Market research clients and suppliers have what seems to be a long-standing relationship where each wishes the other would just be nicer, faster, and more realistic. There often seems to be tension between the two sides when it comes to schedules, deliverables, decisions, and even resource capacity. This tension ends up manifesting itself in internal discussions on the client side, “I have no idea why it’s taking them so long to get me my data,” and on the supplier side, “They’re being so unrealistic with their schedule!”
Not every client-supplier relationship is this way, though, and I think, just like any good friendship, it takes two to tango. So what can be done to create a better relationship between these two pieces of the market research puzzle?
Let’s start with changing the market research vernacular. Instead of each referring to the other as “supplier,” “vendor,” or “client,” what about referring to each other as “partner”? This may seem like a subtle shift, but it can have dramatic results. First, it changes the basis of the relationship: both groups are in it together. Second, it changes what’s expected of the relationship: both groups need to understand each other better in order for the partnership to work well. Third, it creates a better sense of equality: both groups are working together for the purpose of discovering answers to business questions.
This one change can start shifting the culture away from an “us versus them” to “us AND them.”
Truly Open Communication
I have a theory that most issues in most relationships can be boiled down to a breakdown somewhere in communication. Miscommunication begets misunderstanding. Lack of communication often means expectations weren’t understood — or perhaps even expressed. Market research is no different.
Fostering an environment where it’s okay not just to ask, but answer questions, is key to a good partnership. When each group understands the reasons for time pressures (using data processing teams that are also busy on other studies, even how long it takes to run data pulls due to the size of the database) and stakeholder pressures (needs for saving money and making money, questions from upper management that need to be answered by a certain time), it opens the ability to better approach projects together.
This type of relationship can be uncomfortable for both groups. It isn’t terribly common to provide such deep levels of insight into the inner workings, and I think this ends up backfiring. When neither group understands each other’s needs, then it can be easy to start making incorrect assumptions about the reason for requests and pushing back. And when either group starts jumping to incorrect conclusions, it can lead to catastrophe — for the project and the relationship.
Reality and Theory
Written in a blog post, this seems easy, right? It probably also sounds logical, and, frankly, like a no-brainer. So what happens when theory is applied and becomes reality? First, theory has to be applied. Changing the dynamics of any relationship takes time, diligence, and patience.
I recently had the experience of watching the efforts put into changing the relationship with my client show promising results, only to find us both end up back in old habits after issues surfaced that were beyond our control. So, theoretically, after some time of progressively changing the dynamics of the relationship, everything runs smoothly and no issues surface, and the relationship is fantastic. In reality, there are setbacks, and restarts, and feelings that for every few steps forward, there are also a few steps back. However, efforts pay off. Diligence pays off. And ultimately, both suppliers and clients feel more like partners along the journey.
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About the Author: Zontziry "Z" Johnson is a passionate market researcher, having worked for a survey software company, a market research supplier, and as a market research client. She gets excited about all the new possibilities in market research and sees them tempered by the reality of convincing research consumers of the benefit of applying the new methodologies.