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Technology vs Relationships: The Struggle is Real

Keeping clients happy is often times more complicated than offering the simplest technology solutions. John Bird details the importance of human connection.

Market researchers have a whole host of technologies to choose from – whether they be from experienced industry leaders or solutions born from other industries altogether. These technologies are smart enough to help us begin meeting demands for transparency, cost efficiency, and speed. They are forcing the industry forward, freeing us up to do our best work and allowing us to feed our natural curiosity. They are also changing some of the dynamics that market research agencies have with their clients.

These solutions, in some cases, are creating a situation in which clients believe they can do many tasks in-house. With tightening budgets and an increased desire for more control and accountability, this approach makes sense from a certain perspective. However, there will always be those clients who still rely on their partners for their expertise in analysis and interpretation of the data. In fact, according to Greenbook’s GRIT report “strategy consulting at one end and technology at the other continues to drive the evolution of the industry.” These two extremes are nothing new, but perhaps are becoming more prominent due to the changing technological landscape. 

Date Night: Spending Time in Meetings

If you are in a personal relationship, chances are that you make it a point to spend quality time together – think “date night.” The same premise applies to business relationships. I believe a core benefit of increased technology usage – on both sides of the table – is that it is actually allowing us to spend more time on building important rapport and relationships. I’ve found that it helps to bridge this gap by physically showing clients how new tools can help them get to the insights more quickly, provide increased quality and deliver greater value. Gone are the days when it took three months to get “decks” of information from a brand tracker. When clients understand that their data could be in front of them while it’s still in-field, then a consultative, relationship-driven approach seems more attainable. 

Meetings at the outset of a project – we’ve even done multi-day workshops upon occasion – can help build understanding and rapport from the get-go. Up-front engagement with stakeholders can provide a deep understanding of the desired business outcomes, which will then allow the design of inputs that are appropriate. Take the time to understand the long and short-term goals of each stakeholder in the insights journey; their roles in the business; and the relevant insights needs. Then you can collectively define the frame of reference, and metrics and data collection methodology that is required in order to uncover the insights needed to succeed. 

Of course, nothing is as easy as it sounds. The same shrinking time frames that are pushing for speed to insights are also reducing the time we have to conduct these all-important meetings. Even the fastest solutions can’t fix that. It is essential to have a plan, understand the project goals and desired business impact, and know the right questions to ask. This means you’ll be well-prepared to get the most out of your limited facetime with clients. 

No More Secrets: Project Visibility

We are now used to having all the information we could possibly want or need at our fingertips. Want to know something? Google it. Shifts like this mean we are also asking for greater transparency in many of our transactions, surrounding things like supply chain and ethical considerations. We want a “partnership” with the companies whose products we buy and visibility into their practices. 

Market research can take a lesson here. In our space, clients that spend their limited budget on a project need visibility into that project to boost their comfort levels. This means providing opportunities to collaborate at every step along the way, from setting project goals to producing outcomes. This level of participation not only feeds the researcher’s need for a deep, ongoing understanding of the process but also holds the provider accountable for delivering the project with the desired insights, on time and on budget. We must work together to be transparent about values and processes, and create a sense of community—that we are all in this together. 

Two-Way Communication: A Feedback Loop

It is surprising how many market research firms do no research surrounding their own business. And who better to give feedback than one’s own clients? It is up to the team to determine the workflow and decide where to put mechanisms for feedback—but it needs to be done. Not only will it offer insights into the betterment of processes, acting on feedback and making changes is a good way to build that trust. In any good relationship there is give and take; building informal ways to gather and process feedback on projects is important. 

The tension between technology and more traditional approaches – like regular face-to-face meeting time – needs to be put in perspective. They are not mutually exclusive and are, in fact, inexorably tied together. No longer do we have the excuse of time-consuming manual labor taking up our project time: technology has solved this for us. Now more than ever, we need to take steps to build strong relationships including spending face-to-face time with clients, feeding our natural curiosity, creating opportunities for collaboration and having those ongoing conversations. The struggle might be real, but its parameters are different than we may think.

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