In-depth, face-to-face methods are the way to go but not all are suitable.
Receiving sponsor feedback can be critical for rights holders to remain relevant, valuable and trusted. Having a precise understanding of what sponsors think of their offering and their service gives them the clarity necessary to improve and increase their value proposition and its competitive stance.
How to understand sponsors’ satisfaction, however, is a practice that so far has left a lot to be desired from a methodological perspective and this can be a problem when it comes to making business decisions that involve protecting all-important sponsorship revenue.
In a previous article, we’ve discussed why surveys on their own – which are often used to get feedback from sponsors – are inadequate to capture the complexity of the sponsor-rights holder relationship. Richness of information, specificity, research expertise and independence are, in fact, the fundamental aspects that self-administered surveys are unlikely to deliver making the research unreliable or difficult to action.
Richness and specificity are key
When we research topics like satisfaction and quality of service we need to understand what is important to ask. Then we need to know what is working, what isn’t, but, most importantly, why.
What to ask is something we addressed through our worldwide study in partnership with Loughborough University London, in which we defined the factors that drive sponsor service quality and satisfaction.
Understanding the causes for possible underperformance, therefore following up with the right questions, is something that quantitative research methods cannot address on their own and require a substantial part of qualitative data. But which qualitative methodology is technically feasible and which is, actually, best suited to provide the answers that rights holders need to improve their offering and service to sponsors?
Open-ended questions in surveys
As the qualitative data set is necessary to understand the complexity of sponsor satisfaction, how about simply sticking to an online questionnaire and getting sponsors to justify every answer by filling open text boxes? Would this resolve the limitations that surveys have in capturing sponsor feedback?
Only to a certain degree. You would open the possibility for sponsors to explain themselves better, but you won’t be able to probe them, clarify and frame potential issues accurately. So, it could be better than nothing, but not good enough.
The biggest drawback concerns respondent fatigue leading to a poor completion rate. Essentially, you’d be asking sponsors to find the time to write an essay. It will be time-demanding, rather unengaging and, most of all, tiring. The desire to have a higher level of detail could cost you getting no insights at all.
Provided that a topic is well defined and that the participants are selected with a high degree of homogeneity, expertly executed focus groups can produce excellent insights, but only at an exploratory level or to test broad concepts.
Researching sponsor satisfaction is, however, a matter of measuring a specific range of factors and then digging deep into the causes of underperformance or overperformance. With 6-8 different sponsor representatives per focus group session, you’d only get a limited amount of time for each participant to contribute, which is not enough to cover the vast field of sponsor satisfaction and service quality.
If your interest is purely exploratory, focus groups conducted by third-party companies will avoid researcher bias, but there are other types of biases arising on the respondent side. These include power dynamics that will prevent transparent answers and open conversation, potential feelings of disparity amongst sponsors and the risk that individuals take the lead due to their strong personality or the desire for their company’s interest to prevail.
Sponsorships can realise their full potential when customised to each company, so the one-on-one approach to sponsor feedback should be preferred.
Sponsor-sponsee review meeting
What about expanding a regular review meeting to get through the detail of service level and satisfaction?
Whilst valuable insights can be gained from review meetings alone, there will be questions you, as a rights holder, won’t feel comfortable asking and others that your sponsors won’t answer with total transparency. The interpersonal factors between you and the sponsor representatives, in fact, will be in the way of data accuracy and reliability, no matter how professional and open your relationship is. On the rights holder’s side, the bias will extend beyond data collection to influence the research design (what questions you are going to ask) and in the data interpretation at the analysis stage.
Then, besides the matter of research independence, there is a matter of feasibility. Research and analysis require specific skills that staff in the commercial department are not expected to have and a significant time commitment that they simply cannot afford.
As a rights holder, you want to use your face-to-face time with the sponsor to discuss improvement and plan ahead, not conducting in-depth interviews. You don’t want your staff to spend days transcribing, making sense of individual sponsor feedback, and cross-analysing it against all your other sponsors.
So, surveys with open-ended answers and focus groups have limitations, and whenever rights holders are directly involved in the process there is a high risk of bias that can jeopardise the reliability of findings. What are we left with?
In-depth interviews conducted by third parties remain the best possible option to get insightful sponsor feedback that managers can use to advance their offering and services. They reduce the researcher’s bias and provide a platform that facilitates the dialogue between sponsors and rights holders. However, they need to be based on a framework that works accurately, transparently and methodically for the sponsorship sector, which has not been the case so far.
The lack of a scientific approach in measuring satisfaction and sponsorship service both at the industry and the academic level is what drove us to involve hundreds of sponsors in the first study of its kind and to formulate the first statistically sound model for investigating these subjects.
Based on this model, we are now able to provide an innovative interview-based research service specific to the sponsorship industry that combines a qualitative methodology for a deeper understanding of the sponsors’ drivers and needs, as well as quantitative measurement and benchmarking for any rights holder commercial department’s continuous improvement.
Sponsor View, as well as being in-depth, independent and specific to sponsorship service and satisfaction, is conducted by research experts and sponsorship professionals uniquely placed to understand the nuances of the relationship between the stakeholders involved. This gives rights holders the benefit of unique insights and measurement, whilst showing sponsors their commitment to the partnership through a high-end, innovative research service.
¹’What drives service quality in sponsorship’. A global research study conducted between 2018-2021 by Millharbour Marketing and Loughborough University.