How to choose a market research agency: What clients want from their research partners
Guest blogger: Jonathan Solomon
Read the third in our series of posts from guest blogger Jonathan Solomon who is an experienced Head of CRM and Insights. Jonathan shares his experience with research partners, and explains what clients are really looking for. Having worked for almost 15 years within the marketing and research teams of Vision Express, Citi Bank and E.ON, Jonathan has a good understanding of how market research can guide business strategy.
Companies deal with research agency recruitment in different ways. One of the obvious methods is to have a roster which is then reviewed every 1-2 years, allowing agencies the chance to pitch and be retained. I am not necessarily a fan of rosters as they feel restrictive, can cost an agency a few thousands pounds to create the pitch for, and after all that don’t guarantee work (especially if it’s a large roster). I prefer to stick with agencies until they do something that causes me to consider looking for fresh ideas…if it ain’t broke don’t fix it etc.
For a new agency to get on my radar, they need to say something interesting, different or new that grabs my attention. I am a firm believer in the phone conversation for this initial approach. Sending an email or direct mail just doesn’t spark my curiosity and they are much easier to discard and disregard than someone on the other end of the line.
Finding the best research agencies
I must get at least one, sometimes two agencies a day calling me to offer their services. I ask them all the same question…tell me something new, what is different about you? I ask this because all agencies start with the same pitch:
- We work with a number of large clients (insert shiny brands here)
- We have international experience
- I can send you some case studies you might be interested in
…and yes these are important, but they are hygiene factors that I expect all good agencies to be able to say about themselves. Get past these credentials quickly and tell me something new/interesting, for example:
- A unique approach to research, a new and innovative methodology
- Actual facts and figures to back up your case studies, something a business understands and wants (this can be difficult as you need permission from the company in question to share these figures during pitches)
- Client side experience, especially if it’s the same sector
- Proven work in that sector, especially if it’s past experience with a key competitor (I personally will not work with an agency that currently works with competitors, although past experience is invaluable)
How the best market research agencies stay on board
OK, so once an agency is on board there are a number of factors that will keep them there. To my mind, the list below will help ensure you deliver the best value for the client, ultimately leading to more work in return…
- Creativity of approach – research is not a one size fits all activity. It’s a bit of science and a bit of art. I like to see an agency bring a proposal to life with more than one technique used, creating a multi-dimensional feel to the work, approaching the problem from a number of angles. In a previous segmentation study I used four techniques to get a real 360 degree understanding of the customers and retail journey (online quantitative questionnaire, accompanied mystery shopper, on street post purchase questionnaire, experiential shopping tasks and diaries)
- Cost options – linked to creativity of approach, giving different cost options enables your client to consider increasing the breadth of the project to encompass your suggestions. A ‘pick n mix’ pricing matrix shows flexibility, unlike a single cost option
- Honesty – if it’s not your area of expertise, or you don’t believe the project can be achieved in the time given or for the estimated budget, then say so
- Flexibility – there’s usually a number of people client side who are helping (I use that term loosely) shape the direction of the research project. This can lead to last minute changes, stressing both them and you out. If you can be seen to take these changes in your stride (not always possible I know) then you are removing that stress, making your clients’ life easier
- Knowledge of the market – it’s not always possible to have client side experience of the sector within your agency, so take the time to learn about the market your client is in (there is no problem in asking your client for info on market make up, customer journey etc.). Knowing the market will better inform your research project design and also help with deciphering the results into sensible actions (you don’t want to come up with solutions that make no sense)
- Speed and an ability to summarise – the client is always going to want results yesterday, so if you can turn the information around quickly so much the better (even if it’s just a case of providing headline figures early). Also provide a summary of the findings and actions along with the main document. This summary will be invaluable as it will save your client the effort of creating it (they will need a summary to present to the wider business). It will also show your skill and understanding of the subject matter
- An opinion – to me this is the most important factor. Interpreting the findings of the project into real, useful and doable actions is fundamental to great research. You have the voice and opinion of the consumer and need to translate this into an opinion…even if that opinion is one that the client may not want to hear (that £1m advert is just being misattributed to your main competitor as an example). You need to be constructive in the feedback, and as the research experts I want to know what you think (as above, market knowledge is key to this), so come to the debrief with an opinion and the results to back it up.