Editor’s Note: We’re very pleased to welcome Edward Appleton to our growing cadre of client-side authors! Edward is an active participant on several market research industry Linkedin Groups and has a devoted following on his own blog Research and Reflect. He brings a unique perspective as a progressive and forward looking research professional on the client side and is an outspoken advocate of change in the industry. I always enjoy his blog posts and comments on various forums; it’s a real treat to have him sharing his thoughts with us here! In his first post Edward offers a checklist of what he as a client-side manager looks for from his vendors which is vital feedback for the industry to hear. Enjoy!
By Edward Appleton
I’ve been struck recently about client side researchers’ views of agency input – far from satisfactory, it would seem.
Take the piece in the August 2010 edition of Research Live covering Steve Gatt’s views (Volkswagen’s UK economic and insights Manager) – http://bit.ly/9MwXp5 – on research agencies, which he describes as inadequate, reactive and out of touch with business needs. Ouch.
More recently, former GSK marketing director Tim Brooks bemoans agencies’ lack of ability to helping translate findings to solve a client’s problem, being too fixated on their own methodologies and processes – http://bit.ly/lWoXqJ. Oh.
The agency side responses to Mr. Brooks’ piece (published in the June 2011 hard copy issue of Research Live) point out reasonably enough that clients can also be to blame in the relationship game – clients who make poor Agency selections are bound to be disappointed, as are those responsible for poor briefings, and clients who are price-buyers, well, enough said.
I could add my own stories of where agencies have disappointed me, but I’d prefer to avoid totally any kind of mudslinging, and concentrate on what could be done better. So here’s my own 2011 personal wish list for Research Agencies looking to add more value:
1. Be both curious and communicative when writing a proposal – put in a call, find out what’s key, what’s not, what kind of issues are really at stake, what kind of trade offs possible. Shape the research design with additional insights.
2. Be service-minded at all times – attentive, responsive, flexible. Get training if you need it on client-service relationship management techniques. Too often I find that researchers simply haven’t been sensitised as to how important service aspects are in a business relationship, especially when it’s increasingly difficult to separate different suppliers on points of fact alone. Service-based choices are surely preferable to those that are driven by price against a backdrop of proposal parity.
3. Make recommendations – don’t just present data. And make it come alive – have a simple, compelling narrative.
4. Be concise – 80 pages of data is difficult for anyone to digest. Try and write it down all on 1, max 2 sides of A4 paper. Use visuals if you can in presentations, avoid too many scary data-dump style charts.
5. Be robust in methodology – too often I find that best practice is ignored in all sorts of areas – from the way rating scales are written through to an ignorance of core cognitive biases that can be introduced through, for example, using numbering of products in blind tests rather than certain alphabetical combinations.
6. Look at pricing options, and make a proposal attractive so that any budgetary restrictions might be revisited. Test price sensitivity – serve up some sexy new methodology as an option – and maybe make it attractive price wise, gain a new user.
7. Interpret the brief, challenge it – don’t just copy and paste. It may be accurate and risk-free, but it adds no value at all. This one takes me back to my first plea – talking through a brief.
This isn’t an exhaustive list. In fact, I’m tempted to add “smarten up” as an overlay. Cognitive biases in terms of one’s own personal physical appearance shouldn’t be forgotten – http://bit.ly/7ALGJr. Our industry needs a makeover in my view – everyone needs to ask themselves what they can do to help the overall picture.
I’m also tempted to advise researchers not to strain to be “consultants” unless it’s clearly warranted by specific experience or expertise. Play to (y)our strengths as researchers – what’s better than empiricism than to either validate or reshape a marketing hypothesis? Functional expertise in a more narrow field will indeed remain limited in terms of potential impact, but it will, I would suggest, remain respected as long as it’s valid and relevant to a marketing or business agenda.
Summa summarum – I’m pretty much in line with the top ranked client need in the GRIT 2010 industry survey – http://linkd.in/j1n1IT – my single biggest wish is for suppliers to listen carefully to client needs.
Shouldn’t be difficult for trained researchers….;)
So on that optimistic note, I’ll sign off my Wish List blog. Just let me check – how many days until Christmas 2011? Hope it comes early this year.
Curious, as ever, as to others’ views.