Snog, Marry, Avoid: Market Research Dating

After many years of being in charge or running a business, there’s few fundamental truths you can base business success on.  Whether it’s a small, medium or large business, at the end of the day, having clients bring projects, those projects are revenue and cash is king. So as a starting point, to be a successful business, you need to have clients.  This is not business 101.

What we find interesting is the process of finding clients. In many ways, when it comes to clients, you’re looking for a long term partner and to find that partner, you embark on the dating process

Let’s talk about the first stage – the initial meeting / attraction. This can happen through friends (word of mouth), online (LinkedIn), at a bar (conference) or another unlikely source. What you’re wanting from the client at this stage is attraction – while we might think of ourselves as an attractive proposition at The Interpreters, we benefit from our friendship / current client circle who speak highly of us.

But introductions are only the start – the next stage of dating is the curiousity / interest / infatuation stage.  This is where we can’t rely on referral anymore, we need to sell ourselves.  We need to be unique but not different enough from our potential partner, we need to get the potential client thinking ‘is this the right agency for me?’.  We’re not looking to ‘seal the deal’ at this stage but we need to spark an interest to see if this relationship is worth pursuing.

Let’s assume we get through this stage and we’re onto either the ‘enlightment’ stage or the moment before we become a couple.   This is where we want to be the best version of ourselves but remain true and authentic. We want to impress but within your expectations.  We don’t want the next date to be 5 Michelin star when you prefer fish and chips. Taking you to the finest Argentinean steak house won’t work if you’re Vegetarian.  We want to impress, but we need to know your parameters, boundaries, preferences.

So at this stage of the dating process, let’s shine a light on the market research industry and talk about the obstacles we face when courting prospective clients:

  1. We often receive briefs with clear business and research objectives but an unspecified budget and accompanied commentary that ‘give us options’. For us, this is giving us that choice of taking you on a date where it’s street meat versus Vue De Monde.  We’re happy with both but we don’t know what you’re happy with and our versality can often be misconstrued as indecisiveness.  Don’t tell us the restaurant you want to eat at, just tell us a ballpark of where you normally eat.  Manage our expectations rather than making us do the guess work.
  2. We’re often up against the ex-partner and used as a comparison.  That’s fine but if we’re in the courting phase, there was something wrong in the previous relationship and you’ve taken the right steps, to date again so stop comparing us and judge us on who we are rather than how we compare.
  3. Just a piece of meat. This is the most worrying trend where the agency selection process is now being decided based on price and nothing else.  In the past, and recently, we’ve been asked to take part in an e-Auction for the last stage in the agency decision making process where a shortlist of agencies submit their price for the project and then bid (downwards) to secure the project.  At this stage of the courting process, imagine how that makes us feel.  We’ve found an initial spark, we’ve developed the attraction, we’re hoping to become a couple and then you treat us like a commodity.  In addition, as an agency/supplier, we need to decide crudely ‘whether to drop our pants or stick to our values, morals and hope that at the end of the day, you choose us based on everything that attracted you in the first place”.  Yet, as suppliers, we’re not creating the demand. And the demand feeds our staff, pays the rent, provides fulfilment when we deliver great work.  We want to be strong and determine whether the relationship is worth it but there’s more at stake when you’re agency side.  And what about the emotional side of the relationship – what we bring to the table, how we make you feel, the intelligence that can’t be quantified.

For the companies that have avoided the three obstacles, we’re delighted that we’re in a committed relationship with you.  We couple up: talk about the future, goals, ambitions and have an emotionally intelligent relationship.  For the prospects we’re dating and have placed one or more of those barriers in front of office, we’re being brave, confident and deciding whether at this stage of the relationship, whether we snog, marry or avoid.


By Paul Dixon

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