Once upon a time, clients and research partners were on the road together – reviewing discussion guides and eating M&M’s in the back room, sharing the same flights and hotels, and eating many meals together. We really got to know each other, and many of us went on to become lifelong friends. The relationships were strong, and the loyalty stronger. And the insight gained about products, marketing challenges, office politics and research needs was invaluable and helped make the research conducted that much more relevant.
Today, client/researcher relationships often look very different. With mobile and online research on the rise, project travel is minimal, and opportunities for forging relationships through back room conversations, shared restaurant meals, and while driving from interview to interview with maps in hand (seriously, did we ever do that?), have become more limited. In some cases, we never meet face-to-face and even have to make a concerted effort to speak on the phone!
So how do clients and researchers build a relationship in this virtual age?
1. Pick up the phone. It is so easy to default to correspondence via email and text. But it’s remarkable how much better our study designs can be when we have the opportunity to actually speak to each other. There is more give and take, more sharing of ideas, and a significantly greater likelihood of getting to the core of the business need and true research objectives.
2. Take to the road. Visit each other’s offices. Look each other in the eye. Admire the pictures of each other’s kids. Take a tour of the offices or the plant. These visits establish or strengthen relationships, and often lead to great conversations about challenges and industry trends that result in better research designs and recommendations.
3. Hit the conference circuit. Most conferences these days have apps that allow you to see who is attending and set up times to connect. Schedule coffee; a quick meeting in the exhibit hall; joint attendance at a session; or a meal or drink together at the end of the day. All parties are out of the office and away from day-to-day distractions. And the content of the conference provides a great opportunity to share what you’ve learned, and talk about how it might be applied to specific research challenges.
So don’t settle for a 100% virtual relationship. Your projects will be the better for it.