Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Supplier to trusted adviser

It's been a couple of weeks since I last posted. They've been a bit up and down, with some family issues and a generally high level of tiredness. I've tried writing, but have either struggled to even get words down, or have  got to the end and decided I shouldn't subject anyone else to that drivel! Today however, for the first time in a while, I was able to sit down on the bus and have it flow, which was a really nice feeling!

Anyways, what I was thinking about this morning was a brief we had come in from a client. They are looking to do a new project, exploring similar issues to a current project, but with a different segment of their customer base. When we started going through it, we've realised that the brief suggests taking the existing design and replicating this, with little consideration of its applicability to this other segment.

The reality is that it's not, with the online survey used for segment 1 needing to be replaced with CATI for segment 2. This was based on the relative strengths  of online and CATI, which are interesting (and evolving) in themselves, but that's something I'll explore at a different time.

What it also got me thinking about though, is how clients and agencies should be working together to conduct research. In a perfect world, it would be a collaborative process where we would be discussing their business with them, would identify an issue, and would then sit down together and talk about what they need to resolve it, and the best way to uncover this information.

In reality, they usually write a brief to specify that they want an online survey of n=200 turnip purchasers, split by those who use them for soup, turnip crumble and a source of clothing dye. The result of this being dictated in this fashion however, is that it's all too easy to accept this as the design and considering the research on a very functional level - "How can we make this work?" Instead of this, the first step should be to step back, and question all aspects of the brief in the context of existing client knowledge, to determine what they really want and how this can best be obtained.

My issue with this approach, is that it looks to me that although they come to us for 'insight', there is still in their minds a clear divide between 'us' and 'them'. They are the buyers of research, and our role is to give them what they ask for.

This is not a new issue, with a lot of articles out there talking about this phenomenon and discussing potential approaches that can be adopted. The language used here is around the challenge of becoming a "trusted advisor" to your clients. In lay terms, this means that you're in the room when they realise they have a problem, you go off and explore it in more detail, and then you're involved in the conversations around how they do or don't implement your recommendations (and potential complications).

This also isn't an issue faced solely by research agencies. I was having lunch a couple of weeks back with a good friend who sells cloud products to large businesses. He used the exact same language describing where he wants to be in terms of his relationship to his clients.

What I do think though is that this move to change our positioning 'supplier' to 'adviser' is one of the big issues facing research. As many aspects of research become increasingly commoditised, agencies need to be able to offer something beyond the data, need to demonstrate the value of our thinking and not just accept that what the client says they want is what they really need.

In short, challenge them, question their needs and force them to think about the real value that we can deliver to their business!

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