How To Make An Market Research Client Angry In 7 Easy Steps

The 7 steps to making Market Research Clients Angry, by the original Angry Market Research Client.

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Editor’s Note: After much cajoling, hectoring, pestering, and even attempted bribery I finally convinced that irascible speaker of Truth to Power, Angry MR Client, to post here on GreenBook Blog. With tongue firmly in cheek while not pulling any punches on telling the truth about the things that research suppliers do that just drive her up a wall, this first post is a shot across the bow for us all since I suspect she is far from the only client who feels this way.

So, MR suppliers hold your nose and take the medicine; it’s for your own good.

MR clients, feel free to add your own constructive criticism below.

And please, let’s all remember that this is delivered with a lot of honesty, a liberal dollop of humor, and a whole lot of love for our great industry.

 

By Angry MR Client

1.  Be a stalker:

Start by calling the potential client several times a day, every day; leave them long voicemails and bombard them with never-ending emails and LinkedIn messages about the advantages of your services. If you can find the number, call them on their personal phone. Threaten to speak to their manager or even their CEO, if they don’t get back to you straight away. You know that guy at the bar, with the gold medallion and chest hair, that’s who you should be like when approaching clients.

2.  Go for the “shotgun” pitch

Do not, under any circumstances, find out anything about the client before you meet them. Simply take an old presentation, and just update the client’s name. Feel free to share case studies from 7 years ago. Make sure you clearly show that you do everything for everyone: qualitative, quantitative, online, offline, MROCs, conjoint, eye tracking, etc. Being focused and showing off your competitive advantage when you meet a potential client might lead them to actually like you, so avoid this at all costs.

3.  Make a generic proposal

Your client should be fairly angry by now, but if they still sent you an RFP, it might take a little bit of extra work to get them biting their pen in frustration, so hard that it squirts ink all over their poor intern’s face. When preparing a proposal, start by completely ignoring the context of the challenge they need to address (their company’s vision, its strategy or market environment). Push a one-size-fits-all approach without adapting it to fit the client’s specific project needs. During your pitch, spend 95% of the time on explaining the methodology, as opposed to the thinking behind choosing it or its role in addressing the brief.

4.  Underdeliver

In the unlikely event that the client still wants to work with you, here are some golden rules to follow. The right attitude to have throughout the whole project is one of you versus them and any attempt of thinking about your relationship as a partnership should be suppressed. Therefore, you should not even think about trying to become their strategic partner. Do not bother to ask what their preferred way of communication is, or what kind of deliverable they expect at the end. However, make sure you let them know that you have other clients you’re working with and you cannot offer VIP treatment to all of them. Don’t proactively keep the client informed on how their project is running and whenever something goes wrong, ask the client what to do, without offering any possible solutions. Be reactive, not proactive and become passive aggressive whenever you’re challenged. Last but not least, ensure you do not waste any time briefing the project team on your conversations with the client, as this might lead to a successful project and making your client Happy.

5. Write long

Throughout your communication with the client, write loooong: long emails, long explanations, long reports. Needless to say, the proposal should compete in length with the actual report, so the longer, the better. If the client asked you to include some gamification elements in the research, what better way to do that than by hiding the Great Insight somewhere on the bottom of slide 132 of your never-ending report? Are you considering adding a one slide summary? I know what you’re thinking: your two months’ work cannot be summarized into ONE single slide. The results need at least 187 slides to be explained.

6.  Make slides no one wants to read

Here are some tips for creating dreadful slides, guaranteed to turn even the calmest client into a pubescent Gordon Ramsay. Make sure you cram as much text, tables and graphs as you can on each slide, aiming for as little white space as possible. If you cannot help yourself and you include some visuals, place them behind the text in such a way that it makes it impossible to read. Don’t surprise the client by creating a video or an infographic (or, God Forbid, an app!) to bring the findings to life. Also, do not double check for data or spelling errors before sending the report out. Leave that for the client, since they were the ones to call this a “partnership” in the first place. Do not forget to include some buzzwords (the best ones are leverage, synergize, and contextualize).

