Archive for November, 2010

Research Techniques 2 – How to choose a research provider

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

This is the second article in a series dealing with key research techniques. In the first article we looked at the importance of creating a brief to get the best from the research process. This time we’re going to look at what is involved in selecting a supplier and receiving research proposals.

    Why use an external supplier?

For most of us, most of the time, an external research supplier enables us to outsource skills and experience that are needed for our research requirement. More often than not, this is not available cost effectively from within our organisation.

Due to the fact that in most cases the costs can be agreed at the start in the form of a contract, and you do not have to go through the learning curve that you otherwise would then outsourcing can be much cheaper in the long term.

Depending on the research that you are doing, external suppliers may have special facilities or competencies to meet specific needs. For example, they may have viewing facilities, they may have experience in online panels, they may be experienced in moderating group discussions, have field based personnel, have a call centre, be able to handle international projects and so on.

It may be company policy to bring in external suppliers. Not a bad idea. An external research provider will bring all-important, objectivity to the process. As an experienced researcher, I would still always use an external research agency as a client. When I ran an exhibition business, for example, I used a very creative research agency to provide powerful insight into visitors’ experiences when attending our shows. This included being able to estimate with a high degree of statistical confidence the value of business resulting for the exhibitors as a result of the exhibitions.

    How to go about selecting a research supplier.

If you have the time, try to identify three or four agencies to send your brief to. There are various ways to do this – you can get recommendations from colleagues, existing marketing agencies you might use, current or previous marketing tutors and so on. You can search the Internet! You can look in the Research Buyers guide. You can even look in the Yellow Pages!

Whichever route you choose, you should be looking for one or all of the following things: -

Previous experience in your sector. This isn’t always essential and, actually, I often advocate getting at least one agency to pitch that does not have experience in your sector! My reasoning is that they have no preconceptions in terms of how to approach your project and may therefore come out with a new way of tackling the objectives.

The necessary experience and skills to address your specific needs. For example, if you need qualitative research undertaken using discussion groups you need a research provider that has skills in group moderation. If you need online research, you need a provider with experience in this methodology and so on.

Sufficient resources. Make sure that your target agency has sufficient manpower to deliver your project. This does not mean that the agency needs to be overrun with people; just that they are able to evidence that they can line up the necessary resources to do your research within your timescale.

References. Is the agency any good? Ask for references and take them up. Potentially, this is your organisation’s reputation on the line. The agency you choose will directly reflect on your organisation. Think about it – they will be talking to your customers and potential customers. The way they perform is crucial.

Stability. How long has the agency been in business? What is their turnover? Are they profitable?

    The Proposal

Successful marketing research can only take place when all parties involved in the process know what is happening.

The proposal is critical to this.

Your selected agencies should present written proposals for you to consider and it is highly recommended that you get them to attend what is called a ‘beauty parade’ to formally present it to you. More on the ‘beauty parade’ in a moment.

The proposal will be based on the research brief and should provide the basis for your final choice of provider. Once you have agreed a proposal this provides a basis for a contract between you and the provider.

So what should the proposal contain?

1. The background to the research project from the agency’s perspective. This should be their understanding of your organisation and the issues that need to be researched.

2. The rationale for the research. Again the agency should play back to you the key business decisions that you need to make as result of the research project .

3. The research objectives. These should be based on the objectives that you have given the agency but would usually also be enhanced due to the experience that an agency can bring to the party.

4. The method or methods that the agency is proposing. This section will normally be very detailed and contain how the research would be conducted. It would normally include secondary and primary research methodology. The proposal should justify the methods being suggested and explain how they will address the research objectives.

5. Reporting. The proposal will state how and when reporting and presentation will be undertaken. For example, will interim reports be given? (a good approach) …and will the findings be top line results or full analysis with recommendations?

6. Timing. A detailed breakdown of stages and timescales is usually given. This enables you to clearly see what will happen and when. And, of course, that your deadlines will be met.

7. Costs. The breakdown of costs by stage is, again, usually given with a total figure.

8. Personnel details and references. The proposal should give short backgrounds on the people who will be working on your project (these people should ideally attend the beauty parade too) as well as references to previous work conducted.

9. Finally, contact and contract details will be included. This should detail who will manage the relationship and project, payment terms, data ownership and so on.


So, you will get your shortlisted agencies to present the proposals to you all on the same day. It is sensible to get the interested parties within the organisation to attend and to agree in advance the criteria upon which you will base your decision.

This enables you to score each presentation on the same basis.

So what criteria might you use?

1. How well the agency shows that they understand the brief and your organisation by converting it into a good proposal.

2. How well their personnel interact with you and your team during the meeting. Remember how important this is. If they get on well with you it is likely they will get on well with your customers.

3. How innovative are they? How well they demonstrate that they are not just going through the motions. I always like to see some evidence of creative thinking in terms of getting the best insight from research methodology.

4. Are they proposing a methodology that you think will work? Part of this tests whether the agency has explained and justified their suggestions sufficiently.

5. Does the proposal meet your requirements in terms of cost and the timeframes?

These are just a few of the criteria that you might consider as the basis for making your decision.

Ultimately, you need to be comfortable with the agency you choose. People do buy from people they trust. Given how critical research is to your organisation’s success finding the right research provider is vital.

Why research matters!

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

Why research matters!,

I recently spent a long weekend in a hired VW camper van!

Yes it was wet and cold! I did wonder what an earth I was doing!

To the point though.

The hire company – who shall remain nameless – had a key selling point in all of their publicity material – website, brochure, mention in the confirmation letter etc… This was that they provided a tea-time hamper to all those hiring their vans which would include a homemade cake as featured on GMTV.

First of all the hamper did not contain a homemade cake. It did contain some 3 glass jars containing instant coffee, damp sugar and tea bags together with a bottle of apple juice. This hamper was a rectangular wicker basket as you might expect to get your Christmas selection from Fortnum and Masons in!

Ok but what is the point? Poor delivery of a USP?


The key point is that although this may sound very appealing on a warm summer’s evening it is simply silly in a small confined living space such as found in a classic VW camper. You cannot put a large wicker hamper away anywhere! It gets moved from one end of the van to the other and back again causing considerable annoyance and using up valuable space!

So, I spoke to the company owners who saw their hamper and cake as a key offering to their customers and who were mortified that the cake had not been delivered. I accepted their apology but pointed out that their key feature was actually not a great idea in a campervan. This appeared to be a revelation to them.

The point is we need to find out from our customers what they think about our service and our products. It is not enough to wait until someone like me makes the effort to provide unasked for feedback on this and other issues.

What we think, as an organisation, is our special feature may be no more than an annoyance or worse.

It doesn’t have to cost the earth but do your research. It will pay dividends.
The VW Camper