Moving from supplier-side to client-side…and back again

Filed Under: C+R News


Erin Welters

Vice President, Quantitative Research

Call me indecisive, but I just can’t choose what I like better, client-side or supplier-side research! But does it really have to be a competition? Both add critical value to organizations as they guide strategic decisions based on the consumer/customer. And both could benefit from developing stronger empathy for the “other side.” The more we can understand each other and our expertise, the better we’ll be able to design and deliver relevant, actionable insights to our key stakeholders.

Based on my observations and experiences working on both “sides” of the industry over the past 20 years, there are some critical differences, as well as some key similarities, that shape each type of role and make for a successful insights professional.

Core Competencies

1Expert in an industry or categoryExpert in research design and analysis
2Able to consolidate lots of different information sources into a storyAble to dive deep into data and pull out a story
3Working knowledge of different information sources and learning approaches (i.e., Quant, Qual, Secondary, Syndicated, etc.)Working knowledge of different industries, categories, targets, etc.
4Adept at translating data into business insights and strategyAdept at developing insights with the sometimes-limited context of client’s business strategies and tactics
5Balance research needs across limited budgets and changing timelinesBalance priorities among a set of clients (all-important, and non-competitive, of course!)
6Deal with pressure from leadership teams and outside influences (i.e., agencies, retailers, etc.)Deal with challenges within the industry that can impact the success of projects (such as data quality or low response rates)
7Swamped with meetingsSwamped with project details and data








1Life-long learners who lead with curiosity
2Think strategically
3Ask questions to identify the core business issue and design research to uncover actionable insights
4Champion the consumer/customer and their needs
5May not be the ultimate decision-maker (we all have bosses)
6Never have enough time in the day to get everything done

What can you do to be a strong research partner?

Clients – Share information about your business and strategies – the more you provide, the more insightful your research partners can be. After a study has been completed, share how the research was used – it’s nice to know that the work lives on and impacts your organization. 

Suppliers – Be flexible and adapt to clients’ changing needs – recognize that they don’t ask for lots of options or fast turnaround unless they really need it and are being asked the same. Set expectations and be open about any issues that may be coming up – clients can typically deal with those issues as long as they don’t receive last-minute surprises.

Both – Communicate your intent and respect the unique strengths that each brings to the table. Build a partnership (vs. a transaction) to deal with challenges along the way together and make your work more valuable to key stakeholders.

Fortunately, I’ve had great experiences throughout my career, and I’ve learned from some impactful mentors on both “sides.” I’ve been successful at times and have struggled at times, but I’ve always taken away new lessons regardless of the situation. And the key lesson for me is the more we can put ourselves in each other’s shoes and understand our unique (and similar) strengths and challenges, the stronger partnership we can build together.

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