How to Get the Best from Your Research Supplier Relationships

I’ve had the pleasure of working on both sides of the research fence; that is, I was a corporate buyer of research services, and I’ve also worked on the supplier side. I’ve experienced what works well with these relationships and what doesn’t.  One could argue that it is only strategic thinking, effective execution, and a snazzy report that result in a successful project. But I maintain that chemistry is just as important a component in forming truly fruitful long-term relationships.


As a corporate buyer of research, I went to great lengths to find partners who were willing and capable of being just that: my research partner, an extension of my own team. I had already been a researcher for many years and managed a talented team of researchers of my own, but the last thing I wanted in a supplier was an order-taker. What I needed was a scrappy team of creative researchers to bounce ideas off of, come up with innovative approaches, challenge me or my team if we had dumb ideas (I’m not too proud to admit it happens from time to time), and execute research projects as if their own success depended on it—which, in reality, it did.

Today, back on the research supplier side, it is my job to design and execute research that is valid, reliable, ethical, and provides objective data to drive my client’s business decisions. Whether the data point to good news or not so good news, my job is to understand how the results will impact my client’s business decisions and deliver insightful and eloquent direction.  In the end, I’m satisfied with my work only if I execute all of these things in the smoothest manner possible.


With all this in mind, I’ve developed a few tips over the years for how research buyers can get the best from these kinds of partner relationships:

  1. Put your aces in their places: Already have a developed questionnaire and just need a “host and post” project? Most partners can handle that. But not every supplier is capable of truly partnering with you on more sophisticated, full-service studies to define the optimum methodology, provide the best overall experience, and deliver an impactful end product to you and your team.
  1. Set expectations: If you value feedback, creative approaches, and pushback from partners when warranted, be clear about that from the beginning. Tell your partner up front that you expect them to challenge you. If you don’t have any suppliers who meet this need for you, surely someone in your network can recommend someone. (Or just call me!)
  1. Communicate freely: Be truly open to your partners’ suggestions and creative approaches, work together to refine each other’s ideas into strategies, and be willing to speak up if and when you need something more or different.
  1. Respect diverse perspectives: Be respectful of your partners’ points of view and expect the same in return. Some of the best ideas come from free and open collaboration.
  1. Be reasonable and realistic: We understand that sooner is typically better than later when it comes to research findings, but we also work hard to avoid the “garbage in, garbage out” result that can happen when research is not executed thoughtfully.
  1. Trust the process: Once you’ve found a rhythm with a research partner, trust the process and be willing to revise it as is sometimes required to adapt to changing tides.

Chemistry, as in most relationships, helps to produce more harmonious working collaborations. Having worked this way with both clients and research partners for over 20 years, it is hard for me to imagine doing it any other way. More often than not, alliances I’ve forged in this manner have resulted in long-lasting professional and personal relationships that have produced extremely insightful research. And with those results, I wouldn’t change a thing.

If you’re ready to find a research partner to collaborate with who will consider your success their success, contact Merrill Research today.  

Merrill Research—Experience You Can Count On.