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The “Better, Faster, Cheaper” Dilemma — How Sylver’s Approach is a Solve

by Jean McDonnell

I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing that the constant rally cry for “better, faster, cheaper” research is finally getting to you. If you’re like most people in the insights industry (whether you’re on the client or supplier side), you’re probably working harder and faster than you ever have in your attempt to accommodate this demand from above.

Yet, despite all your efforts, you’re likely falling farther and farther behind (or at least feeling that you are) in your ability to deliver real impact on the goals behind this request. In short, you’re being asked to move huge mountains very quickly – and all you have is a shovel.

Years ago, in my previous life as a market researcher, I used to say (politely) to my clients . . . “Well, I can promise you two of these things (cheaper and faster, even better and faster) but I can’t, in all good conscience, promise you all three.” Today, I’m a firm believer that this highly sought-after (and very much needed) trifecta can indeed be achieved. It’s just that it can’t be achieved through the same standard, currently existing client-supplier model. From all the evidence I see, the changes in today’s marketplace have pushed the old model to the breaking point; the model itself needs an innovation overhaul.

Let’s take a closer look at the situation:

  • The client perspective: Clients are experiencing tremendous and increasing internal pressure to do “more with less.” This means they are dealing with more sources and greater volumes of data, they are required to find better and faster ways to integrate, synthesize and deliver actionable, strategic direction from that data, and they are tasked to do all this with a shrinking staff and budget. These days, clients simply have more on their plate than they can deal with, and so they turn to their suppliers for help in taking some of this pressure off their shoulders.
  • The supplier perspective: Suppliers are just as affected by this pressure as they, too, are feeling the continuous squeeze to do “more with less.” Over the past 10-15 years, the supplier side of the industry has put a lot of effort into creating greater efficiencies in their systems (especially via tech-enabled solutions for collecting data and turning around results) in order to address client demands for “better faster cheaper.” These efforts have helped somewhat with the “faster” and “cheaper” sides of the equation but, according to most folks on the client side, it has been achieved mostly at the expense of “better” (quality data, deep insights, strategic implications) – which of course then negates any benefit from the other two.

The result is that clients are in pain, suppliers are in pain, and there is the inevitable blame-game going on. Clients say that suppliers are charging too much and under-delivering. Suppliers say that client demands are pushing them beyond their capacity to deliver – and to stay in business. This “pain problem” is so big that, according a recent research industry trend report (The Grit Report, Q.3 – Q.4, 2015[1]), approximately 75% of both client and supplier insight professionals agree that the industry is in need of, and headed for, a major transformation.

At Sylver, we believe we have an answer to the pain that many client-side insight professionals are experiencing. Our approach is innovative (some might say “disruptive”) compared to the traditional research approach. Importantly, our approach is made possible through the unique strengths and capabilities that our position at the nexus of market research, user experience and strategy enables us to provide. Indeed, we do not define ourselves as “researchers” per say – because research is not the only perspective and skill set we bring to the table. Rather, we describe ourselves as strategic problem-solvers who utilize research in combination with an iterative, co-creative process (a process we call “Purposeful Innovation”) to support the delivery of our clients’ growth visions.

An important caveat: With all candor, our approach is not for everyone, nor is it appropriate for every kind of research engagement. We purposefully focus our efforts in the area of exploratory and opportunity-definition types of research – areas where the stakes for achieving business growth and innovation are especially high and the need for clarity and purposeful focus are critical. But “where we play” is not the only success ingredient to our formula. Even more important is a client’s willingness to participate in a new kind of relationship – one that is based upon a model of true partnership and collaboration and which requires a greater level of engagement and participation from clients than they are likely used to under the traditional approach.

With that in mind, here’s how the nexus position of Sylver is able to meet our clients’ needs for “better, faster, cheaper.”


We all know that “better” is the ultimate goal and driver of impactful decision-making and change – and the thing most missing from today’s approach to research. Who has time for deep and thoughtful strategic design and analysis when everybody’s efforts are focused on executing?

At Sylver, we’re hard-wired to approach each project with a problem-solving mindset and a focus on the strategic end-goal (vs. stopping with a singular focus on the data findings). We spend more time than most on clarifying, aligning and designing the vision for the project (the problem in need of solving), and on uncovering the core drivers that lead to a breakthrough solution that is mutually beneficial to all (client and customers). In other words, our focused and collaborative approach unearths the issues that matter, allowing us to link insight drivers to a plan of action and hone in with greater depth, precision and speed on the “heart” of the topic while leaving out all the other information clutter and noise. We do not do data dumps.


Under the traditional model, the way clients (and all of us, in fact) are trained to use research to inform an internal initiative is through a series of one-off projects (i.e. qual first, then quant, then concept screening, etc.). With decision timelines getting shorter and shorter, this puts pressure on the client to shave weeks, sometimes months off of individual phases in order to have the information needed to meet the final decision deadline. This presumes that research HAS to be conducted as a linear, consecutive process and/or that methodologies, or pieces of methodologies, cannot be mixed and adopted to meet the needs of the project.

At Sylver, our focused approach enables us to determine, with greater specificity, the nature and type of information needed – and where/how to find it. This may mean starting with and examining information already available on the topic (i.e. internal data, secondary market/trend data, etc.), or designing the engagement to incorporate elements of exploratory (traditional phase 1 research), opportunity-definition (traditional phase 2 research) and evaluation (traditional phase 3 research) into one project. Or it could mean designing a new methodology that uniquely and efficiently meets the needs of the project. At Sylver we’ve developed four hybrid methodologies for zeroing in on and providing greater of depth of insight around specific inquiry needs. This, and our teams’ focus on “translating insight into actionable outcomes,” all help to build efficiency and momentum that result in faster decision-making.


From the mindset of the traditional research model, cost is usually evaluated on the basis of the “absolute price” of each individual research project or project phase. This says nothing of the value received from the quality of the work and/or from the amount of money actually saved (and opportunity momentum not lost) from having cut out unnecessary steps in the process.

At Sylver, we save our clients money (and therefore provide a better value overall) by delivering well against the other two components of the demand equation. For example, in 2015 we partnered with a CPG client who was embarking on a multi-phase innovation effort designed to explore, define and ultimately bring new products to market in a territory that was brand new to the organization. Our work with this client resulted in them being able to eliminate two separate pieces of research they were planning on before partnering with us (e.g. by combining the essential ingredients of exploratory, opportunity-definition and evaluative research into one project we were able to eliminate the need for additional research phases). This resulted in them being able to shave off approximately 6 months from their timeline and a budget line-item cost savings of approximately $200,000.

In the end, our clients benefit from being able to show real progress and impact against goals that previously felt unreachable. Importantly, our clients have described the Sylver approach as transformative not only for their business, but for themselves personally – reinvigorating their sense of purpose, their vision for what’s possible and their confidence in themselves in “change agents” within their organization.

As I’ve said, our innovative approach is not for everyone. It requires a level of trust, engagement and commitment to partnership that generally exceeds the traditional research model. If you should choose to enter this partnership with us in the spirit of collaboration and discovery, we can promise you an enriching and impactful experience . . . and a good deal of relief from your pain!

[1] Read the 2015 Grit Report here

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