7.  Forget about the Big Picture

When it comes to disappointing your client, there’s nothing better than a terrible report. Do not make any recommendations and simply stick to describing the data. Which you should describe in the order of the questionnaire/discussion guide, rather than as a story (no one likes stories!). Make sure that any findings from previous projects with the client are excluded from your report. Last but not least, once the report is done, don’t waste any time checking if all the points from the brief have been covered. This is especially important, since forgetting to address objectives from the brief is one of the fastest and most certain ways to annoy your client.

So here you go, the 7 steps to making MR Clients Angry. Feel free to add your own tips in the comments section below.

Angriest regards,

Angry

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24 responses to “How To Make An Market Research Client Angry In 7 Easy Steps

  1. Should be required reading on both sides of the fence! And somebody needs to adopt the mantle of Angry Research Supplier, not in rebuttal, but just to present the other side of the story.

    1. I think that has your name all over it my friend! 🙂

      Marc Dresner on the TMRE blog started something like that and it was a fun read: http://www.themarketresearcheventblog.com/search?updated-max=2012-09-26T09:00:00-04:00&max-results=12&start=36&by-date=false

      I think more than anything we need to continue to create platforms for open dialogues so we really can “leverage the synergistic relationship in context” of us all.

      And yes, that was supposed to be funny.

  2. Hi,

    I’ve been following angry client since her inception on twitter earlier this year, listened to her radio broadcast on New MR and read a few other articles she written. I dip into twitter when I can (I’m busy researching a lot) and overall I think she provides a valuable and balanced view of the clientside experience. This list is probably the culmination of most of those rants and in isolation it looks harsh, but actually she does have a lot of good stuff to say as well. Sometimes. Either way, I’ll be cutting and pasting it for my team to keep in mind.

    I partially agree with other posts here that an intelligent agency side tweeter would be help to balance things a little (angry MR supplier didn’t really cut the mustard) but done poorly I think it would just antagonise the relationship between client and supplier.

    I suspect the underlying attitude of all MR suppliers reading this is ‘I don’t have the thinking time’. What used to take months, is now taking weeks, and for many researchers it’s a tough challenge to maintain excellence. If I see realistic timelines these days, it’s party time!

    Merry Christmas and happy new year!

    Steve

  3. I agree with Gregg about over budget and late. In a way, these could be viewed as part of “underdeliver,” but I think they go above and beyond that. In addition, I would add to the list “collect and report data inaccurately” and “refuse client requests.”

    I would forgive a stalker, a shotgun pitch, or a generic proposal long before I would forgive any of these things!

  4. @Gregg Archibald – Oh yes, how could I have forgotten those? Thanks for the additions.

    @Steve Needel – Thank you. There have been a few attempts (Angry MR Supplier, Angry MR Agency, Happy MR Agency, …) but they faded away quite quickly unfortunately. It’s a pity, it would be fun and I’m sure we’d have lots of constructive exchanges. Any volunteers?

    @Steve Mellor – Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree, an agency-side counterpart would be very welcome.

    @Jeffrey Adler – Great additions to the list. Thanks for joining the discussion.

    1. THAT is a great video Kathryn! I’ve seen a few variations that are lots of fun as well.

      All that said, I do think it’s important that any commercial endeavor be aware of client feedback and expectations and all too often we let our own organizational and business models get in the way of truly hearing the changing needs of clients. I think it’s incumbent on us to keep reminding everyone on the supplier side that we are in a service business, and service businesses must adapt to meet the expectations of clients.

