6 things to consider when hiring a market research agency

6 things to consider when hiring a market research agency

Success in B2B requires smart decisions. Market research helps take the guesswork out of decision-making, giving you evidence in the form of data and insights.

It can reveal what’s important to your customers and how to win business from prospects. That matters in B2B because out of frequent customers, 80% will switch if providers don’t meet their expectations, according to Accenture.

Make the right decisions and you can improve your market share, persuading competitors’ customers to choose you instead. Make the wrong decisions and buyers will be quick to change providers.

That’s why market research is important. However, that doesn’t always mean you need an agency – when the budget is tight, in-house research could be a viable alternative.

But in B2B, in-house research is challenging for several reasons:

  • The decision-makers you need to interview often have several gatekeepers, so you need to engage with lots of internal stakeholders to reach the right people.
  • They are often senior, busy, and bombarded with requests. Building trust and getting their buy-in also takes a long time.
  • B2B marketing and sales strategies are often time-sensitive. Slowing the research process has hidden costs, such as stalling innovation or slowing your time-to-market.
  • Even with great in-house research expertise, you lack independent analysis and context, which are critical to creating a great strategy.

Using a market research agency can not only save you time, it can give you more accurate answers to help solve your business challenges.

That said, while some agencies will provide outstanding results – and help you action them – others will only give you average ones, while some will produce bad answers.

To maximize your chances of getting outstanding results, we believe the six things worth considering when hiring a market research agency are:

  • Expertise and specialization
  • Track record and references
  • Methodological proficiency
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Tools and technology
  • Pricing
Contents

#1 Expertise and specialization

#2 Track record and references

#3 Methodological proficiency

#4 Communication and collaboration

#5 Tools and technology

#6 Pricing

 

 

#1 Expertise and specialization

To get the best answers for your business objectives and research questions, it helps if your research partner fully understands your business and the intricacies of your sector.

Otherwise, there’s a risk that the agency will make too many generalizations throughout the project, likely leading to some vague or non-specific answers at the debrief stage.

For example:

  • If the researchers aren’t very familiar with your industry, then the questions they include in the topic guide or questionnaire could be too broad
  • When analyzing the results, they could miss specific points or key nuances because they don’t understand all the terminology
  • Crucially, there is a risk that they will recruit the wrong respondents at the fieldwork stage and there’s no way you’ll get the right answers if that happens

Therefore, take care to choose an agency with expertise conducting research in your sector and specialized knowledge so that their team understands the topics.

For instance, we specialize in business-to-business research only, rather than consumer insights, and have successfully run hundreds of projects for global B2B brands. We have specialist expertise in B2B sectors such as AEC, financial services, industrial, IT hardware, logistics, and SaaS.

We also know how to find genuine, senior B2B decision-makers who provide answers our clients can trust. Only an agency specialising in B2B can do this because these respondents are very rarely on research panels.

#2 Track record and references

Linked to this, consider the agency’s track record in their area of expertise.

They may claim to be the very best in a specific niche of market research, but until they can provide evidence of their success, it’s a hollow declaration.

There should be references listed on their website from satisfied clients and perhaps some case studies of work for clients in your sector. If not, ask for these – the agency should be able to provide some.

If you’re considering a relatively new market research agency then there may not be much of a track record to view or any references on their website.

That doesn’t necessarily need to rule them out though – their team could have had long careers in research already, so just ask for the directors’ biographies.

Also, check that the agency is listed in an independent directory such as the Market Research Society or ESOMAR.

#3 Methodological proficiency

Broadly speaking, if an agency does both quantitative and qualitative research then they should have the means to answer your business questions.

The former usually involves online surveys, while the latter often uses in-depth interviews or a focus group, online or offline. Other useful methodologies include secondary research and social media listening.

However, there are different types of quantitative and qualitative research techniques. For example, your objectives may need statistical or trade-off analysis to get the most accurate answers if respondents are struggling to articulate why they think or behave a certain way.

Larger agencies may have separate departments for each research methodology, i.e. a quantitative research team and a qualitative one. Each will be an expert in their own methodology.

Perhaps that’s what you’re looking for, but there are some potential drawbacks:

  • On a project with several phases, the agency may pass you from one team to another, so they’ll lose continuity and familiarity with your business.
  • The teams may have separate targets and recommend the more profitable market research services for your project even if it’s not necessarily the best fit for your requirements.

In contrast, a more boutique agency should be more agile, with the same team working on your project from start to finish and no handovers.

