Building a Bridge: Moving from Client-Side to Supplier-Side
As MMR continues to experience purposeful growth, of those most recently hired, three have transitioned from the client side of the marketing research relationship. One of MMR’s core beliefs is maintaining a truly collaborative approach with clients, always focusing on the client’s decision that is driving the research project. Recently, Patricia Houston, VP – Client Relationships, talked with these staff members to discuss their perspective on seeing both sides of the Client-Supplier relationships. This is the first in a series of articles.
Christina Halligan (Director, Client Services), Mike Hoban (VP, Client Services), and John Rindone (VP, Client Relationships) all bring to the MMR team a variety of client experience including managing research and directing insights functions; big data/analytics, consumer advocacy and brand positioning; and improving market performance through cross-functional thought-leadership.
Christina has only been at MMR for a few months, John and Mike for longer. Both Mike and John are returning to the supplier side, having had previous experience on both sides of the “bridge.”
Patricia: What interested you about working on the supplier side of the partnership?
Mike: I spent my first 10 years on the supplier side and, after learning that side of the industry, I felt I could contribute a lot of the research mechanics to the client side. After 13 years, as the client-side researcher’s role took on a higher profile, I felt my experience lent itself well to add value again on the supplier side. My desire is ultimately to develop and prepare younger researchers for how the industry is evolving…something I always craved more of when I was a younger researcher. Being at MMR helps me expand my perspective beyond the myopic view any one client-side opportunity presents.
Christina: Coming to MMR for me was about trying something new and unfamiliar to expand the perspective that I can bring to research. I am really excited about the challenge of working across different industries and solving those varying needs. It is different from the relative comfort zone I had after several years in a client-side role where I knew all of the ins and outs of a given category/product. I was ready for something different –as it relates to the subject matter, methodologies and key business issues.
John: I have been at MMR for three years now — the move has been an exciting and challenging change after being on the client side of the business buying and using research for almost 20 years. I started my marketing research career in the early ‘90s as a client service analyst at one of the larger research firms at the time. One of my mentors was Bill Denk, now a managing partner at MMR. A combination of events led to my considering a return to the supplier side of the business where I could be more immersed in helping to drive product development, marketing communication and brand growth. I really like being close to consumers, looking for ways to improve their lives and brand development, and on the supplier side I have a better opportunity to do this.
Patricia: What has been the biggest surprise so far?
Christina: My client-side roles were both at large corporate companies with a LOT of structure. The biggest surprise about this side of the bridge for me is the very different approach to the day-to-day – we are not tied to schedules full of back-to-back meetings, so we are able to do so much more to help our clients. I also thought I would really miss the strategic management piece that I had in my client-side roles, but it’s been a pleasant surprise to find that we have some clients who turn to us for that type of assistance as well.
Mike: Every opportunity and environment is different, especially going from a global brand manufacturer with thousands of employees to a supplier with less than 50 employees. My focus is very different… rather that needing to be a powerful marketing and strategy influencer within an organization, I am now the one who helps empower our clients to be as I once was.
What I enjoy most is working with small, lean research groups or companies that don’t have a research staff at all but have pressing needs to impact important decisions and company strategy. It allows me to use the skills I acquired on the client side to help resource strapped clients maximize their budgets and deliver insightful consultation from where they are in the organization.
John: All of us in the research industry understand the importance of relationships. Research professionals hire other research professionals because they trust them and have confidence they will produce great work. What surprised me the most was that many of my previous colleagues viewed me as an internal, “corporate” insights person and some questioned whether I had the skills to move quickly into a vendor role. I always had good, solid relationships on the client side but when I made the move, I had to bridge the “relationship gap” to the other side of the business.
I was also a bit taken back by how the term “custom marketing research agency” didn’t seem to mean a whole lot to many research people. In this day of specialization, most potential clients I speak with want to know what MMR specializes in – what our niche is. If we specialize in anything at MMR, our specialty is being keenly focused on not only the “what” and “how” of the research but the “why.” We approach every project as a unique assignment. Our goal is to deliver designs and output that is strongly linked to a business decision or strategic action. I learned that our approach takes more explaining but once clients experience the difference, they really appreciate it.
Read Part Two of the interview here.
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