  5. “…it’s important that any commercial endeavor be aware of client feedback and expectations” Absolutely, and that is why we do market research 😉

    Still, how do we step away from recycled platitudes about client-supplier relationships and make real change? When DO market research agencies and clients work best together? I posted my suggestion at http://www.researchrockstar.com/when-do-market-research-clients-and-suppliers-work-best-together/

  6. I love your stories especially the one that says “how to make MR client angry”

    I’m personally faced with a challenge on what to tell an angry client of mine over unsatisfied service given him by my 3rd party partner.

    Kindly compose me notes on what will bring him back to request my services.

    Thanks……

  7. Ah, yes, but remember, good little supplier, when you do indeed deliver “properly” on these things, also remember this:
    1. I don’t actually have budget for any of it, just do it anyway
    2. Do it all in a week…oh, a week is doable? Then have it done in three days.
    3. When I change the scope midway through the project and change my mind on how the analysis should be delivered, there shouldn’t be any impact on budget or timing.

  8. After 12 years on the client side (and supplier side previously), I can identify with all of these points. It’s funny…but truthful. I think I’d be a better supplier knowing all of the things I should do and not do, but I am having too much fun on the client side to go back!

  9. Many of the points that the so called ‘client’ hang true to me but what doesn’t is the underlying relationship the author must have with his suppliers is this is the service that they are getting. I’ve been a client for 20 years and I’m a firm believer that ultimately its my butt that is on the line if the end result is poor. I try to manage the output from my suppliers without being a try to put them in a straight jacket
    I’ve written a separate blog about new business generation and what drives me crazy so I’ll add point 1 to TAC’s list
    The badly worded unsolicited email. These typically take one of 7 approaches.
    • Let me introduce XXX a experienced/innovative/dynamic/leader ….
    • I have lots of experience in your category ….
    • I read with interest …..(typically something from the Chairman or MD)
    • I have tried contacting you lately ( which normally means they rang once)
    • We are in the area on Date 1 and Date 2 and would like to come and present to you; or worse still My Managing Director will be in City A (i.e. not near my office) and hopes you can meet him on this specific day and time
    • We used to deal with …. (a predecessor of yours who left 5+ years ago)
    • But undoubtedly the worse in my eyes is the out of the blue meeting request. Why on earth would anyone accept blind date from a potential supplier?

  10. Agree on all of the above. One thing that was left off the list was coming up with new ways to surprise the client. While I fully recognize that success requires that both sides behave well, I am still suprised at how often research companies let me down. It is always my goal to form a partnership with the companies with which I work and most of them would say it’s successful. At the same time, those companies still manage to provide surprises, usually unpleasant. Field won’t be completed on time is communicated the day before fielding should end. Requests for more sample come in after field should have ended. No, incentives weren’t included; should we have discussed that?
    Another way companies leave my consideration set is when they ask for extra time to complete a proposal. I always leave as much time as possible for proposal delivery. It’s important that proposals represent a company’s best thinking and be absolutely accurate on costs and timing. A company that asks for an extension is basically telling me that their needs are more important than mind and that I can’t count on them to complete my project on time.
    One area for which I fault myself is in continuing to expect well done reports. After a couple of decades in the field I should know better to expect good story telling with findings and recommendations that make sense for my business. Even my best partners usually fail in this area.

