People & Technology: Finding Balance in ResTech

A lot of businesses in the ResTech sector are great at tech. A lot of businesses in the sector are great at people. The issue is, I’d wager too few are truly great at both. Companies will have to balance people and emerging research technology if they want to succeed moving forward.

Striking the right balance in combining people and technology is hard, and even harder to do really well. Often companies are torn between wanting to be positioned as a technology business versus trying to capitalize on opportunities and revenue that frequently requires a service component. How much do you lean into one or the other, and what are the implications on your addressable market, your margin profile and, ultimately, your ability to drive revenue?

Tech is first and foremost an enabler

Increasingly, winning companies are those recognizing that it is the “team” and first-class customer service (commonly known in technology circles as “customer success”) that are the differentiators; with user experience defining the achievements of a brand or company, whether it be B2B or B2C.

Those businesses that focus too heavily on technology, especially for technology’s sake, forget it is primarily an enabler to deliver a desired outcome. This outcome could be to achieve a faster result, complete tasks more efficiently, offer something at greater scale, or obtain broader and deeper insights.

Don’t lose sight of the last yard

The results are impactful, but the reality is it is usually a human that takes the insights and decides on the next course of action. It’s vital we, as a sector, don’t lose sight of who makes this last yard and continue to invest in the capabilities and skills a modern operator in research needs. We must put the human experience into the process to deliver the best outcomes.

As an industry, we need to find the balance between using technology intelligently and where it actually adds value. The best companies are those that wrap customer-obsessed people (and thinking) around the technology trends, to act as conduits between tools and outcomes.

Tech is no longer the differentiator

The market research sector has traditionally been fairly binary in its thinking; either you are primarily a serviced-based proposition or a tech-enabled (increasingly ‘SaaS’) proposition. However, the reality today is that almost every company out there is tech-enabled in some way. This is no longer a point of differentiation or a strong enough pull for a buyer. Companies need to do more to stand out from the noise and demonstrably evidence their unique selling points or USPs.

Perhaps a more logical way to think about business is not whether one uses technology or not, but how they are using it and to what impact. Clients want positive outcomes and value delivered (however that is defined relevant to the problem they are solving). The bells and whistles of a product are rarely the wow factor for clients, it is what the technology does for them that really matters.

Key trends in ResTech, the shift to a subscription model

Once that equilibrium between tech and people has been reached, it becomes a very powerful proposition. It can unlock different opportunities and revenue models. Arguably the use of technology (‘ResTech’) in the market research sector hasn’t yet flowed through to how the sector buys and pays for it. Other tech-enabled and Software as a Service (SaaS) propositions in different industries are usually sold on a subscription basis, in annual, up-front contracts, bundling up usage and customer support within it.

Until now, market research subscription models have lent more towards Pay As You Go (‘PAYG’) or project-based, non-recurring work. But one way for ResTech to drive more value and command the same attention, multiples and longevity as its counterparts, is to shape propositions around recurring revenue models and usage subscriptions. It encourages longer-term relationships with the benefit of allowing all parties to “invest” in the partnership, to create mutually beneficial value, rather than short-term events and thinking.

Suppliers can invest more into the product and people to support contracts, while clients get predictable terms and service level agreements to support their goals. This isn’t without its challenges, not least because it requires a considerable mindset shift for many.

To minimize the impact of this attitudinal shift, one school of thought is to build and evolve propositions, to offer clients the choice. Put the power in the customers’ hands to allow them to dictate whether they want to conduct projects ad hoc, or to subscribe on an ongoing basis. The best products can be entirely self-serve or Do-It-Together (‘DIT’), for those who just want the raw technology; or fully supported by a team of experts.

It’s these new models that I’m most excited about, and more widespread adoption will benefit all, ensuring solutions are fit for purpose in the months and years ahead. But whether self-serve or DIT, it’s paramount to understand that needs will evolve over time. So, the best and most lasting solutions will be those that are built to flex alongside their customers.