Bj’s 30 Years in 30 Days—June 23 Words, Words, Words

  Bj Kirschner      24 June 2022     

The month of June marks my 30th Anniversary in market research. Since 30 days hath June and I love a good countdown, I have decided to do a Market Research Thought of the Day each day in June. One more week to go! Enjoy! Bj

Bj’s 30 Years in 30 Days—June 23 Words, Words, Words

Another word choice post, but anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me knew this post would be coming.  I have given more presentations on this topic than any other and it is my favorite!

My least favorite word in the world of business is VENDOR.  SUPPLIER is a bit better, but not by much.

For the purposes of this industry, PARTNER is the ideal world. 

This goes for large companies and small companies.  You can tell me word choices are driven by your company and come from the CEO down to her gazillion employees worldwide, but I won’t buy it and no one else should either.

Once upon a time, this industry worked like a ladder.  Each company along the way was relegated to a rung, except moderators and market research agencies.  The end clients paid the bills and the recruiters found the respondents, but neither could do anything without the approval of the the moderators, who were free to move rungs, free to step on fingers, free to even take out an entire rung.  At times, it made for hysterical stories about moderator food orders in central locations (the suggestion of “you should write a book” is made to anyone who has ever worked in a facility), but otherwise, it’s just the way it was.  Losing fingers was okay as long as we won work.

That all changed.  Quickly and drastically.  More studies started to look for needles-in-haystack respondents.  Custom recruiting for quant studies became normal.  End clients hired junior people who had never kissed any rings.  All of these changes produced a new central power: now it was the respondents who were the experts and we all followed their leads (theoretically, it took a long time for them to realized their power).

That process changed the dynamic among the personnel on any given study.  Everyone’s contributions became equal, no one person was more necessary than anyone else because we all had to roll up our sleeves and find people to participate.  Out went the ladder, in came the fence.  If one part of a fence disappears, the whole purpose of the fence immediately goes with it. 

Think about VENDOR.  Where do you hear it most often?  “Let me check with my vendor and see if we can expedite completion…” or “I’m hungry, let’s just find a hot dog vendor.”  In both of those examples, there is a hint of superiority.  In the first, they are essentially being blamed for delays without even knowing it and in the second, for selling cheap street food.  It’s a patronizing term.

SUPPLIER is marginally better, but only because there is no street food usage.  It’s still a way to put people in their places.

Neither word fits how we work, that fence of equality, that knowledge that we are all necessary to get the most out of respondents as possible.  PARTNER does.  PARTNER is a clear word, it has the same meaning to everybody because it makes everybody equal. 

Do I mean what I say?  Always.  I even strike the words out in documents.  Realigning the mind was not an easy.  I was used to blindly paying homage to anyone “above” me and sneering at anyone “below.”

But you get what you give.  People do not come to me for advice simply because I’m old, but rather because I have collected vast amounts of knowledge and had experience in so many different situations.  “Let me check with my partners...” or “though I understand the client’s reasoning, it might be better if we tried…” or “unfortunately there is little flexibility on those quotas because the client really wants opinions of people who have done XYZ, so we need to try that before allowing more ABC…”

Going back to the earlier example, doesn’t “let me check with my partner and see if we can expedite completion” sound much better?  It’s no longer buck-passing, there is no inherent hint that someone else is screwing it up for everybody.

Partnership automatically implies mutual trust and respect.  There is no chain of command in market research.  The only people clinging to that concept are heads-in-the-clouds C-Suite executives at large companies, the military and the Pope.

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