MRS Conference delegates would have been cheered to hear of the importance the entrepreneurs behind Ella’s Kitchen, Go Ape and World First place on customer insight – but not all is rosy in the relationship between SMEs and market researchers.
Paul Lindley, Rebecca Mayhew and Jonathan Quin all recognise how crucial customer understanding has been and continues to be to the success of their businesses, but actual, proper market research – broadly accepted during the debate to mean ‘stuff you buy from research agencies’ – is only used sparingly.
For SMEs, especially those just starting out, buying research agency services is very expensive, says Lindley. Steve Phillips of Spring Research agreed that the economics of the research industry are not set up to cater to this market. “The incentive for research agencies is to go for big multinational clients,” he said.
Lindley challenged the industry to find a model that could work at the smaller end of the business scale: to change the cost structure or find ways for SMEs to syndicate and spread the expense of a research project.
Entrepreneurs are comfortable putting together a SurveyMonkey survey for their customer database to make sure they are hitting satisfaction targets and meeting expectations, so agencies need to look wider than that, Lindley said – a point also made by Mayhew, for whom the delivery of research is only the beginning. Entrepreneurs want to know where that work can go next, and where it can take them.
The trio agreed that for the most part, entrepreneur-led businesses are driven by gut instinct, but there comes a time when an outside perspective is needed. “As an entrepreneur, you are very close to your brand,” said Mayhew, “and you have to realise that bringing in outside people to talk to your customers about you is quite a good investment to make.”
But it’s an investment that has to be weighed against the many other things entrepreneurs have to spend their money on. Once agencies can figure out a cost-structure that appeals to SMEs and they can demonstrate the ROI of the work, the final challenge is to get better at selling what they have to offer.
Quin said: “I get people trying to sell me services all day long but I don’t think I have ever been sold market research.”