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What does an “ideal” Client/Supplier relationship look like in today’s Market Insights world?

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marketing teamThe evolution of the Insights industry has accelerated and continues to accelerate.  New platforms, sources of behavioral and attitudinal data, analyses, etc. can make the landscape seem overwhelming to both clients and suppliers in the space.  Terms like ‘quick and dirty’ and ‘good enough’ have emerged as viable options for some clients while the rigor of well-designed studies, with reasonable timelines, have seen reduced interest over the past 10 years or so.  Social media research is finding its place in the insights landscape as well but is by no means perfect; accurate, insightful analysis of this data is a ways off.

Further compounding the challenges in the Insights industry is a sort of ‘push/pull’ mechanic whereby end clients of market insights/brand teams are hearing about self-service tools that purport to be an optimal solution to all business insights questions.  In some cases, these end clients attempt to ‘pull’ what they believe is an effective solution through or around the market insights organization.  These tools are generally anything but perfect, at minimum requiring hand holding in order to be at all useful.

On the other end are suppliers, some of whom seem to blindly push their version of a ‘solution’ which may or may not make sense for client-side market insights organizations.  Client-side researchers are overwhelmed with a barrage of marketing and sales calls, emails, and even texts with the latest and greatest solution that can solve all market insights challenges.  Several of our clients have reported that they regularly receive in the range of 50 or more emails and calls per week with suppliers trying to engage with them.  It seems no one is listening, and everyone is speaking…

With the above as a backdrop, we thought it might be a good idea to put forth our thoughts on an ‘ideal’ client/supplier relationship.

Ingredients of a Sound Client/Supplier Relationship:

Trust: This aspect of a sound relationship is perhaps the toughest to determine until it is actually tested.  Trust is earned over time by doing what is right, even when no one is looking.  It’s also a two-way street.  Clients need to know that their supplier has their back, and is conducting sound research.  Suppliers need to know that what they are told about any number of things within the client organization is accurate and truthful, particularly about the supplier’s reputation and image as it relates to their work for that client.

Communication:  Basic to any strong relationship is open, honest, and timely communication.  All three aspects are essential.  Open communication a week late is not as useful or actionable as ‘same day’ intelligence on something important for a supplier or client to know.  Also, knowing the ‘bad’ (missed deadlines, etc.) is equally important to knowing the ‘good’, and both need to be tabled for an effective dialog.  Over time this level of communication will impact the level of trust between client and supplier.

Commitment:  At the outset of any new relationship the level of commitment, like trust, is unknown.  We do our best to try to ascertain how committed the other party is to doing what they say they will do, but in the end commitment is something that clients and suppliers either have or don’t have towards each other.  Impacting commitment from the supplier side can include profitability of a particular client, ease of the working relationship and so forth.  From the client side, experiencing what a supplier is willing to do to see a project through to the end, no matter what is one way to determine level of commitment.  Seeing the level and skill set of supplier team members working on the client’s research may be another measure.

Relationship Vision and Alignment:  As a client/supplier relationship grows over time, the need to develop a relationship vision and strategic plan becomes more important.  From the supplier side, understanding the volume and type of work that may come their way over the next 12 to 18 months is important for proper resource planning.  From the client side, understanding the level of commitment a supplier has to properly staffing and investing in the relationship is important.  Quarterly or year-end debriefing and planning sessions can help on both sides of the equation.

As we approach the end of a long year, we thought a point of view on this would be worth sharing.

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