In the end, aren’t we all “suppliers”?

Client: a person or organization using the services of a lawyer or other professional person or company.

I’ve lately been pursuing other things (read: I’ve been ridiculously busy) and haven’t been taking the time to keep up on the happenings in the broader market research community. I forgot how much I enjoyed that, how much I enjoyed reading and participating in the conversations. So, while my book of work hasn’t gotten smaller, I’m finding that my sanity and career are both better served when I take the time to feed my passion for market research (and marketing) and when I learn from the many great minds out there who are relentlessly trying to help us all become better not only as researchers, but also as consultants, data analysts, and insights professionals of the future.

To that end, I wanted to share an insight I’ve gained in the past year-plus that I’ve been working on the “client-side” of the market research equation. Ready for the deep thought?

We’re all market research suppliers.

Let’s look at the way market research folk have been defining “suppliers” and “clients.” Basically, what it boils down to is there’s the side of the market research need equation where someone knows the business question and needs a study done to get to the answer to feed some business decision. That side is known as the client. The side of the equation where someone is doing the actual research, then, is the supplier side, since that’s the side “supplying” the data needed to answer the business question.

In my experience, though, though I manage studies and work with a team of partners to do the research to gather the data, I still have to craft what the research will look like, what questions will be asked, how they will be asked, etc., and deliver the data to my stakeholders (or clients) for them to make business decisions. And they usually have their own stakeholders to whom they are responsible for delivering the decisions and why the decisions were made. And then, somewhere down the line, we reach the end customer – the ultimate client in any equation who benefits (at least, we all hope they think it’s a benefit) from the decisions made further up the stream.

If I follow this line of thought all the way through, I find that the customer, the person buying the product when all is said and done, is also the data supplier to the company running a study (survey, focus group, etc.). And the line of people providing data to the next group continues in one, lovely, market research circle of continuity.

Why do I think this is important? Because there can be a tendency in the market research arena for “suppliers” and “clients” to point at each other and say, “You’re not delivering.” Clients say suppliers aren’t thinking bigger; suppliers say clients aren’t welcome to bigger ideas so why bother; clients say suppliers aren’t delivering the powerful insights needed to convince decision makers; suppliers say clients aren’t telling them the whole picture so that they know what insights to deliver in the first place. How do you think the conversation we have with each other could change if we shifted our perception of ourselves as “clients” or “suppliers”?

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