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Walking ‘hand in hand’ with your stakeholders

18.04.2018

Listening to, and understanding the perspectives, beliefs and priorities of others is important in life… and this is particularly true when addressing and delivering our clients’ needs.

In our market research ethos, we recognise the importance of engaging with all our clients’ key internal stakeholders and the successful delivery of truly actionable outputs. But why is this so important to us? This blog is a reflection on my experiences during my client-side life, which have now become core to my ways of working and how I tackle business questions through market research and ultimately securing a successful outcome for all stakeholders involved. Having gone full circle (from agency to client-side and back to agency), has equipped me with the desire to actively seek out an understanding of all our stakeholders, their differing needs and challenges, as well as their individual perspectives and expectations.

I started my pharma market research life at an agency and I struggled to follow the minefield of client job titles, not only the different titles covering ‘Business Intelligence’ but those roles beyond. ‘Marketing Manager’… well fine, that role was clear, as was the role of Field Reps. But why was there a practicing physician in the meeting? How did their role differ then to the ‘Scientific Advisor’? What did Market Access mean and why did they keep asking about ‘the burden of illness’? Why was a Rep present at the kick off meeting? Add local, regional and global stakeholders alongside R&D, plus Comms and perhaps a Creative agency, and there seemed to be a lot of people with their own interests being addressed by the research!

For me this minefield was finally unravelled once I experienced both UK and then Global Client Business Insight roles. Suddenly exposed to the different roles and responsibilities and working closely with my internal stakeholders (my buddies in fact) as well as those beyond, allowed me to gain inside experience of why and where business questions came from and the wide-ranging needs individuals had in order to progress in their own role. I could really begin to understand why some decisions seemed to take a long time, or why objectives seemed to evolve beyond their starting point. There was clearly more to it than what initially met the eye and I quickly learnt that it was critical to continually engage with internal stakeholders to achieve the best possible outcomes.

Clearly some research projects have an obvious focus – ‘Concept testing’ = a marketing focus (usually), ‘Payer decision making’ = Market Access (usually). But how about ‘market understanding’ or ‘patient segmentation’? In my experience, it is extremely rare for a market research project to touch only one stakeholder in a business and often the implications of the project are a lot more far reaching than first anticipated.

Engaging with, and listening to all stakeholders as early as possible and maintaining this interaction throughout the research really is key to the success of a project. Accessing their personal knowledge and hypotheses as well as understanding their challenges and business questions can ensure we design an approach which maximises the value of the research to as many people as possible. Keeping a dialogue open throughout the process ensures we ‘listen’ to each other’s viewpoint in an iterative way and can evolve our approach accordingly. Personally, I love a project where we really are working as partners with our clients and engage in dialogue throughout to work towards an optimal goal, because that is when I see business decisions and potential strategic direction starting to be raised at the debrief as a direct result of the insights we are providing at the time – that is where as a Market Researcher I can feel proud of our work.

The role of the Business Insight client and the research agency is to ensure all appropriate stakeholders are aware of research, have a voice and opportunity to participate in decision making and ultimately learn something which allows them to take positive action. It is also important, of course, to respect the core business need and so some prioritisation is required along with stakeholder management. This is no mean feat and may require a great deal of time and patience. For the best results, it cannot be rushed or shortcuts made. Face to face meetings (or a webcam switched on!) can encourage all stakeholders to open up and have their voice around the table. Listening to an individual’s take on the objectives at the kick-off meeting for example is very enlightening and means we can develop something valuable to the widest group possible (mindful of the scope of the research). Listening and understanding their killer questions and hypothesises really do matter.

I like to project my past colleagues into current scenarios to enable me to bring them to life with a client hat on. What would Russ have needed for his forecast? How would Marjorie ask me about to describe a patient suitable for her yet to be launched product? What would Miranda need to demonstrate to Payers in terms of burden of disease? What would the Reps really feel comfortable saying to their customers about suitable patient types in a face to face meeting?

It is vital to the success of a project that all key stakeholders get what they need in a format that works for them to drive action in the business, and to do something different in their job. This requires a certain level of flexibility and at HRW, we pride ourselves on delivering tailored outputs that are based on truly understanding and listening to where and how the results will be used and by whom. We fully appreciate that it differs based on the stakeholders and take pride in recognising this in our approach to research from beginning to end. Our success is our clients’ success and that goes far beyond one single stakeholder!

By Victoria McWade

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