In the annual GRIT survey, researchers asked market research agencies, “What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing market research in 2015?” Twenty-nine percent responded that their biggest challenge is dealing with their clientele. Navigating the world of client management can be complex. Market research agencies face shrinking client-side budgets, increased demand for insights and an explosion of potential methodology choices. As a result, it’s essential that agencies have clear strategies for managing client communications and expectations. Here’s a closer look at how successful researchers address client communications throughout the market research project cycle.
The Discovery Phase
Handling client communication during the discovery phase of a market research project sets the tone for the rest of the relationship. As a result, many market research agencies have standardized processes that they follow during the discovery phase. Your discovery phase communication should have two key components. The first is determining the scope of the project. Effective scoping is essential to avoid disagreements later about the scope and focus of the market research effort.
During the discovery phase, it’s also essential that researchers establish trust and effectively communicate their expertise. A strong relationship with your client is vital to getting the information needed for a successful project. Access requires trust. Information needs can range from internal financial data to contact information for customer lists. Communication during the discovery phase should reveal the business problem being addressed, the ideal audience/target demographic, the data that’s needed, the strategic decisions that the data will drive and the analysis needed to make information actionable.
Communication needs during the project execution phase vary from project to project. In some cases, it’s enough to keep your client updated on the progress of data collection and analysis. In others, questions or needs will arise that need to be addressed midstream. It’s also useful to consider the overall length of projects and how much visibility a specific client wants. Many times, clients want to move through the discovery phase with your agency and then hand off the projects with minimal communication until it’s time to report the findings. For longer-term projects, such as longitudinal studies or ongoing micro-surveys, regular check-ins may be useful to gauge how things are going and whether it’s necessary to pivot your focus. The key here is understanding the client’s preferences and what a successful project execution demands.
Analysis and Insights
The project scope will in large part determine what post-project analysis communication will look like with a specific client. But it’s important to think about how you’ll frame communication around analysis and insights. The first step to take is to determine what the client needs from you. Are you providing raw data, reporting on basic trends or conducting complex analyses for different audiences? Another element to sound out is determining how information will be presented. Will the client receives a written report or presentation—or will information be presented in a live format that allows for discussion and Q&A? Deciding how best to use visuals, storytelling and other data points in the post-project phase is essential to satisfied clients and ongoing relationships.
A Word on Managing Expectations
In any professional services setting, one of the biggest challenges that professionals face is managing client expectations. Communication plays a significant role in everything from clarifying deliverables and their potential impact to handling sensitive conversations around timelines. Having an open line of communication can prevent scope creep, armchair quarterbacking and other problems that can hinder the effectiveness of market research initiatives. Start the process of managing expectations early on in the relationship, build a reasonable amount of swing time into your project schedule and develop a plan for ongoing communication. Simply letting clients know when you run into challenges and how you plan to solve them can prevent them from turning into bigger problems, even when the impact budgets and timelines.
Managing client relationships is an important part of an agency’s workload. Open lines of communications help with every aspect, from effective discovery phases to managing expectations throughout the life cycle. It’s crucial to invest in developing a systematic approach to handling communications and think through sticky situations before they arise. Prioritizing client communication will enable you to deliver actionable insights and minimize stress along the way.