Group Speak

By: Troy Nottingham
May 19, 2015

How To Pick The Research Firm That Is Right For You

There are a broad range of firms out there under the moniker of “market research” and your experience is guaranteed to vary based on the type of firm you select.

If a research firm has a phone room (meaning they conduct phone surveys) or a focus group facility, then they are primarily a data collection firm. Which means their focus and their core competency is getting people to talk on the phone or show up for a focus group. So, if you have a research department (internally) or are a research professional, this might be just the type firm you need … because you can design the survey or moderate the focus group and you can analyze the data this firm passes along.

If a research firm has no data collection component internally, then it is likely they are more focused on design, analysis and implementation. This is the firm you want if you have no or limited in-house research capability and / or little time to invest in the doing / analyzing of the research. This is also the firm you want if it is important to you that the methodology you use is designed specifically for your situation (in others words, because this type of firm doesn’t own a focus group facility, they don’t need to sell focus groups – unless it is right for your situation).

Some firms specialize in a particular industry (e.g., healthcare or technology) and have deep category knowledge. Others focus on a particular methodology (e.g., ethnography) and can bring you the latest and greatest. Still others are generalists and, by virtue of working across industries can bring constructs, wisdom and thinking from different industries to bear on each project.

The litmus test for selecting a research firm is to find out how they think, how they problem solve and how quickly they understand your situation.

    • The best way to do that is to have a conversation (phone or in-person) and outline your issues and goals. Then brainstorm together. It should be clear fairly quickly if a firm is a match for your needs and a fit with your company’s culture.
    • The worst way to do it is through an RFP.   RFPs preclude your having a discussion to determine the best approach. They also prevent you from seeing how the research firm thinks and problem solves – and doesn’t give you any sense for whether culturally there will be a good fit.

At the end of the day, while most research firms will tell you they can do it all, the important thing to remember is that not every market research firm is the same in terms of what they do well and how well what they do will fit with your needs.

Ask yourself – do you need data? Or do you need direction? Both are valid reasons for turning to research; however, they require two very different kinds of firms.