Getting the Best from Your Marketing Research Agency

How to select a marketing research agency

MARKETERS who have an informed awareness about marketing research and the resources to utilise it are in an enviable position. They have the potential to make use of relevant, timely and accurate information to make more effective marketing decisions.

To help you better realise that potential, a useful guide in the research process might be:

Stage 1: Do You Need a Marketing Research Agency?

Marketers would not dispute the need to do their homework before they can achieve effective marketing. Most face the problem of not having the opportunity to conduct marketing research when they really need it. But before you plunge into the research process with a third party, you have to decide if it is necessary to do so.

You may not need professional assistance. If your research needs are simple enough, there could be government and commercial publications, for example, which would provide the specific information you require. Or the necessary costs (fee, time, etc) might not justify the need for professional research assistance because the cost of getting it wrong is low.

Most of your research needs, however, would probably have to be left to the professionals as your requirements are probably too complicated for non-researchers. Invalid research can lead to incorrect marketing decisions which can be costly

Stage 2: Do You Have the Resources and Time?

If you decide that you need a research agency, you would need to have enough time and budget. As a rough guide, you will need at least a few thousand dollars for relatively uncomplicated research. If the research is straightforward, you may not need an agency.

Without sufficient time, research cannot be of good quality or even possible. All the money in the world cannot get you findings that you "needed yesterday". You must be able to give the selected agency at least a number of weeks, if not months, or be prepared to pay a premium if the agency has to stretch its resources to meet your tough deadline.

Stage 3: What are the Possible Agencies?

Given that you have the resources and the time, how would you search for the most suitable research agency for your particular needs? Do you contact the agency whose name somehow rings a bell or because your company has had previous dealings with them? Perhaps you would contact a friend or an associate to get the name of the agencies she knows?

Since your needs and circumstances might be different or change, it would be better to make a systematic search for the agency that is best for you even if you are a regular marketing research user. There is probably no one agency that is suitable for all your requirements and means; increasing your chances for getting your best agency for a particular requirement is therefore crucial.

A simple way is to look up the telephone directory. For example, all the major agencies are listed under "Market Research and Analysis" in the L-Z volume of the Yellow Pages Commercial l Industrial Guide.

Stage 4: Letting the Agency Know Your Requirements

The moderator may assess the discussions with the research team. Interpretation from more than one researcher helps to reduce individual subjectivity which can be a problem in qualitative research. Report preparation is done with the research objectives in mind in order that directly relevant marketing solutions may be generated.

Stage 5: Presentation of Key Findings

To let the agency know your needs, prepare a one- or two-page research brief. You can conveniently fax your requirements to the agencies you have shortlisted. Drafting the research brief also helps you to better focus on your requirements. A typical brief, which need not contain potentially sensitive information, might have points on:

  1. Background. A brief account of the circumstances leading to your present need for marketing research.
  2. Objectives. What you need to achieve.
  3. Scope. The nature of the research needed
  4. Time Frame. The deadline by which you need the report and presentation in order to allow sufficient time to act on the findings.

You should give at least one to two weeks to allow the agencies to contact you for clarifications and to submit their research proposals. More time will be needed if you want the agency representative to meet you before submitting the proposal.

Stage 5: Selecting the Agency That's Right for You

By the time your specified deadline expires, you should have several proposals to look through. You might select three to five of them after eliminating the agencies which, for example, cannot meet your deadline or budgetary constraints.

If no agency can meet your resource constraints, then be prepared to have an extra budget to cater for changes in requirements.

Based on the firm's experience and ability to work within your requirements, you might want to visit the agency you are about to appoint. It would be helpful to know the research team involved in addition to the account servicing person you will be dealing with. It is not uncommon for clients to even request for the research team's curriculum vitae.

Stage 6: Keeping in Touch with the Research Process

The more you are aware of the research process, the more likely you will be able to get precisely what you need. While the agency is obligated to keep you informed of the progress with data collection, data processing, preparation of the report and presentation, you should show interest in the progress. Not only will you know if unexpected things occur, the agency is more likely to be kept on its toes.

The particularly important stage is during the analysis for the report and the presentation you do not want to be surprised by the results. Do not, however, overdo it or the research team might end up spending more time "handling" you than doing the actual research.

Stage 7: Applying the Research Findings to Your Needs

Naturally, you do not want a fancy report and presentation which do not meet your needs. The findings will have to be easily applied to your requirements.

It is possible that after the report submission and presentation of findings, you or your management may want additional analysis of the research data already obtained.

The agency should be prepared to accede to your request if no major additional work is required. After all, we are talking about getting the best which is not the same as getting the most out of the agency

Stage 8: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Research Efforts

The result may take time to realise but you should attempt to systematically assess the effectiveness of your marketing efforts and the actual contribution made by the research. Such evaluations will enable you to be a more discerning user of marketing research to help you be an effective marketing professional.

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