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Is Your Research Partner Asking the Right Questions?

Written by Mike Hesser

I’ve spent my career in primary research, mainly in vendor-side roles but also in client-side and ad agency positions.  Even with a custom shop, however, our business requires that we continuously seek out and evaluate partners of our own.  So in the end, if you’re involved in primary research, you’re likely working with 3rd party suppliers in one capacity or another.

 Much has been written about the types of questions one should ask when reviewing partner capabilities. Relatively few thoughts have been offered, however, regarding the questions your vendors should be asking YOU.

I’m a strong believer that good partners (I try to avoid the word vendor) are not just order takers.  Good partners are experienced in their industry, know their products inside and out, and provide guidance on how those tools should be applied.  This model is most evident when your partners ask the right kinds of questions of you up front, the answers to which can guide a much more successful program for everyone involved.

  1. What are the marketing decisions your team is facing? A strong partner will push for discussions that start at the beginning of the story, not at the point of engagement. Good research doesn’t start with the methodology or questionnaire – it starts with a joint understanding of what brought everyone to the table and how the information we gather will be used.
  2. How will you and your client team determine the success of this project?I’ve always believed that our success is driven by the success of our clients. A good partner will demonstrate a commitment to the winning scenario from your perspective right from the start, and will maintain a keen focus on that goal throughout the project life-cycle. This is NOT a commitment to delivering the results the clients want to see – it’s a vision of success independent of results.
  3. What will your team decide if the results say X? What if they say Y?Research buyers often don’t spend enough time with their stakeholders working through the decisions they’ll face under varying outcomes of the project. If your partner works with you on different “what if” scenarios up front, everyone is better prepared when the results come back, and the analytical story flows much easier.
  4. What does the ideal output of this research look like? While the ultimate storyline often doesn’t appear until the results are in, good partners will work hard in the early stages of the project to understand client expectations for their outputs, including both format, style, and content. This upfront work saves everyone valuable time and effort at the end of the day.

 The next time you’re reviewing the capabilities of a potential partner, try thinking less about your questions and listen harder to the questions they’re asking you.  You might find some interesting answers.