For executive leadership in the market research industry, time is taken up by the ongoing activities that fill every professional's working day - leading the team, working with clients, managing the business, reading and writing reports. Great leaders are expected to run a tight ship efficiently on a lean budget.
Working lean has its advantages and disadvantages.
Consider this scenario:
The team is working well together, meeting tight deadlines, and moving quickly from one project to the next - just in time. Good news! A project the team thought was lost to a competitor is won and is ready for immediate attention. This good news can quickly be dampened with the realization that senior staff is fully engaged on other projects and more junior team members do not have the skills to handle the high-level work for the job.
Consider this scenario:
High-quality qualitative work is the norm for the group. Unexpectedly the firm wins business within a new vertical. The scope of this work calls for low incidence research participants. Without significant time to refresh a database or
Consider this scenario:
A long-term client has an immediate need to field a multiple-city study. Whether qual or quant, the need for concurrent fieldwork demands heavier than normal project management, operations, recruiting, and logistics. Not taking on this project could risk the valued relationship. Great client service demands the immediate expansion of the team's capabilities and capacity.
The good news is that market research firms can stay lean with effective outsourcing of research operations. Lean teams can stay ahead of the curve, and even develop a competitive edge with successful market research operations outsourcing. To get the maximum gain and avoid common pitfalls a plan needs to be put into place before it is needed.
While planning and problem-solving are two very keen skills of the professional market researcher, often those skills are used on the actual research and not on developing a plan for the rapid expansion and contraction that can happen in the demand for market research. Thinking ahead and developing partnerships that can bring value and align with a team's specific needs takes time. As you carve out time for this important work, here are 4 steps to streamline the process and make this effort a success.
Step 1: Make the shortlist
A shortlist inevitably comes from a whittled-down long list. While a shortlist is the end goal before making a final decision, casting a wider net at first can be helpful to ensure newly emerging companies or previously missed vendors are evaluated. Industry publications and trade associations are great resources for creating a long list when looking for a research partner. Many offer websites with listings categorized by specialty and service offerings, including qualitative vs. quantitative market research providers, B2B vs. consumer sample providers, focus group facilities, organizations supporting survey design, product research, and more. Allowing these directory services to do most of the sorting and qualifying work is a smart way to save time.
When a sufficiently comprehensive list has been made, start the process of removing potentials by using trusted colleagues, industry experts for their experiences and opinions. Having a list to read from can be very helpful instead of asking open-ended questions like, "What firm would you recommend?" Instead, reading through your prepared list for their commentary can save time and be more comprehensive at the same time.
Remember that past clients can be a valuable resource when evaluating a potential partner. Many companies list a handful of companies they have worked with in the past on their websites. These are often overlooked as they are seen as proof of professional legitimacy. But when those clients have been listed publicly, it is wise to ask if anyone in the team's sphere of influence can reach out to a colleague and inquire more fully.
As you make the shortlist be sure to keep the same ranking or rating scheme to evaluate each one on the same For example, an effective list could include a 1-5 scale for level of expertise, technological prowess, size of their team, number of years in business, new project lead time, etc. Whatever you evaluate, simply make sure potential partners are kept on the shortlist having been evaluated for the same qualifications that are important to the success of your business goals.
Step 2: Put out feelers
Approach the shortlist of providers and outline the research needs. Putting out feelers is far more information than preparing an RFP. The goal is to establish a light rapport from which further evaluation can be made. Being clear that consideration is being made for future work, and not for a specific project to be fielded immediately can ease the intensity of the conversation.
The goal is not simply to evaluate the potential vendor, but also to allow them to evaluate the specific needs of your team. In this way, putting out feelers is a way of starting deeper relationships only with other firms that have the potential for creating a mutually beneficial working relationship.
In this informal conversation remember that like all good qualitative research, asking better questions gets better answers. Come prepared with a shortlist of questions to guide the conversation. Be sure to encourage them to ask questions to help them identify if the partnership is a good fit for their team as well. Remember that collaborative work requires great communication. Signs they are willing to bring up concerns and potential pitfalls before an engagement is a sign of experience in quality partnership.
Step 3: Start with a trial
The benefit of establishing a trustworthy research operations partnership before it is absolutely necessary is the luxury of time to start small. Consider farming out some simple activities to a few candidates. In addition to seeing the quality of their work, this trial will illuminate their interpersonal skills and attitudes, how well they follow instructions, and how well they communicate.
Make expectations very clear. An ideal partner should share a commitment to the following fundamental values:
- to work with like-minded people who share the same high standards
- to identify potential problems quickly, take swift action, and recommend sensible solutions
- to support the research with a single point of contact who can provide daily updates against milestones
- to delegate with confidence, knowing the work will deliver the required research outcomes
Step 4: Evaluate the performance
All too often great plans are undertaken and simply not finished. Completing the first three steps to finding your most ideal partner to outsource market research operations is of no value if the work each vendor does is not evaluated. Be sure that an evaluation meeting is put on the calendar at the beginning of the endeavor and ensure adequate time is allowed for projects to be completed fully before comparative evaluation is done.
Create a list of evaluative questions that matter to your team. A few examples include:
- Is the partner candidate hard to reach or readily accessible?
- How long does it take them to respond to inquiries?
- How well do they communicate – is the project progress unclear?
- Were instructions followed?
Time is the most valuable resource.
Research leaders want to spend as much of it as possible running their business, managing client relationships, and blazing new trails. With the support of a trusted ad hoc support team, research champions can spend time pursuing what matters most to them. Invest valuable time upfront to find the right market research partner - a true ally to expand team bandwidth and accelerate business. Getting this match right will save time in the long run and drive success with each research project.
At Communications for Research, our proven process brings clarity to the execution of market research studies from initial strategy through recruiting and final delivery of outcomes.
Interested in learning more about how Communications for Research can take the stress out of your next project? Contact us today!