  11. Dear Leonard,
    The Angry Client article is quite fantastic, forcing us to examine our own consciences, as many of the aspects it addresses correspond to the actual state of affairs in our industry. However, we are also well aware of the other side of the coin, which we call: Seven Steps for Driving your MR Supplier Crazy.
    I wonder if you might be interested in exploring this view of the Crazy Supplier being published as a response. Please feel free to suggest any cuts or inclusions as required, or not publish it at all.
    The text is not mine
    If the decision is to publish it, the author, for obvious reasons, prefer to stay as the Crazy MR Supplier.
    Seven Steps for Driving your Research Supplier Crazy
    1. Keep your research briefing vague and ambiguous
    When planning a market research project, keep your goals as fuzzy as possible, as an accurate definition would make it far too expensive. Only at a later stage will you add a further fifty or sixty additional questions that you already know are vital, but never offer even a hint of this at the start of the process.
    When tendering out a survey, base your briefing on an outdated bid received the previous year as though it were your own intellectual property, preferably including excerpts from other bids presented by competitors.
    Forget about defining respondent profiles at this stage, as this is a rich source of additional screening requirements further down the line that will make it almost impossible to complete the project, while not agreeing to any increase in costs or extensions of schedules.
    Finally, make sure your invitation to bid includes at least one small firm and a few free-lancers that will submit really low bids, providing ample leverage for forcing down the prices of bids presented by firms you know are properly qualified for the job.
    No less important, set a deadline that is at least a month earlier than required. By getting off to a good start like this, you can begin driving your supplier nuts and complete the process with the following suggestions.
    2. Get smart when selecting your research supplier
    Once your best supplier has submitted a bid as requested, use the ridiculously low bids presented by the free-lancers as a tool for imposing pressure on prices. Then demand additional details of all costs at every stage of the project, questioning and criticizing each item, particularly minor outlays such as taxi fares for moderators. Claim that the estimated amounts for meals are higher than the company standard, and never let an opportunity slip by for negative comments such as: “How can a simple focus group cost so much?”
    At this stage, issue an announcement that you are forwarding the paperwork to the procurement department, which will actually close the deal. By now, your supplier will be gritting his teeth, while forced to keep cool and smile pleasantly at a purchasing clerk who has spent his entire career buying paperclips and has never heard of a market survey, asking: “What is a moderator, and why are they so expensive?” Another lethal comment is: “Our budget allocation covers only have 75% of these fees.”
    If your company has computerized its procurement procedures, then your chances of driving your supplier round the bend are even better. You may be lucky enough to work for a firm whose procurement website charges a fee for each study or service acquired from the supplier. Isn’t that great! After all the discounts you have demanded (and received), your supplier still has to pay to have his bid accepted. This really is your lucky day – and will certainly drive him mad.
    3. Avoid a smooth start to the study

    Your survey supplier has probably managed to survive the torment of the first two stages, having developed a thick skin through so many calls for bids. So avoid making things easy as your project gears up for take-off. When your supplier requests a meeting to refine the goals, block direct access to the in-house end-clients of the survey as much as possible. Tell the institute to start working on the basis of the briefing that gave rise to the bid, as adjustments will be made subsequently. This ensures that your supplier will have to redo all the preliminary work over again. After all, this is what you are paying for!

    When the initial materials arrive, criticize them loudly. Say that the researcher understood nothing, and that a more pro-active stance is needed in order to understand everything about your company, although you should never hint at any of these aspects beforehand. When the in-house end-client for the survey is furious about materials that have been poorly prepared due to a lack of information, never admit that the researcher wanted a kick-off meeting. Only then do you organize a sit-down where your in-house end-client explains his needs directly to the researcher, making it very clear that the actual requirements are quite different from the initial requests.

    Then explain that the researcher will have to adapt to this, straightening out all the discrepancies between the initial briefing and the needs stated subsequently by the executive, and  obviously  absorbing all the costs and delays caused by these changes. Should the researcher attempt to argue against this, bring up the famous ‘partnership’ between your companies that will lead to more jobs in the future etc. Research suppliers normally believe these promises and end up accepting the blame for all the initial mistakes in the process, naturally at no cost to yourself. So has your supplier flipped out yet?