Our researchers are experts in both quant and qual. In addition, we’re methodology-neutral, only recommending the approach that best fits our client’s specific research objectives – whether that’s to explore the buying process, brand tracking or anything in between. 

#4 Communication and collaboration

When selling a project, every market research agency tends to be communicative and collaborative.

They want to win your business, so they’ll be responsive to your queries. And if you’re not sure how the research should be designed to meet your objectives, they’ll work with you to come up with a solution.

But for many market research agencies, once the project starts, that’s when they become much less communicative and collaborative. Some try to spend as little time on the project as possible, aiming to make their work as efficient and profitable as possible.

The risk is that they’ll leave you in the dark and out of the loop to a large extent until the results are ready. But if the results don’t meet your needs, it may be too late to do much about it at this stage.

If you haven’t worked with an agency before, it’s hard to know in advance how well they’ll communicate. However, at the proposal stage, you could insist on the following where relevant (we offer these as standard on our research projects):

  • Kick-off workshop
  • Stakeholder interviews
  • Weekly update calls or emails
  • Review calls at key milestones
  • Interim analysis updates

In terms of collaboration, if the end goal of brand research involves creating marcomms or new product concepts, you may want to get involved in the agency’s analysis process. Ask upfront if this is something they’re happy with.

#5 Tools and technology

In its simplest and purest form, primary research usually involves asking your target market questions and analyzing the answers using different methodologies.

But the reality is more complicated and to get the most accurate results, agencies tend to use tools and technology to extract important, hidden insights.

For example, we use a range of smart tools on our projects including ‘in the moment’ data capture, data science and statistics, A/B testing, projective techniques, and more.

As part of their proposal, research agencies should tell you about the tools and technology they’re planning to use – but crucially, why and what the outcome will be.

But the value of research partners lies in a consultative approach focused on the end goal. At the proposal stage, be wary of any agency focusing more on the tools and technology they’re planning to use rather than the results or outcomes they’ll deliver.

Watch out for res-tech providers that use expensive technology just for the sake of it, or consultants charging full rates when they’re planning to use AI for most of the project.

#6 Pricing

Last but by no means least, pricing will likely play a part in your decision when choosing a market research company.

Assuming you’re picking the right agency based on the five considerations mentioned so far, then they should be worth the price they’re quoting. However, bear in mind that the larger agencies may be more likely to charge a premium.

International research projects tend to be more expensive due to the extra costs involved in finding and incentivizing respondents in several markets. And while you can do great market research on a budget, at the same time, you get what you pay for when trying to take shortcuts.

If an agency says they can get 50 C-suite decision-makers at large companies to take part in a study for an incentive of $10 each, think again. In what world would genuine, well-paid, senior decision-makers agree to that?

Beyond recruitment costs, some agencies will have set fees that they charge for their more standardized projects. If you have a limited budget, they’re less likely to offer the flexibility needed to accommodate this.

In contrast, all our projects are bespoke. We can tailor the work to meet different budgets and we also offer flexible pricing e.g. on a modular basis.

Summary

To maximize your chances of getting outstanding results, whether to explore the buying process or your brand health, the six things worth considering when hiring an agency are: expertise and specialization; track record and references; methodological proficiency; communication and collaboration; tools and technology; pricing.

Expertise and specialization

Therefore, take care to choose an agency with expertise conducting research in your sector and specialized knowledge so that their team understands the topics. We specialize in B2B research only, rather than consumer data.

Track record and references

Otherwise, there’s a risk that the agency will make too many generalizations throughout the project, likely leading to some vague or non-specific answers at the debrief stage.

Methodological proficiency

There are different types of quantitative and qualitative research techniques – for example, online surveys and focus groups. Larger market research companies may have separate departments for each research methodology, i.e. a qual team and a quant team. In contrast, a more boutique agency should be more agile, with the same team working on your project from start to finish and no handovers.

Communication and collaboration

At the proposal stage, you could insist on the following: kick-off workshop; stakeholder interviews; weekly update calls or emails; review calls at key milestones; and interim analysis updates. If the end goal of the research involves creating marcomms or new product concepts, ask the agency if you can collaborate on their analysis process.

Tools and technology

The value of research partners lies in a consultative approach focused on the end goal. At the proposal stage, be wary of any agency focusing more on the tools and technology they’re planning to use rather than the end results or outcomes they’ll deliver.

Pricing

Global research tends to be more expensive due to the extra costs involved in finding and incentivizing respondents across several markets. While you can do great market research on a budget, at the same time, you get what you pay for. But bear in mind that the larger agencies may be more likely to charge a premium.

Chris Wells
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