Never Lose Sight of Project Management Fundamentals: Communication, Honesty, and Trust

By David Schneer

4.4-Minute Read

What I have learned in my many years in marketing research is that often the job/project is awarded not based on cost (being the cheapest) or the most complex research design/analytics. 

Rather, it tends to be based on relationship, more specifically the relationship between the client and the project manager.   Here are three simple steps that have guided me (and my clients) well:

  • The Golden Rule: Treat your clients as if you were the client. In both my professional and personal life, I am big on customer service, especially responsiveness. As a general rule, I think acknowledgement of a client’s email should happen within 30 minutes to an hour (during business hours, of course).  Even if I don’t yet know the answer to their question, acknowledging the email or voicemail is a better approach than leaving them on read/silent for hours while digging for the answer and receiving the dreaded, “Hey, did you get this?”
  • Giving Bad News: Despite our best efforts, things do go sideways sometimes. When they do, timeliness is key. I have had Account Execs delay telling a client that a study was flopping in the field, waiting days to relay the information to see if a solution could be found before the bad news was delivered. When one could not, clients tended to say, “Well, when did you realize this was an issue?” 


At the first sign of trouble, clients should be alerted that more time may be needed to complete field or find a recruit or if expectations need to be revised on the number of completes possible at the current budget.  Giving a client time to react could result in more budget dollars being made available, etc., while waiting. Especially for a project with a tight schedule, which gives less time to come up with a secondary plan – particularly when their stakeholder teams are awaiting results.

  • Mutual Trust: The common thread between points one and two is trust and forms the basis for a solid relationship. A client has to trust that I have their best interests in mind in terms of management of their budget while meeting their research objectives, and I have to trust that they have provided all the necessary inputs for me to do my job effectively.  Recently a client came to Merrill Research with a limited budget and vague research objectives.  They were in a situation where they truly did not know what they didn’t know and couldn’t quite anticipate which questions to ask in order to get the direction they needed. We put together a proposal that was well above the budget they had but would have been the best way to help them remain flexible in seeking their answer.  We knew when providing this solution that it may mean we wouldn’t get the job, and we didn’t, as they used the limited budget they had to pursue another approach. But we did earn credibility points for being up-front, and the client was vocally appreciative of our candidness.


Ultimately, the keys to a successful client/supplier relationship seem to be very similar to the happiest and most long-lasting romantic and platonic relationships – communication, honesty, and trust in the partnership.  To read more about Merrill’s approach to being the best partner, check out an additional blog by another Merrill V.P.

Merrill Research—Experience You Can Count On.

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