    4. Research implementation phase  a great opportunity
    During the implementation phase of a survey, when you are drafting questionnaires, guides or forms, there are countless opportunities to drive your research supplier crazy, or even send him right over the edge. Opportunity Nº 1: delay as long as you can before providing feedback on questionnaires, guides or any other document requiring your examination and approval. This will tighten the timeframe set for your supplier, and obviously you will not extend your deadlines by even a day, as you and your in-house client have commitments to senior management.
    Spend as long as you can on this stage, demanding as many alterations as you can pack in, particularly meaningless or unnecessary changes, as you must show how hard you are working, and that’s why the supplier is there.
    Opportunity Nº 2: When scheduling a pilot interview, set a really rigid time  like Tuesday from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m.  as it vital for you to attend. This obviously causes additional difficulties for the researcher, but that is exactly the idea. Once the interview is scheduled at some sacrifice, you simply fail to turn up, obviously with no apologies, as you have some other far more important appointment.
    Opportunity Nº 3: Ask for another pilot interview or request access to the audio or video files. Leave them lying around for a few days before you analyze them and offer your feedback. This is a lengthy process and will certainly infuriate even the calmest researcher. If you are planning focus groups, you can simply decide that their dates must be set according to your own schedule, particularly important personal matters such as your neighbor’s birthday or taking your dog to the vet.
    5. Changes are always useful
    Your supplier still hasn’t freaked out? Don’t worry  you still have plenty of ammunition in your arsenal ….
    Just as your research project is about to begin, issue a new request sent in by the assistant to the aide of the advisor of the jobsworth unit in an office on the other side of the world, meaning that all field materials, stimuli etc must be redone. Try to time this for the day before your project begins, forcing your supplier to work through the night in order to produce new materials. This is a particularly effective move for international projects, as the translators must also deliver at warp speed. Quite obviously, these additional costs and modified schedules must be absorbed by your supplier.
    Are in-house records or listings needed? Hold them back as long as you can or release the data in bits and pieces, so that there is no way of handling the information comfortably or efficiently. Should the researcher mention any discrepancies in these listings, you should never report this back to your company, as some over-eager colleague might correct these errors, smoothing the way for subsequent projects.
    Finally, just as everything is moving full steam ahead, you can decide to review the respondent profiles. This is a great tip: you can include countless new and quite irrelevant criteria that make it almost impossible to locate qualified participants, especially in a tight time-frame. Better still, you can justify your decision by simply stating that these aspects are strategic (don’t you just lo-o-ove that word?) for the brand, product or concept in question, stressing that the entire survey is meaningless without them and could thus  once again  undermine that famous ‘partnership’ with your research institute.
    By now teetering on the verge of psychosis, the researcher accepts the changes and starts work. Obviously difficulties will arise, offering you great opportunities to question his competence. Say that some other research institute was able to conduct surveys easily with that respondent profile and that – once again – the famous ‘partnership’ is in danger. Wonder aloud whether the field staff is really competent, or if the agreed incentives are sufficient. Suggest that the value of the incentives be stepped up, obviously with no corresponding increase in your budget. At this stage, if he is not completely deranged yet, you have a really good chance of nudging your research supplier even closer to bankruptcy as well.
    6. Presentation of the findings: a great source of opportunities
    If your supplier has not been carried off to the funny farm by now, despite all your efforts, you should never ease up during the presentation of the findings.
    Step I: Never yield an inch on the delivery date, even if it is scheduled for a Friday and nobody will open the report over the weekend. Stress that the people involved will be traveling, and if the findings are not available by midday, this will be a huge problem. Step 2: call at least once an hour to ask how the work is progressing, making sure that the researcher is not left to finish the job in peace. Step 3: If the supplier rings you to clear up a doubt, refuse to take the call, otherwise you would make his life far too easy. If you do answer the phone, sound shocked about the doubt, as the time for this has long gone, especially if it is something quite reasonable.
    The survey findings will obviously be delivered by Friday midday, and this is the really fun part: you can spend the entire afternoon querying every line in the report, requesting countless new analyses, most of which are completely unnecessary but that could serve as a back-up “if the director asks about something.” Don’t forget, you need stacks of these extra analyses. This will take the rest of Friday and the weekend as well, but then you remember that the trip was postponed, setting a delivery date of Monday morning for the additional analyses.
    Bleary-eyed but wired on energy drinks, your researcher must race against the clock to prepare these last-minute analyses. Now comes the cherry on the cake: you need a formal presentation that afternoon, as everything is super-urgent. Never forget to utter the magic word  partnership  if your supplier protests that he has not slept for the past three nights, and must at least shower and eat. This magic word normally forces the poor guy to swallow a few more pills, scraping up the last dregs of energy to prepare your presentation. However, riling him even more, you invite only the interns to the presentation, as the executives have other commitments, and you need to involve these new trainees, so that they develop faster. It’s guaranteed: if your research supplier hasn’t gone crazy yet, he is only a step away.
    7. Payment: a killer move
    You obviously cannot be expected to remember this every time, but research suppliers want to be paid for their services. A dreadful habit, but they insist. The best approach is to play the gorilla card: as your company is far more powerful, you can set any payment rules you want, changing them whenever you feel like it. So extend the payment period for as long as you want. Better still, there is no reason why these new settlement dates should be met!
    A few days before payment  or even on the day itself, which is even more effective – you tell the supplier that the deposit will not be made, selecting any of the following reasons: the director is on a trip, has left, is sick, died, has not yet returned, vanished, etc.
    Another good option is to blame the IT department: the mainframe blew, the system froze, the maintenance crew found a glitch, the invoice was rejected etc. The possibilities are almost infinite: the legal guys never reviewed the contract, a rubber stamp is missing, a clause is misworded …. The important thing is that, in order to preserve the ‘partnership’, the research supplier must understand and wait patiently for settlement at your whim, for days, weeks, months …
    So …. if you fail to drive your survey supplier out of his mind with all this, it can only be because he was crazy to start with  crazy to opt for a career in market research.
    Pease, give me your thoghts. Thanks a lot!!!

