The Buyer Journey: How Insights Buyers Choose Suppliers
For the past few months we’ve been talking a lot about innovation: what it is, how to do it, and building it into your organization. But the final question is “Why should we do it?” Well, that one is perhaps the simplest topic to tackle and the short version is because you have to stay competitive to survive.
That truism crosses all industries, but it is particularly true in the insights & analytics space. As technology continues to reshape the industry, innovation is simply table stakes to stay in the game. However, as recent data from the most recent GRIT report shows us, it’s not the only thing that matters. We’re going to dive into a few perspectives that will paint a bigger picture on why building innovation into the core of your business is a strategic “must do.”
The State of Play
We’ve been talking to a lot of clients that have told us that they have critical business issues that they can’t adequately address because they can’t find supplier partners that have the right solutions. We get that; it’s their job to create business impact, not scout through hundreds of companies that might or might not be able to help them. The insight space is changing fast and becoming increasingly fragmented for a lot of reasons, and it’s tough to cut through the clutter and figure out who’s doing what.
Many of the solutions clients are looking for don’t even come from the research supplier community; other sectors are far ahead in the innovation curve and are developing solutions that they often don’t even think of as meeting research needs, but certainly can be applied in that way.
That boils down to three significant trends that we need to keep in mind:
- Clients are taking the bull by the horns: Many major global brands are engaged in some type of activity to shape the future thinking and technology that will drive the industry forward. Whether through funding innovation labs, incubators, accelerators, or direct investment (usually via pilots and convertible notes) brands are taking an aggressive role in helping companies create the solutions they need to help fuel insights-driven competitive advantage. Most don’t talk about it publicly, but more and more client organizations are becoming very actively involved in transforming the industry. Their focus isn’t necessarily on data collection, either. Instead, topics like single-source data, neuroscience, Big Data, image analytics, wearables, 3D printing, interactive visual displays, virtual reality, and omni-channel media engagement are where their interest lies. The expectation is that the rest of the industry will get on board or be left behind.
- It’s about impact, but cheaper, faster & better are important too: In almost all dialogues with clients we certainly hear these factors are paramount. Suppliers who wish to grow their business take heed: the same old, same old just isn’t acceptable anymore, no matter how good you think your relationship is or how captive the client is to your way of doing things.
- The future is bright, just different: We live in an amazing time; there is more innovation in every aspect of human life than at any other era in history, and the pace of change is only accelerating. That creates unrivaled possibilities for our industry; we are, after all, the ones historically depended on to deliver information and insights. In a world driven by data and changing human behavior, we can and should be leading the charge if we can let go of the past and embrace the possibilities of the future.
Drivers of Partner Selection
In the most recent GRIT report for Q3/Q4 2017 they explored what drove client choice of partners in general. The results were an interesting mix, with quality and price being primary drivers, but innovation coming in as part of a strong second tier:
It’s also interesting to note how research buyers focus on relationships and service as almost as important as primary drivers. In the second tier, we see things like innovation, technology, reputation, and thought leadership as secondary considerations, and in the third level we see that rate cards, local presence/global offices and overall size of the organization are far less important. That third tier should be good news to smaller companies and helps level the playing field for competition with larger organizations.
Using the Office Reports tool that GreenBook makes available to actually dig into all the data, we see a bit more nuance. In looking at the actual prioritization percentages, the story remains the same, but visually it is easier to see the clustering of responses from an absolute priority perspective.
Drivers of Method Selection
Since so much of the innovation in the insights industry is focused on methods, it’s useful to look at how buyers look at that as well. Once again, the most recent GRIT study gives us rich insights to pull from.
We were happy to see that quality of insights generated was overwhelmingly the key driver of selection at 59%, however subject matter expertise was a second at 24%, speed was third at 26%, price fourth at 22%, innovative approach fifth ranked for 26% and a strong sixth was geographic reach. This certainly seems to solidify “Better, Faster, Cheaper” as the Holy Trinity of research decision making when it comes to method selection, and reinforces and echoes the message in supplier selection in general.
OK, so now we have built a great innovative culture in our organization and that has resulted in new products or services that you want to bring to market. We know what buyers prioritize and what they are looking for. Now the question is, how do you market effectively in this industry?
We hear from many sources, but especially from direct conversations with clients, how to do that effectively. Here is the top list:
WoM Wins: Clients report being bombarded by vendor marketing, promotion, and sales attempts. Unsolicited emails are most common, followed by phone calls. But for clients, one of the preferred and most common ways of finding out about new vendors is word of mouth or networking at events, especially with supplier presenters who impress them.
Be Human: Networking and personal relationships are absolutely critical. The personal element is important, and the key to that is the people behind the company or the methodology.
Empathy Counts: Too often, marketing focuses squarely on solving the needs of the vendor (for more sales), rather than caring at all about actually learning and solving the needs of the client.
Brand Differentiation Matters: Let’s face it, few research vendors have differentiated brands. Even suppliers tend to bucket themselves by size or by methodology or specialty, but the brands themselves generally have little real meaning to clients. Find your secret sauce and make it the center of all your messaging, all the time.
Focus, Focus, Focus: Specializing in everything usually creates the impression that the vendor really specializes in nothing.
Be Persistent, Not Annoying: The balance between vendors managing to keep their name in front of potential clients and becoming an annoyance is delicate. A substantial distinction between “staying in touch” and “annoying me” is whether even a modicum of a relationship exists. If the client has even a slight personal connection to the vendor, “staying in touch” can actually mean just that. If the client is being treated as the next number the vendor is calling, “staying in touch” can quickly fall over the edge into “annoying me.”
Sharing Is Good Karma: In terms of contacting potential clients with something of value rather than just a sales call, content marketing also has value. Send interesting articles, whitepapers, blogs or discussions. Send anything that shows thought leadership and might be helpful to the client.
In short, many of the attempts at vendor sales, marketing, and branding is undifferentiated, impersonal, and focused on what the vendor is selling rather than on what the client may need. Some mass marketing messages might get through, but primarily when fortune dictates that the message comes at a time when they just happen to need that service.
The real path-to-purchase for buyers is to build a great product that delivers impact and quality while being fast and cost effective, and foster relationships and brand equity using all the tools available. The personal touch is critical, not only through high-visibility activities such as participating in industry functions or being part of the social media conversation, but most importantly through the simple act of treating the potential client as a human being rather than the next potential sale.
In an industry of relationships, clients want to buy from and work with people rather than just companies, and that final realization may be the most innovative thing you can do!