The complexity and the importance of sponsorship relationships require more sophistication and depth of insights.
In over 20 years in strategic marketing, a lot of things have changed but the constant we’ve seen in every successful company that keeps evolving and thriving is that they put a lot of effort into understanding their customers.
Through our recent research study¹ we learnt that service is critical for sponsor satisfaction but, too often, there is a disconnection between what sponsors expect from rights holders and what rights holders think is good enough.
Sponsorships are getting more complex by the year and, the higher the investment, the higher the degree of customisation that is required to both the rights and the service offering. So it’s crucial for rights holders to have adequate research in place to understand their sponsors more deeply and adjust and improve what they offer them.
Why researching sponsor satisfaction and service quality is important.
- Producing satisfaction and service quality insights is not only a way to find out if you did a good job or not. It is the first step to spotting new opportunities, new ways of generating value for sponsors and creating the ground for long-term partnerships, but also to increase the commercial department’s efficiency.
- Reactively fixing issues is disruptive, more costly and prevents you from planning effectively. Instead, regularly researching satisfaction produces the insights to protect your sponsorship revenue. You don’t want to know that things aren’t working when sponsors have already decided to look elsewhere.
- Proactivity builds trust. It is one of the main traits that sponsors value in a rights holder. Regularly asking for feedback, and adjusting accordingly, makes them feel reassured that there is the willingness to prevent issues and work in their best interest.
So, why aren’t self-administered surveys the best option?
When dealing with partners who are heavily invested, who require substantial activation or that are strategically important, using surveys is likely to yield superficial insights. Also, those insights can be unreliable and, therefore, risky material to base any managerial decision on.
- A lack of impartiality. Latent fear of judgement, existing issues you don’t want to raise, personal dynamics and internal hierarchies are all factors that influence the research design, data gathering and analysis. Typically, this results in critical questions being omitted – or inadvertently reframed in a leading way – and awkward answers being avoided or softened by the sponsors. Such a close relationship between parties makes objectivity very difficult.
- Anonymity obstructs understanding. To counter the risk of sponsors not giving honest answers, or not taking part at all, we’ve seen instances in which rights holders allow anonymous responses. Anonymity, in this case, doesn’t necessarily produce more honest answers or a higher completion rate. But it does make it impossible to weigh the answers and attribute issues. Was it feedback from a senior decision-maker or a junior account executive? From your most valuable and newly signed sponsor or the least valuable and already on their way out?
- Surveys don’t capture the complexity of the sponsorship relationship. Regardless of who answers the survey, researching sponsor satisfaction is not just a matter of compliance or making sure that you delivered what was promised. That’s what contracts are for. You need to measure your ability to provide sponsorship value and understand what you need to do to keep delivering and increasing that value. You need in-depth explanations and the ability to dig deeper, which is what short surveys with a few ‘rate us from 1-10’ questions cannot provide.
What’s a suitable alternative to produce actionable insights?
First of all, we need to have very clear in mind what we are looking for in a research project. That is to gain specific, in-depth, unbiased insights. You need this research to be reliable and actionable.
In-depth interviews are the best option to provide rich insights. Therefore, it is important that these don’t become a mere exploratory exercise. Hovering on the surface is of no use if you are looking to improve.
In sponsorship, the interpersonal relationships can be close, so it is important to hire third-party research experts who can reduce the risk of bias. They need to understand the criticalities and the dynamics between sponsors and rights holders and design effective research.
Interviews should produce both quantitative and qualitative data sets. Quantitative data will allow you to benchmark differences between sponsors and verify improvement in the future. Rich qualitative data will explain why there are performance gaps and will help you identify how to close them.
Research with sponsors should work both at an individual level and across all sponsors. It needs to support account managers in their day-to-day improvements, as well as let senior managers see the bigger picture and spot opportunities to improve processes and increase the value of the sponsorship value proposition.
An innovative solution to measure service quality and sponsor satisfaction
We said earlier that sponsors like proactive rights holders. By taking a scientific approach to sponsorship satisfaction and service quality you can make a huge leap forward in showing your commitment to helping them succeed.
Through our study in partnership with Loughborough University London, we have established a statistically sound model to measure sponsorship service quality¹ as the quantitative framework to dig deep into the causes of dissatisfaction. We are now making this new research methodology available to rights holders through our independent research service called Sponsor View.
Adding Sponsor View as part of your processes doesn’t only mean using science to produce reliable, independent insights that help you protect and increment your revenue, but shows a high degree of proactivity and builds trust with sponsors through innovative and professional service.
¹’What drives service quality in sponsorship’. A global research study conducted between 2018-2021 by Millharbour Marketing and Loughborough University.