Market research professionals seem to all have a story or two of how their sample vendors worked hard to earn their business only to disappear during the project. You have a deadline to meet, end-clients to impress and a reputation to maintain - you need your key vendors to provide critical pieces to make it all work. Finding great vendors who can be found or are even proactive about communication even when the going gets tough on a project is the key to project success. Understanding WHY vendors “abandon ship” might help you find your way to ultimately eliminating this ghosting phenomenon.
WHY PANEL PROVIDERS GIVE UP
One of the biggest reasons for sample providers abandoning a project is due to an unexpected low incidence rate (IR). While they may have been excited to win your business - making promises they may not be able to keep to win the bid - more often than not they have not truly understood the required sample and therefore have over-promised feasibility and underestimated the cost.
Understanding the panelist profile is key for the vendor - and often the vendor lacks that depth of knowledge about panelists in general. Vendors should know the details of their proprietary offerings, but many panel companies blend their proprietary database with other sample sources. This can be an efficient way of achieving good feasibility, a reasonable CPI and to quickly solve unexpected sample needs. The problem develops when the vendor relies solely on another firm’s panel, as there is a greater opportunity for incorrect targeting and fraudulent respondents.
Another trigger for vendor abandonment is longer than average interview length (LOI). Preparing at the bid phase for a lengthy interview is key, feasibility and CPI can accommodate a lengthy interview. Not all respondents are willing or able to accommodate a longer LOI. Not being prepared for this can set the stage for the vendor to back off. If the LOI in-field differs dramatically from what is expected upfront, the vendor should re-visit, not vanish.
The perfect storm comes for a provider when two situations occur, a low IR and longer LOI. A project with a low IR and a long LOI puts a lot of constraints on the vendor when the project is in field. If the original bid did not account for either or both, a vendor can be trying to get the number of completes from a diminishing pool of candidates unlikely to complete the project. To make matters worse, if a vendor failed to ask the proper questions in the beginning it is unlikely the vendor will understand why the project is failing.
While we all like to get more for less and have real budget and time constraints, knowing the signs that you might be in danger of vendor abandonment is important. The two main red flags to watch out for center around price and collaborative effort.
When vendors respond to your request to cut costs by offering less service, this is an immediate indication that they are looking to win the business, but do not have a mindset about what it will take for you to “win” in terms of quality research. What clients most often hear from vendors who have slashed prices to win the business is, “I’m out of sample.” In truth, what they are saying here is that the focus has been on the price and not the reality of reaching quality sample in the numbers needed.
We live in a world with many programmatic and DIY solutions. While these systems can cut costs, they also require a “one-size-fits-all” approach to research. When clients are sold on a collaborative approach but find themselves being pushed back to the technology without help, this is a red flag that the vendor team may be trained in technology and NOT in sampling or research, meaning they do not have the capacity to help when problems arise in field.
FEELING THE PAIN
Vendor abandonment causes a lot of pain. Research departments are being asked to get more done with less, and the deadlines are getting tighter! Ultimately, vendor abandonment creates an enormous deadline issue. Getting the study in and out of the field is only one component in an incredibly detailed process. When any vendor (sample provider, survey programmer, data coder, etc.) fails and abandons a project, the time it takes to reengage another vendor creates a huge time compression problem.
This becomes a vicious cycle of budget and timing problems when it is determined that the project was not bid correctly in the first place – in turn leading to all these issues in field and post-field. Those on the team waiting for the ultimate research results to prepare visuals and present findings are left on hold. Reputations are lost, departments are stalled, the waiting game begins and pressure mounts.
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION
Market research professionals are always feeling a time crunch. It is tempting to get a project into field quickly without validating all components of the proposal. Vendors sometimes offer solutions that sound too good to be true, but confirmation is necessary because they often are.
When faced with challenges of vetting reliable sample vendors, wisdom dictates moving a little slower at the beginning can have big payoffs in the end. Having key conversations before final contracts are signed can keep your projects running on time and within budget. Find vendors willing to have the harder conversations upfront and embrace an ethos of a vendor-partnership to help you stay focused on the final insights by delivering their contracted services on time and within budget – avoiding surprises and that annoying ghosting.