, then I could spent less time writing profiles and more time thinking about ways to identify prospects and to keep more prospect information up to date.
After the conference, I went back to my job where I still spent most of my time producing profiles and where it was nearly impossible to think about getting the database to produce the sorts of reports Miller described. At the time, I worked with a database that was inflexible and difficult to work with, and as a researcher, I didn’t even have rights for much in the way of data entry, and querying and reporting were things that that only the IT people could do.
At some point after that–it may have even been at the next APRA conference I attended in 2002–I heard someone refer to “the death of the profile,” and mention that it had been a theme in some APRA presentations for a few years already. I thought back on the presentation of a year before and wondered when that point would actually arrive.
Within another year, I was working at the University of Nevada, where the Raiser’s Edge database could be configured to produce something akin to the profile reports Miller described. I didn’t stop writing profiles yet, though, and in fact, they remained a focus for the first three years of my time here. As I mentioned in my previous post about the prospect research business model, I was able to find more efficient ways of working, though, and even though I came up with some plans for generating automated profiles from the system, for a variety of reasons, those plans have never been fully implemented.
Many years later, the profile is still definitely alive, but in many shops (including mine) it has entered a state of semi-retirement. Profiles are still a definite responsibility for many of us, but many research offices have found ways to de-emphasize them or to see that they are only produced in special circumstances.
In my office, for instance, we produce far fewer profiles than we used to 9 or 10 years ago, but some people still expect them and probably always will. In such cases, a profile provides the most effective way of presenting information about a prospect. In other cases, though, we’ve done a lot over the years to educate our development directors about the different levels of research, and we’ve also done a lot to explain why a profile might not actually provide the answers to the questions that they really want to have answered.
While in some respects I would like to see the general prospect research profile head into complete retirement, one reason we haven’t dispensed with them completely in favor of more automated solutions is that they can communicate a lot more about the complexities and nuances of a given situation than a document which reports things more mechanically. Sometimes it is helpful to explain the uncertainties which surround a given business, for instance, or the reasons why a particular rating is warranted, even though it may seem somewhat at odds with the established facts.
If you work in prospect development, are profiles still a key responsibility for your research office? Or have they become something that is produced occasionally, but infrequently? Would you like to see them become obsolete? Why or why not?