A quantitative decision matrix for increasing value for both buyers and sellers: THE VALUE/CONTRIBUTION OF THIS PAPER

A number of key benefits accrued from the market research vendor selection process that was designed to support this project. These benefits can be described as addressing the specific requirements of two major groups of professionals (not only in the financial services industry but, potentially, in other industries): marketing executives, managers and professionals, and the market research community. The evaluation process and model that was developed can prove valuable insights and ideas for both of these communities, each of which will be described separately.

The value to the financial services marketing community can be captured in the following key points:

• The model-building process was an extremely valuable team-building exercise that generated a high degree of marketing team support.

• The evaluation criteria were integrally linked to the research objectives, and this tight linkage served to ensure that the selected research vendor possessed the appropriate skills to deliver a successful project; for example, a key success metric for the segmentation project was the ‘actionability’ of the segmentation model; a key criterion in the evaluation model related to the vendor’s ability both to understand the ‘actionability’ criteria and to ensure that the research was designed to achieve this objective.

• The evaluation model provided a comprehensive mechanism for defending the choice of vendor, based on clearly defined criteria that were agreed to by all stakeholders within the company. These criteria were clearly communicated to all potential vendors who were invited to propose on this project. This ‘transparent’ process provided all vendors with equivalent information on the specific selection criteria that will be applied in order to determine the ‘winning’ vendor, which reduced the likelihood of any vendor disputes regarding the selection process and criteria used to evaluate the competing vendors.

• The process allowed the marketing team to have a greater degree of control over the vendor selection process by forcing the team to articulate clearly the criteria to be used in selecting a vendor; with this clear, agreed-to evaluation model, the marketing team members were united in their understanding of the selection criteria, and were well positioned to be able to apply the model objectively to assess the competing vendors.

• By thoroughly exploring and documenting the selection process, the marketing team themselves developed a greater understanding of the market research process. Initially, the team was not very knowledgeable about market research, and the process of developing the selection model served to bring to the surface many important questions about research methodologies, analytical techniques, etc that would not have otherwise been discussed in advance by the marketing team. As a result, the overall competency level of the marketing team was increased significantly by eliminating the mystery or ‘black box’ aspects of the market research process.

• Similarly, the evaluation model was used as an ‘education’ vehicle not only for the marketing team, but also the other stakeholders within the organisation. The model was used extensively as both an ‘education’ and a ‘communication’ vehicle to ensure that others outside the immediate marketing team were able to understand the project objectives in a clear and simple manner. This allowed the team to ‘earn’ the trust of the various stakeholders by providing evidence of its competency in this area.

• The evaluation process provided the opportunity for greater liaison with the research team by establishing a common terminology and clearly understood definitions of criteria and key objectives of the project. This has ultimately resulted in a better working partnership with the selected research vendor over the course of the project.

• The selection model provided an excellent basis for ongoing tracking and measurement of the project; in particular, the progress against the stated success criteria as outlined in the evaluation model. In addition, it provided the basis for checkpoint meetings between the marketing team and the research vendor to ensure that the project progress was on-track to meet the key objectives.

• The overall ‘comfort level’ of the marketing team was increased significantly; this project represented a major investment in terms of time, people and money and the team was understandably eager to ensure a successful project. By having a clearly articulated definition of ‘success’ the
team experienced a greater degree of confidence that the project would ultimately be successful.

• A key benefit of the evaluation model experience was the role it played in fostering a research ‘discipline’ among the marketing team members; the process of articulating the criteria forced the team to adopt a highly structured and disciplined approach to the vendor selection effort.

• Another key benefit was enabling the marketing team proactively to identify and anticipate the vendors’ weaknesses; obviously, each vendor was not ‘perfect’ on every dimension of the evaluation model and advance knowledge of these gaps allowed the marketing team to plan proactively for any missing, or less than optimal, capabilities on the part of the research vendor. This enhanced the team’s ability to manage this ‘risk’ element in the project. The vendor selection process and the resulting evaluation model can also provide significant insights and ideas for the market research community.

• By having a clearly articulated model outlining the selection criteria, the research vendors were able to develop ‘efficient’ and focused proposals in response to the RFP that the company issued to them. The proposals included material relevant to the selection criteria, and clearly outlined each firm’s abilities in the model dimensions; this greatly accelerated both the vendor’s proposal development process, and the marketing team’s ability quickly to assess each vendor against the key criteria. By clearly articulating the selection criteria, the marketing team helped to make it easier for the vendors to respond in a focused and efficient manner, and this was greatly appreciated by all participating vendors.

• The clarity of the evaluation model resulted in a very ‘transparent’ selection process and provided an equal basis for competition among the vendors; there were no ‘hidden’ criteria to which only selected vendors were privy: all vendors were provided with the same information regarding the selection process and the evaluation criteria. There was a high degree of perceived ‘fairness’ and ‘openness’ throughout the selection process.

• The evaluation model provided the research vendors with an easy ‘checklist’ against which to measure their capabilities not only to deliver on the immediate potential project, but also to assess their own internal skills gaps and identify their training and recruitment requirements. The expanded use of such ‘evaluation models’ by other companies can only help research vendors to understand better their customers’ specific requirements and to position themselves competitively to address these needs.

• The evaluation model provided an excellent vehicle for enhanced client- vendor communications by establishing a common basis for negotiation as well as project management and tracking during the project execution. This common understanding of priorities and terminology facilitated both the formal and informal communications between the client company and the research vendor . . . there was no misconstruing the priorities of the client and the expectations of the research vendor in delivering against these priorities. There was clear accountability on the part of the research vendor.

• Another key benefit of this type of evaluation model for the research vendor is that these vendors could proactively promote this approach with their prospective clients. This could result in an enhanced image of ‘professionalism’ and a clear acceptance of accountability on the part of the vendor to ensure that she or he is committed to achieving the client’s key objectives. It would be relatively simple for a research vendor to adapt this model to their environment, and proactively promote this with their clients as a means of ensuring ‘transparency’ in the proposal/selection process as well as overall communication with potential and current clients. This would probably be received very well by prospective clients who in all likelihood are struggling to evaluate competing vendors objectively yet accurately to serve their research needs.

• The research vendors were able to gain insight into the challenges faced by the marketing team in this particular situation; this helped them to develop a greater appreciation of the marketing team’s needs, issues and success criteria.

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