Failure is not an option

vendor-management-for-small-businessIn his most recent post, RG+A’s CEO Roger Green discussed the marketing research industry’s identity crisis. Regardless of what we call it – business intelligence, customer advocacy, decision support – the fact of the matter is that the needs and expectations of marketing research’s customers have evolved, and we as an industry need to evolve with them. Whether you are a marketing research supplier or you work within a client-side department, “value” has become the yardstick by which we are all measured.

As those of us on the supplier side strive (and yes, sometimes struggle) to change, we’re recognizing that a similar shift is needed downstream of us. Just as our clients are pushing their market research suppliers to become more consultative and value-focused, so too are we requiring our suppliers to evolve and grow – whether they realize it or not.

The unfortunate news so far is that I can’t see that the industry’s suppliers (qualitative and online recruiting, on- and off-shore programming, and the like) are keeping up with the pace of change. This must happen in order for the entire profession to move forward.

We recently completed a pricing and market potential assessment for a biotech company. The project included qualitative research with a challenging-to-recruit audience, and we engaged a nationally-recognized qualitative recruiting firm to assist us. To make a long story short, the recruiting was stressful and challenging. As we neared the research date with precious few recruits and clients flying in to observe focus groups, it seemed that failure was imminent, but more frustratingly, it seemed that our recruiting partner was OK with that outcome.

Since when is failure an option? The troubling truth is that this isn’t the first time that I’ve been in a nearly identical place with a vendor. It happens all too often, and underscores my wish list for improving these relationships.

Creative problem solving

As the industry evolves, complexity will be the norm rather than the exception. Be prepared to face these complexities head-on with creative thinking that pushes outside of the tried-and-true way of doing things. Don’t be afraid to be daring; you won’t always succeed but if you do nothing, you’ll never succeed.

Share our sense of urgency

Yes, our clients have crazy timelines, which by necessity and the laws of gravity roll downhill to you. This puts things in a crunch, but here’s the newsflash – we’re all in it together. We need to share that sense of urgency. I’m sure you’re feeling the urgency that my teams are communicating to you (hi, that’s us freaking out over here), so let us know that you hear us and communicate early and often about what you’re doing and the progress you’re making.

Be a partner in our commitment to success

We need to know that you are equally committed to the success of our project – regardless of how big or small it is or how much money my company generates for yours annually. Take the opportunity to elevate yourself from a vendor to a partner by recommending, advising, anticipating. This is what our clients expect from us, and we can’t accept less from you.

So what happened with that disastrous recruit? Ultimately, we managed to salvage it by blending in-person and webcam presence for focus group participants, and by taking to LinkedIn to find and recruit our target audience. I’m happy to say that things came off swimmingly; the downside is that we had to bring these solutions to the table – a missed opportunity on the part of our recruiting partner.

Change isn’t easy, but it is inevitable. The key is to own the change rather than letting it own you.

Interested in hearing your perspectives on this, whether you are a research company or a supplier to research companies. How are you managing this change, and how has it impacted your client/vendor relationships? If you’re a vendor/partner, what steps are you taking to own the change? Go to https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/failure-option-kevin-m-kelly-pmp to comment.