Businessman crossing abstract drawn bridge leading from finger to finger

Building a Bridge: Moving from Client-Side to Supplier-Side in Marketing Research (Part 2)

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. Earlier this year, Patricia Houston, VP – Client Relationships, talked with several staff members who have the perspective of seeing both sides of the Client-Supplier relationships. This is the second in a series of articles; read Part 1 here

Our “Interviewees”

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.


Patricia: What are some of the benefits of experiencing both sides of the market research relationship?

Christina: Experiencing both sides of the market research industry has given me a different perspective that has helped me ask different questions at the beginning of a project. The cross-functional interactions that I gained as a client have helped take me beyond what comes through clearly on paper. For example, how internal marketing teams react to research is different than ad agency clients so it is important to keep the right end client in mind to inform the business decisions at hand.  Comparatively (as I’m still learning!), the technical familiarity on the supplier side helps frame up unique ways to ask questions both to address needs as well as to enable comparisons for benchmarking.

Mike: All careers evolve, so eventually I think we all realize that where we can be of most value to an employer (and ourselves) also evolves. I don’t think there is such a thing as a client-side only or supplier-side only researcher; so, for me, the benefit is employing better discipline and self-awareness about which side I can best contribute throughout my career.

John: The best benefit for me is the depth of learning…the more I worked with clients and dealt with their marketing issues, the more I wanted to dive deeper into the inner workings of a company and its brands and see projects through from their beginnings to however they ended. I made a move to a major CPG company which I really enjoyed, but as I progressed through a couple organizations and moved up the food chain, I grew further away from doing what I really like – being close to consumers, looking for ways to improve their lives and brand development. When I realized I wasn’t developing new research skills and keeping up with industry trends as much as I wanted, I went back to the other side.  

Being on the client side has enormous benefit now that I’m in a position where my job is to deliver marketplace recommendations that enable marketers and researchers to have more impact in their organizations. My experience as a buyer of the services I now provide has taught me that:

– My clients have demanding jobs – they are frequently pulled in several directions and are asked to provide new, better, more meaningful insights faster and for less money.  

– The don’t have time, nor should they be expected, to work with junior people who don’t understand their business and don’t have the expertise to provide what our clients expect.

– They need well thought out proposals with clear research designs, not questionnaires and reports that require wholesale re-writes.

– The more we can provide deliverables to fit seamlessly into our client’s work processes, the more they can focus on being an internal consultant to the organization.      


Patricia: What advice would you give to your “client-side” self?

John: As I think back to my role inside an insights organization, I would say, “be more forthright in sharing and advocating your position with the teams you work on and with senior management.” As researchers, we are in a unique position to provide perspective that can have far-reaching impact. Whether it relates to investing in capital for equipment, introducing a new product, launching an advertising campaign, the insights team has knowledge that most of the organization does not have.  My other advice would be to “play your position aggressively but smartly and use it to inform decision making and strategy.” That’s really how you drive value in what you do and become a sought-after part of the team.  

Christina: I would definitely recommend to be more transparent with vendor partners. Even though some things outside of the project at hand may seem irrelevant to share, those partners who are farther removed from the day-to-day details bring a different point of view that can be helpful in connecting the dots – similar to how you collaborate with internal cross-functional partners.


Patricia: any additional thoughts on experiencing both sides of the research relationship?

Mike: Because MMR works in small, dedicated, and highly experienced teams, we are better at responding quickly and skillfully to client needs. This is important because researchers are often expected to provide “insights” – which is both a ubiquitous and ambiguous request. Often the internal client to our client is not sure what they’re looking for but they take an “I’ll know it when I see it” approach. Any good research partner will, of course, accept this challenge and successfully deliver on it.   

Christina: When a client wants us to supply “the answer” it can put researchers in a difficult position. That’s why at MMR we place such an emphasis on understanding the “why” behind the research so we can isolate the specific decision and strategic actions and deliver more actionable results.           

John: Encourage internal researchers to push internal clients harder around the key questions that make for a successful research project:    

– What are the relevant business issues driving the need for the research?  

– What business decisions are we trying to make?  What strategy are we trying to inform?

– What information from this research is needed to make the decision?

– How will success be defined?  What actions will be taken?

– What are the challenges to acting on the results?  How can they be overcome?

Then, share that information with your suppliers so they have a very clear frame of reference for the research and can develop a plan to execute.  And hold them responsible for doing great work. In a very real way we (as suppliers) are an extension of our client’s role inside their organization.  What we do and how we do it are a direct reflection on our client.  This is sometimes missed but always a great opportunity to build a strong relationship.               

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