Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

McDonald’s aimed its advertising at parents for many years before someone got the idea to advertise directly to their kids instead. Their notion was that the children would relentlessly pester their parents to take them to McDonald’s for Happy Meals, visits with Ronald, and the like. Another industry saw how well that plan worked and copied it when the opportunity arose. For many years pharmaceutical companies had been restricted by law to marketing only to doctors. The law changed in 1997 when the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration allowed prescription drug companies to make their sales pitches directly to the consumers. The Direct-to-Consumer television advertising spend is now a $30 billion a year industry. Why? Because the ads work so well that consumers ask their doctors for prescription drugs by name, helping pharmaceutical companies post $600 billion in sales last year (the top five all had revenues of more than $50 billion each on branded drugs). Detractors call Direct-to-Consumer drug marketing “selling sickness.”

You have two choices

Asking for a specific medicine seen advertised on television with images of happy, healthy people is one approach. (Have you noticed how no one in the pretty pictures of people enjoying themselves is ever sick?)

Another is to have healthcare professionals begin by conducting a thorough, expert examination. Next, they determine the cause of our problems and finally, prescribe the best treatment plan for us.

Consumers who self-diagnose use the doctor only as an enabler who will write a prescription

People who buy research by self-prescribing what type of study is needed to achieve their goals and objectives are nearly as arrogant.

The university wanted a customer satisfaction survey for a campus café 

When research buyers have predetermined what they want (I want a satisfaction study, we need some focus groups, etc.), most vendors will gladly sell them what they asked for by name, even when it is not the best solution.

Research sellers should begin by determining if what you’re asking for is what you really need, but they rarely do. What research buyers should be hearing from research sellers are alternative ways to conduct studies that meet their real needs, and the strengths and weakness of each, but they don’t.

The sale is the most important thing and most research sellers will do nothing to jeopardize it

One of the strategies most salespeople believe in is “avoid over-educating the prospect.” Many believe the fewer facts you have, the easier you are to manage. This is one of the reasons why so many research salespeople refer to themselves as Client Relationship Managers. Most of us know another fundamental principle of successful selling is “Once you’ve made the sale, stop selling.”

Those who sell you research you don’t need are enablers

The term enablers is commonly used in addiction treatment programs. It refers to people who support the bad habits and dysfunctional behaviors of others by looking the other way and ignoring any discussion of long-term consequences.

The “solution” research buyers ask for is all too often not the research they need to help solve their business problems. Many research sellers avoid discussing this. Only the best ones take the time to dig deeper to get to the root of the matter and recommend research that meets clients’ real needs, not what they asked for by name.

I favor mild interventions over enabling

Interceding in the best interests of clients is becoming intentionally involved in their situations in order to improve them. Instead of passively agreeing to provide the university officials with what they had asked for by name, I asked them to tell me about their business. You’ve already guessed one of the things they told me: they were losing money. I suggested that before anything else, we ought to have some experts take a closer look at your operation.

There is certainly a relationship between satisfaction and profitability…

(But you wouldn’t want one without the other. What good are happy customers if you’re struggling financially?)

…and when you become more effective and efficient at producing and delivering your products and services, both profitability and satisfaction increase

Before we talk about what kinds of studies might be helpful, let’s take a closer look at the café itself. Let’s put some trained observers in place for a few days and let them do their thing – look at everything, exclude nothing, overlook nothing, and make detailed notes. It will be quick and inexpensive and we will learn enough to make some well-informed decisions about our next steps.

My report

There is a large well-lit room with rows of tables and chairs for two hundred people

Along one wall is a single cafeteria line where servers behind the counter dish up lunch. The server at the first station puts the customer’s choice of today’s entrees in a styrofoam clamshell container and hands it to the second, who does the same with side orders and hands the box to the third, who does the same with soups and salads, then passes it to the dessert tray. The fifth and final customer-facing employee, also behind the counter, handles payments.

Daily at lunch there is a long line of people at the entrance to the serving area

Classes all dismiss at the same time and students head for the only on-campus eating place. Several dozen office workers have learned to arrive just before the students get out of class to avoid long wait times. The cafeteria looks like the long lines of slow traffic we encounter at highway construction areas. The line is quick two or three dozen people long.

Today’s Menu

One reason for the long, unproductive wait times is that when customers get to the servers, they don’t know what they’re going to order because they don’t know what today’s menu choices are. There are no signs, so people have to ask, “What’s that?”

  • Most customers spend between ten and twenty minutes standing in line before arriving at the first server and the wait is as much as 30 minutes during peak congestion times. Add five more minutes to get to the end and pay.
If there were signs listing today’s entrees, sides, soups, salads and desserts every few feet or so along that that line, customers would:
  • Have something to read and talk about.
  • Have the opportunity to decide in advance what they want.
  • Be ready to order when their turn came to be served.
  • Become informed decision-makers.

After installing the daily menu signs, customer wait times dropped by half and café revenues increased 

Relocating the utensil and condiment stations to a separate area beyond the cashier also reduced congestion and sped up service times, as did bringing back-room employees out front to help serve customers during the busiest times. None of these things were rocket science, but they had been invisible to the café operators and employees because they had never done them any other way. For trained observers, the logjams were there in plain sight. As efficiency improved, those who had long ago opted for off-campus lunches started returning when they learned how much the service had been upgraded.


They needed something other than the satisfaction study, they asked for by name. Remember, their core issue was that they were losing money. The same approach works when trained observers take a closer look at what goes on behind the scenes. Before you aks for any research by name, you should ask an outsider to take an objective look at your operation. It’s just like Yogi Berra nearly said: “You can learn a lot just by looking.”

Corporate research budgets are foolishly squandered when marketers ask for the wrong kind of research and enablers sell it to them 

Are the people your company buys research from enablers or people who expertly diagnose your research needs and present you with viable alternatives?

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