Credentials or Chemistry
A previous article covered Improving the Working Relationships between Research Clients and Suppliers. Below Mike Hoban, who joined MMR Research after 13 years on the client side, provides additional perspective on starting new research relationships.
Sitting by the fire following a day of skiing, we researchers were discussing how clients choose their suppliers. Being the only client-side participant in the discussion, my POV was not completely embraced with the same warmth as the fire beside us. The POV I expressed was that a supplier can be the smartest and most capable team in the world, but that’s meaningless unless the relationship dynamics “work.” The discussion turned heated (and not just because of the fireplace) but finally a common understanding of that firelight discussion prevailed.
After 13 years on the client side, I believe many supplier-side researchers can improve their lead generation if they think more about being a research partner, and less about being a research provider. The relationship has better potential if suppliers keep the following four ideas in mind.
1 – Communicate in relevant ways.
Why does anyone still think that acquiring a major research study – one that could make or break a client-side researcher’s career – is just a “numbers game” of cold calls, follow-up emails with clever subjects (or not), and LinkedIn connection requests? Visibility and transparency of the research process within an organization is almost assured these days and can be overwhelming for client-side researchers… so why would any “buyer” trust some Tom, Joe or Jane who is leaving a voicemail followed up with an email “assuring” broad expertise in everything research? Additionally, many client-side researchers, including me, rarely interrupt their daily work to answer a phone call they don’t recognize, much less check their voicemail, so this method of communication is inefficient at best. In any tight-knit industry such as marketing research, it should come as no surprise that the ability to introduce yourself and your capabilities as a supplier is more about who you know and not necessarily what you know.
2 – Humanize the process.
Research partnerships, unlike selling cars or timeshares, are a relationship game. Having a common connection, whether a previous working relationship, someone you both know, sometimes even a common outside hobby, is important. Dare I relate it to finding that perfect someone, but it kind of is. Client-side researchers need more than just “the best sample sources,” “overnight data collection capabilities,” or “the perfect segmentation solution.” They need someone “real” who understands their business(es) and strategic challenges. Sometimes they need a new authentic capability/expertise that a supplier can bring to the table. And most certainly they need someone they can get to know better and trust.
3 – Focus on becoming a partner, not a vendor.
While on the client side, I found my supplier partnerships and projects were more successful if the relationship was more personal-oriented rather than transaction-oriented. To build the afore-mentioned trust, suppliers can learn from those who market any expensive and/or complex product or service… it can be an extremely long sales process, sometimes years. The relationship needs to develop organically and the process starts with some type of introduction based on a common interest as mentioned above. Then it’s about sharing something interesting, but not about you, about them, such as a relevant industry article, congratulating them on a recent product launch, etc. Only later does it become about you and what you can offer as a supplier and a partner.
4 – Be patient.
All good relationships take time to develop. There is the learning about the business culture of the supplier versus the business culture of the client, and determining if they mesh well. Then there is the aspect of timing, which can sometimes just be luck. All of this requires careful preparation and a genuine approach, not “dialing for dollars.”
Bottom line, ask yourself these questions… Would you continue to invest your time with someone you didn’t like, didn’t get along with and/or didn’t trust? Similarly, why would a client-side researcher invest a large sum of money with a supplier given those same barriers?
While my POV may seem rather obvious, it always surprises me how many supplier partners are focused more on being a salesperson or smart researcher than on being human. After years on the client side of the equation, I appreciate MMR’s perspective on partnership, focusing on the client’s business decision and how our research will inform that decision.
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