Human beings are terrible about making decisions. Our subconscious biases have a nasty tendency to get make us see the world around us in a way that may not be accurate. This can lead us down the wrong path. Choosing the wrong car, deciding to spend too much money on that one vacation or listening to your brother-in-law’s sketchy investment advice — each of us can point to a time where we made a less-than-optimal choice when the warning signs may have been staring us in the face. Worst of all, these biases take control without us even realizing it.
Decisions made in a professional setting are similar. Often, the best possible outcome may be sacrificed for one that is perceived to be less risky or the best supplier for the job may not get selected because someone from the supplier’s team may remind the procurement lead of an old flame. Sadly, in many sourcing initiatives the final decision is based on the supplier with the fewest reasons to say “no” as opposed to the one that can do the best job.
In response, companies have designed complex processes and procedures to squeeze out any element of potential bias. For those of you familiar with the federal acquisition regulations (or FAR) can attest to just how incredibly complex the simple act of buying can become. That’s why decision makers of all industries have turned to outside sources to help make sense of the rapidly changing marketplace.
It’s not a secret that sometimes analysts, editors, suppliers and publicists do their best to drive the narrative that best supports their perspective and market strengths. Buyers of all experience levels look to these sources for industry guidance and market trends. However, this becomes a problem when it’s hard to distinguish between marketing collateral and legitimate market research. To be fair, there is nothing wrong with marketing services to best suit your company’s strengths and emphasis your competitor’s weakness. A competitive supplier’s job is dependent on doing so. But a buyer’s job is to recognize the difference and have the wisdom to be able to leverage market research and supplement that data with how suppliers are leveraging their marketing collateral. Your job is dependent on being able to tell the difference.
So how can you make that distinction? While every situation will present itself differently, here are a few ways to make sure you are using the right information.
Journalistic Code. Does the source exhibit journalistic integrity? While there is nothing inherently wrong with suppliers sponsoring research, does the piece display a conflict of interest where there is a strong bias toward one supplier or view point? The report should provide a fair and balanced approach to the suppliers in the study. Consistent methodologies should be used and equally applied across all who are considered or evaluated. Watch out for a bias.
Validate the source. Where does the information come from and how was it gathered? How was it validated and what are the levels of assumption in the data? It is impossible to adequately cover many components in the market, but by listing foundational assumptions the source can make itself more credible. Is the source of the information clear and does the data make sense? Many buyers know to take a supplier scorecard with a grain of salt if the supplier has sole control of the data gathering process.
Smell test. Finally, does the source pass the smell test — do the findings make sense? Does the marketing piece provide a unique insight? Ask yourself based on your own understanding if the right market players are presented, and if not, why? Again, every situation is different and there are often perfectly legitimate reasons for something to “smell bad,” but it’s important to trust but verify.
In the end, it is up to you to determine what information you choose to include in your decision-making process. Market research and marketing collateral both can have roles in your analysis. But be clear that the roles are different. Often it is the marketing collateral that caught your eye and drew your attention to the product or solution. But it is research that is meant to give you data and evidence to support your decisions to go with a specific brand. Both have very real role in taking your program to the next level.
Don’t get caught between bad research and poor marketing initiatives. You and your company will be the worse off.