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7 Questions to Ask Your Research Suppliers

Maria Twigge

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Sophie Grieve-Williams

    Finding the best suppliers and partners to work with really does make a difference to the working day. Once you have built up trust and understanding, it makes delivering on your needs a piece of cake for both parties. So when you are trying to decide which research supplier to work with, the decision can be very tricky - somewhat like the endless choice and browsing you might come across on an online dating site. Lots and lots of potential partners that fit your needs well on paper. But how do you discover the red flags that might mean that you don’t get everything you need or that it might not be as lasting a relationship as you first thought?

    If you have been able to clearly define your needs and found a good range of experienced suppliers and they have all come back to you with excellent credentials and competitive pricing then what should you do next? Here are some questions for you to consider to help find you the right partner.

    Use the links below to quickly jump to any of the questions covered in this article.

    1. Do you fancy a coffee?
    2. When did you last get a break?
    3. How can I be a good partner to you?
    4. Am I the one?
    5. Why are you on the market?
    6. Are you looking for something casual?
    7. What is it you value?

    Okay, let's get straight into it. These aren't going to be your typical questions about cost or examples of other work. The questions we cover here are designed to foster strong working relationships that help you get the most value from the suppliers you want to partner with.

    1. Do you fancy a coffee?

    Keeping it casual and light can help you really get to know the team you will be working with and the little touches make all the difference when it comes to motivating your partners to deliver their best work. So do get to know them and understand how they tick, particularly if you want to push the timescale or delivery to the limit – sending a surprise coffee or piece of vegan, gluten-free cake because you know that will deliver the energy boost your partner needs makes going that extra mile easy, if you demonstrate you know them they will really care about delivering what you need.

    This extra effort to get to know them will also help you decide if they really are the best partner for you or not. Take this time to get to know their best practices, the skillsets they cultivate and the culture they have embedded within the organisation - this will all go a long way to deciding if they are the research supplier you need.

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    Finding a good research partner can be as difficult as dating, but here are 7 questions to ask a potential research supplier for the best chance of a successful partnership.

    2. When did you last get a break?

    The Market Research Society has been conducting some really useful research in the sector, looking at the mental well-being of our workforce. The results have shown that more than 80% have experienced poor mental well-being – so asking your potential research supplier how they support and resource your project team is an important consideration in ensuring you are working with the best suppliers for you. Good partners are proactive about protecting the well-being of their teams.

    3. How can I be a good partner to you?

    Do you take Fridays off? Do you like to work evenings and take a long lunch? Flexible working has made all of our lives different and matching your schedule with your suppliers upfront ensures it is easy to hit milestones and deadlines. This is just one of the ways you can ensure that your partners are aligned with you and your team. 

    Heather Wendlandt, my colleague and friend in our US team investigated what happens when supplier and client relationships go sour and found that this can often be down to a perception gap that is attributed to not enough understanding and communication at the start of the relationship; so a few open questions to clarify what you need and what your partner can deliver can help ensure that you and your suppliers are aligned on the things that really matter to an excellent working partnership.

    4. Am I the one?

    How much commitment is your supplier prepared to make to your relationship and equally what do you have to give in return? It is important to set expectations around the time that you have to contribute and what you expect from them – do you want to be an equal partner and collaborate for the best results or do you need them to do the work whilst you finish working on another initiative. Ask the challenging questions about their current work and priorities and find out who really fits best.

    5. Why are you on the market?

    In terms of red flags, availability doesn’t necessarily mean dependability – can you speak to another client with similar needs to ensure that they have a good track record (thankfully no conversations with disgruntled exes but conversations with others who have similar needs will allow you to have confidence that your partner can deliver).  So ‘why are you available?’ and ‘do you have the space for me?’ are great evaluative questions.

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    Making sure a research supplier's values and objectives align with your own is more important than most stakeholders realise - here are seven questions to help find the right research partner for you.

    6. Are you looking for something casual?

    Is what you are buying from the supplier their core offering or are you a service on the side? It is great to get a feel for the strategic goals of your company and see where you align, particularly if you are considering a large investment. Often times your agency partners have grown and developed and every partner should be able to outline where their business is headed strategically – so that will easily show you if your project aligns with this and how much the whole business will get behind your deliverables. 

    7. What is it you value?

    When it comes to good relationships you might actually really love the look of one supplier and then your practical and commercial head pulls you more towards what appears to be a better value option with another – my final tip is to be brave and direct, don’t be afraid to ask some blunt and straight forward questions to understand what the real difference is – is the lower cost option offering you the same service? How so? Do they have a better operating model to deliver on your needs? Do they do more in-house with experienced professionals?. Does the best looking supplier actually deliver you more through their model or have they invested more in persuading you?

    In asking these seven questions to your potential research partners you will get to the core of who they are and what they value, which will then make it easy to swipe right or swipe left and ensure that you have a match made in insight heaven.

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