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Beyond DIY Tools: Building Client Relationships by Activating Research

Technology is changing how we manage client relationships and deliver insights. Rebecca Brooks details how to find solutions that work for both sides.

Editor’s Note: I’ve felt for some time that when market researchers view their main function to be deriving and communicating insights, they’re dooming themselves to an inherently marginal role in corporations. The real focus has to be on activation of insights; it is through activation that you can get a seat at the table. Rebecca Brooks articulates this message well and gives us much to consider.

Do you ever feel like the insights you’ve so painstakingly uncovered have simply entered a void, never to be seen or heard from again? This is one of the key challenges many of us have faced in our careers as market researchers, delivering the results of hard work and not seeing how the data is being used or what business decisions are based on its insights. 

For myself, I’ve always gravitated toward projects that required a “heavier load” to be placed on the agency-side researcher, seeking out clients that want that back-and-forth partnership. It is in these kinds of relationships that I am allowed to be a better partner, and enter the trenches, so to speak, operating as an internal-external insights team. In my 20 years in the industry, I’ve seen this “white glove” approach remain relevant and successful, even in the face of massive changes. 

What’s Different Now?

Like everything else, the way this kind of partnership looks is different today because of technology. There are hundreds of very smart tools made by very smart people – both from within and outside of the market research industry – that are helping us deliver on promises of speed, efficiency, and accuracy. These solutions have unmatched power to reduce timelines for projects, but with this comes a host of other logistics that can be challenging to manage. 

In this environment, I see the role of the hands-on researcher as multi-faceted. Walking through the research process, from up-front planning to insight implementation, is one thing. Navigating the challenges of disparate systems and technologies is quite another. In my firm, we call ourselves “technology agnostic” and don’t subscribe to any one system over another, yet have familiarity with the use of most major players in the space. 

Helping clients curate the right technology – and then make the best possible use of it – is certainly a different role than we played even 10 years ago, yet it has become a vital part of our role as consultants. Recently, we sat down with a client who is moving to a nearly digital marketing strategy.  Our continuous, online ad tracking methodology would be irrelevant with this new communication strategy as it was focused nearly exclusively on tv advertising. We advised on several research methodologies, many of them involving new technologies and combining disparate analytics provided by media agencies, and laddering them up into a comprehensive analysis. This kind of technology-driven, multi-data source conversation wasn’t happening five years ago. 

I’ve found that when you take each client on a case-by-case basis and have the expert team in place to help fill in the gaps exactly where the client needs help – whether it be logistics or analysis – you can keep projects on track and running smoothly. After all, that is everyone’s goal.

Uncovering Insights and Activating Research

When you start to look at these changes from an activation standpoint, there has definitely been a shift in expectations. Expectations for rapid turnarounds are always increasing, shortening the time we have between data collection and providing clients with recommendations. In many ways, technology helps us improve our turnaround time from auto-populating to dashboards to quick turn transcriptions. We can now streamline the data processing and start working on insights immediately. While clients want faster results with lower costs, they do not want to see sacrifices in reporting quality and insights. We leverage these technologies to get to insights faster.

Helping Create the Focus

So how do you unpack the pain points for the client, so that you can be a true partner – an extension of their internal team? We’ve found that spending extra time focusing on the end goals and why the research matters provide a good foundation. We need to have a deeper understanding of the goals of all internal stakeholders, as well as how each one of them absorbs insights. If we can package the story together in a compelling way that delivers the most impact, we’ve fulfilled a major part of our role. 

One of our key objectives is to allow the internal researcher to spend more time on applying the insights to their business. So this means we need to focus on what our team needs to do, from programming to visualization, to help free them up for this role. How many times are insights left on the table because there is no time or bandwidth to pull them together? One of our goals should be helping our clients avoid this scenario. 

While technology may be changing the logistics and tactical side of our role as consultants, the goal is the same: help clients get the very most out of their insights. When we have a deep understanding of their environment and act as an “in the trenches” support team, our clients can stay focused on their business needs. Plus, we’ll be right by their side so the data and insights we uncover stay out of that void and we can start to see the results of all our work in a practical setting.

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