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How to get the most out of your market research agency

How to get the most out of your market research agency

By Rebecca Ironside, director of qualitative, at SPA Future Thinking.

Working with market researchers is unlike a relationship with any other agency.

While others produce items such as ads or direct mail that can be tweaked and altered; working with researchers means entrusting your business outcomes to another company. The end result is a report – not an ad or website – with findings that can’t be tweaked or altered.

On top of this, research spans several different areas of a business – which means clients often find themselves commissioning research for the first time. A lack of confidence at the briefing stage can make it harder to achieve the outcomes required.

So how can you make sure the research process – the outcomes of which can have a huge impact on a business – is as painless as possible at every stage?

Kicking off

1.    Share information.

It can be nerve-wracking to disclose budgets at an early stage, but it is useful to let an agency know the approximate size of the job in hand. Similarly, let the agency know about any hypotheses within the business that might underlie the research, as well as the business objectives and who within the organisation will need to digest the findings (as this affects final presentation). Essentially, tell us why you want to do the research and what you’d like to do with it.

2.    Take your time.

Writing a good brief isn't always simple – it's a balancing act between too much information, and far too little. A new agency doesn't need tomes – all your sales figures going back 20 years, say – but we do need a thorough background. Once you've worked with an agency for a while, the information requirements will be different, but may be more granular.

This also applies to timescales: build in enough time for the full process. Sign off can take days, on occasion, especially if there are changes to be made. And please – only tell us that something is super-urgent, if it genuinely is. Setting alarmingly close deadlines might give you something to show your boss by Friday, but it might not be what you had in mind.

3.    Tell us how you like to work.

Are you visual people, or do you prefer written outcomes? Lots of meetings? Do you prefer detailed documents or phone calls ? Let a market research agency know what matters to you. Hate long documents? Tell us!

The process itself

1.    Keep sight of the bigger picture. Pick up on things that really need changing (note: this does not usually include the colour of pie charts) and that will impact on outcomes. But be confident in the course that you are following.

2.    Keep sight of the brief and keep the goalposts static as much as possible. Investing real time in writing the brief at the beginning should eliminate the need try and shoehorn-in panicked questions which deviate from the ultimate aim of the research.

3.    Be involved. Research is intensive and outcomes matter – committing a small amount of time to be close to the process will pay dividends. Collaboration is the key: sharing business knowledge and partnering for the best outcomes.

On delivery

1.    Always make sure you feed back to your agency as fully as you can. A good debrief will help both parties work out what went well and what could have been better and will help your working relationship in the future.

As well as this, you should also feed back to other agencies that were unsuccessful in responding to the brief. Calling or meeting them to explain as fully as you can why they haven’t won can be the hardest and most awkward part of a relationship, but it is best practice.  This can also preserve good working relationships for the future.

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