    1. Thanks @Aglae. In all fairness, the opposing view is important for an open and honest dialogue, so I’ve approved this. If you let me know who the original author is I’ll gladly discuss publishing this as a stand alone blog post as well.

  12. Hi, Leonard.
    Thanks for your prompt reply!
    The original author is Marcos Veçoso who is the CEO of RCM Partners, a multibrand research company, located in Brazil. Resulta CNP is one of the business units.
    Many thanks again for your attention.

  13. I’m both a client and a supplier (as are many suppliers who use sample houses, panels, phone rooms, focus group facilities, etc.), so I understand both sides. One of the ongoing questions I have is if a supplier is so poor, why continue to use them?

    For example, Sandy R writes “Even my best partners usually fail in this area.” I do not claim to know Sandy’s business, nor the “best partners” being used, but if my best partners consistently failed in an area, to me it means one of three things. It might be A) I need to find some new best partners, B) I have unreasonable expectations, or C) I am not giving these partners what they need to succeed.

    AMRC is angry at shotgun pitches and stalking (and rightfully so). But I am amused at lines such as “Your client should be fairly angry by now, but if they still sent you an RFP…” If you’ve experienced stalking and/or a shotgun pitch, why in the world would you send an RFP to that supplier? If the RFP is so bad, why in the world would you give that supplier the job?

    Part of the job of any client is to find the right suppliers and give them what they need to succeed. Yes, there will be failures, but if those failures are so consistent and so frequent, then maybe the client isn’t doing a very good job of finding good suppliers, or is not giving them what they need to succeed. There are plenty of hacks in our industry, but also plenty of really good people – if you’re experiencing the hacks more than the good people, it may be time to re-evaluate how you’re finding and working with suppliers, which is a critical element of any client’s job.

    All of the complaints listed by Sr. Veçoso, AMRC, and others who have posted here are very real and very problematic, but until bad suppliers are choked off because they get no future business, nothing will change. It is the responsibility of suppliers to be good at what they do. It is also the responsibility of clients to stop using suppliers that aren’t good at what they do, and when they find good suppliers, to give them what they need (information, support, reasonable expectations, actual on-time payment, etc.) to help them be successful for you.

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