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A Client Speaks Out On Selecting a Market Research Partner



Editor’s Note: Continuing our tradition of featuring leaders on both the client and supplier side of the industry here on GreenBook Blog, I’m thrilled to welcome Michelle Lemire of Mary Kay Inc. as a new author! Michelle is a down-to-earth research professional with a refreshing frankness on the daily challenges faced by researchers on both sides of the table. I think you’ll enjoy her candor, humor, and insight into the business of market research very much.

By Michelle Lemire

It’s surprising how often I encounter market research vendors asking about the selection process for research partners.  It’s like a mystery to them that’s yet to be cracked – what do clients want?  It’s a bit surprising, considering we (clients and vendors) really all look for the same things in those we partner with – credibility, reliability, thinkability…

So here it is, black and white, as simply as I can explain it for the vendors out there still scratching their heads about what clients want.

I’ve been burned.  Not by you at <INSERT COMPANY NAME>, but by more than one of your competitors along the way.  At some point, I was overloaded and had some budget to spare, so I sought help.  I was looking for an experienced research company who would be more than a supplier – I wanted, and needed, a partner.  So I engaged in the courtships and was eventually wooed with promises of thought leadership, creativity, innovation, out-of-the-box thinking, bleeding edge methodologies… you get the picture.  And in the end, it just… simply… didn’t…  And now the courting process has assumed this whole new level of risk aversion for me.  And I’d like to share with you some of the key things I look for in a market research partner.

  • Give me more. You know that feeling you get when you find a French fry in the bottom of your order of tater tots? I want *that* feeling. Give me a fry!  Instead of just the research findings, offer up a one page infographic on one of the study topics. Or better yet, on some new complementary or supplementary data point you’ve found.  I would love to see how a global trend, or the regional economics, or another unrelated study may help explain the findings.  Help me synthesize secondary data into my primary research findings to tell a more holistic or compelling story.  Decisions are not made on one single point of data or any one study. (Well, not good decisions, anyway.)
  • Step up.  You don’t have to stroke my ego and agree with everything I’ve proposed. I’m open to the idea that I may not be the be-all and end-all researcher in the room, and that you may very well have more experience than I do.  I am also open to considering that you may have put more thought and time into my research project than I have.  I’m skeptical that spending twice the money will yield more than twice the results, so educate me.  Convince me!
  • Don’t waste my time.  Like any good market researcher, or project manager, I do have a micromanager muscle. I flex it as little as possible and dream of the day when it simply wastes away due to neglect.  I am not impressed when you force me to flex it, building it back up from its currently withering state.  It doesn’t need a workout. I’m not interested in spending my time managing yours.  I barely have time to eat lunch at my desk each day.
  • Do your homework.  With ever-diminishing resources, it is in my best interest as a researcher to partner with other engaged, competent researchers, willing to put in the time to learn my business and supplement knowledge gleaned from commissioned primary research.  And to be frank, I generally find it easier and less frustrating to work longer hours myself than to be perpetually ramping up suppliers.
  •  Go BIG or go home.  Thoroughly read what you’re giving to me as an end product and ask yourself, “Would I be impressed with this?” If not, you’ve missed the mark.  Do you really want to miss your one chance to impress?

Did I answer your question? I want what you want.  I want to spend as little time and money as I can and maximize the results I get from each day’s work.  Plain and simple.

On a side note, I would absolutely LOVE to hear about your <INSERT OFFER OR SERVICE>.  I don’t have budget, but I do have a strong desire to learn and staying relevant is really my only job as a market researcher.  I’m always looking to “round out” my market research toolkit and I would be remiss to dismiss your <INSERT OFFER OR SERVICE>.  And, it’s a small world, after all.  I may find myself in a totally different place, either physically or fiscally, in the next 6, 12, 24 months and in need of a <INSERT OFFER OR SERVICE> just like yours!  So educate me. What do you have to lose?


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10 responses to “A Client Speaks Out On Selecting a Market Research Partner

  1. Thanks Mary Jo. Thanks, Adam.

    Kathi – It’s not easy, but staying on my radar by sending a whitepaper, a link to a cool blog post, or simply a suggestion for utilizing some new technology is a start. Relationship building is really cost of entry these days.

  2. Michelle, as one of those who was “scratching his head”, thank you for expending the effort to canonize such practical advice. I think your comment regarding relationships is truly the key! It drives or necessitates all of the other points you advocate.

    Speaking as a supplier, typically once removed from end-clients such as yourself, the challenge I’ll have to overcome is making good on each of these points without the benefit of having the primary relationship with the end-client.

  3. Nicely put Michelle. I’ll pass it around here as well. but as a challenge to you, it seems that the hard part for you is picking out the BS’ers from the really good vendors. I think, because we are mostly selling the same stuff, that it is really hard to differentiate ourselves from those who simply say they are really good at this. Even the bad ones do a lot of research on you…..and sound good before you experience them, right? With all that noise out there, I really haven’t figured out what to say that gets us over the top. And you know me…….

  4. Hi, Michelle! I think this is a great primer for suppliers to familiarize themselves with. I’m going to pass it along to our BD folks as sometimes it’s good to get a refresher. Having sat on both sides of the desk (as both a client and a supplier) I can appreciate your position. It is challenging finding a good supplier that you can build a solid relationship with. When you do, it’s very rewarding.

    Putting on my “supplier hat,” it is my sincere hope that all suppliers put forth their best effort whether working with a client for the first time or the fiftieth time. As suppliers, we cannot get complacent about our clients. Like any strong relationship, they require effort…from both sides.

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