7 November 2022

Five steps to succeeding with suppliers

Better relationships and more explicit expectations between research agencies and their suppliers can help create significant value and ensure that all projects are delivered with the highest accuracy, rigour, and efficiency.  While all relationships & processes take time to build, by fostering partnerships founded on proactive communication, consistency, and knowledge sharing, we can maximise the success of deliverables.

Drawing from 5 years of experience working across fieldwork suppliers and research agencies, I will be sharing five best practices to help you get the most from your supplier and sail smoothly through your projects.

1. Detailed and fair supplier commissioning documents

While contracts don’t immediately spring to mind when we think of trust, having a solid and robust framework to work with is a crucial part of the administrative infrastructure on which rapport can be built.  These written agreements should be fair, flexible, and detailed so that both parties can use them as a springboard for honest and open conversations.

2. Regular and effective communication

In a post-covid work environment, the way we work with suppliers has changed, shifting from in-person (esp. in-house suppliers) to online. While this has brought extensive benefits, simple steps can be introduced to ensure we do not lose that personal element altogether. We can utilise:

  • In-person kick-off calls to introduce the team members and project or if virtual, ensure cameras are turned on
  • Formal weekly meetings to receive an update on fieldwork progress
  • Informal daily 10-min catch-ups used as an opportunity to touch base on projects with challenging and complex recruits

By incorporating these more personable connections, we can help de-formalise communications meaning more forward and authentic communication.

3. Harness the knowledge of the crowd

Fieldwork suppliers will often have the experience and expertise to help you overcome many challenges. Endeavour to arm yourself with the knowledge of the crowd from the proposal stage through to fieldwork design, to ensure your projects are set up correctly and effectively from the get-go:  

  • Therapeutic area / Market:  

All suppliers will have vast experience in their area, so ensure you take advantage of this! Whether it be trying to find the average patient caseload for Nephrologists who specialise in paediatrics, confirming the incidence rate for Pompe disease patients, or finding the best way to program a projective technique exercise into an online survey, make sure to seek advice from your relevant supplier/s.

  • Cultural nuances:  

Market research is a globalised industry with fieldwork taking place in all corners of the world, meaning that in each project, there will be cultural nuances that research agencies may be less familiar with. All parties should be cognisant of their limitations and proactive in learning about these differences to understand what impact it may have on the research. This will not only lead to better working relationships and quality insights but also mean we are maximising respondent engagement levels.

  • Industry legislation and GDPR:

There should be transparent conversations between all parties, ensuring each is aware of the others’ roles and responsibilities regarding data compliance. The world of GDPR can be confusing, so all parties involved in the project, whether the data controller or the data processor, need to communicate, share knowledge and stay vigilant to minimize the risk of a data breach. Below are a few examples of how to work with your suppliers to overcome any potential data handling issues!

  • Ask your fieldwork partner to review, advise and agree on the wording of the informed consent, so they are confident and happy it covers their needs
  • Ensure to share your compliance/data policy with suppliers so precisely what is expected when working together on projects is clear
  • Encourage suppliers from different geographic regions to become familiar with the local data laws you abide by

4. Embrace difficulties

Striving for perfection on each project and, in turn, expecting perfection from your suppliers is a problematic mindset to have and can lead to strained relationships and a culture of secrecy. We should instead embrace the idea that some things will go awry and encourage an environment of being open to admitting mistakes.

Are response rates lower than expected? Is survey fatigue causing issues with completion rates? Are the wrong type of respondents screening in? Problems that aren’t fixed early can compromise the quality of deliverables. Therefore, both parties must raise issues at the earliest stage possible so they can work together to solve and implement the correct changes, rather than covering them up and leaving them to grow into more significant issues.

5. Frequent Feedback

Regular feedback can help to align expectations and ensure that logistical and performance issues are addressed effectively. By providing regular feedback, we can make sure lessons to be learned are raised and therefore implemented at the earliest opportunity. Another crucial aspect of feedback is that it gives a chance to recognise supplier efforts and show appreciation for the work being done, which is an element too often missed in projects. The mode in which it is given can be decided at the start of a project and may vary depending on the size and timings of a project.

So, there we have five steps to help you succeed with suppliers. Next time you are setting up a project, writing a proposal, designing your fieldwork materials, setting timelines, or managing your project day to day, make sure to keep in mind the five steps above to optimise your chance of running a smooth, successful project and, just as significant, help build long, happy supplier relationships.