Investing in Market Research? Find Better Insights by Being a Better Client By Mike Dickerson

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The good, the bad and the ugly. A classic film or the possible outcomes of a market research project? Unfortunately, it’s both. There’s nothing that can make a research project go bad – or even ugly – faster than a lack of teamwork. Companies generally hire a market research firm to apply expertise and solutions that will help evaluate past business decisions and guide future ones. In order to get to that point, they invest a large amount of time, money, meetings, paperwork and more to get a research project approved and choose the right firm. But this care needs to extend beyond the hiring of a firm and well into the project itself in order to garner good outcomes – not bad or ugly ones.

From my market research agency perspective, we need the participation of our clients in order for us to deliver solid insights. This isn’t about personalities, and it’s not really about work habits. A solid, professional research firm won’t need hand-holding about how to ask questions or who to sample. But there is a lot of value that clients can add by being willing to collaborate on the project. Providing that internal input will help determine the quality and utility of the research insights.

Most companies are pressed for time and resources, which is why a research firm has been hired in the first place: to help with customer insights programs. However, there are still some low-resource ways in which clients can help contribute to a more successful project.

  1. Be a consultant to the consultants – this can be as simple as answering questions fully and promptly. The research team may be experts when it comes to fielding and analyzing surveys, but the internal team can provide crucial category knowledge to help better craft the survey and deliverables. Letting researchers know hypotheses about the market before they begin analyzing the data will help to improve the quality and specificity of insights.
  2. Focus on substance, not just logistics – too often, kickoff calls with clients merely focus on issues of scheduling, budgeting and timelines. Companies should carve out time when communicating with their research team to provide substantive feedback in addition to logistical coordination. We suggest assigning this task to someone internal up front, when the project starts.
  3. Be the voice of the stakeholder – as researchers, we like to think of ourselves as providing “the voice of the customer” to our clients. Similarly, in project meetings, part of the client role is to clarify not just the goals of the research, but the people and departments that requested it in the first place. The research team needs to know who will use the research and how they will use it.
  4. Advocate for good research practices – any external research team will love their client if that client is willing to help get internal stakeholders on board with good research practices. Is there a different, better way to get at the insights? Our recommendation is that clients aren’t guided by inertia – instead, they should work with their research team to develop a methodology that can be advocated to the internal team.
  5. Push back against the research team – this is a collaborative process, but the best way to accomplish end goals is for the client to advocate for their needs. The client ultimately knows its organization’s goals better than any external consultant or vendor, so the best clients speak up if things seem like they are going in a direction that won’t clarify the most critical problems or identify the most lucrative opportunities.

Being a good client is not about having a winning personality or the largest research budget. Instead, what researchers want out of their clients is someone who is willing to invest their time in the research project. We’ve been hired us to help find important answers and we’d like to do that. The best way for us to do our jobs often begins with a better understanding of how our clients and their colleagues do their jobs. A willingness to spend just a few extra hours at critical project phases – brainstorming the best solution to a thorny questionnaire issue or the best way to tailor the report to your specific audience -can make a huge difference in getting actionable, high-quality, and relevant insights.

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