Questions you should ask when selecting a qualitative research firm

consultantI’m asked all of the time, what’s the best way to find the right research firm for my needs?  Here are six basic questions that we believe can assist any company, experienced or inexperienced in selecting a qualitative research firm, in making the best choice:

Will your firm turnkey the project from focus group facility to participant recruitment to moderating?  If not, what other subcontractors will you have to use?

Researchers who have the ability to handle as many of the different aspects to your research project typically can deliver a greater degree of success by the project’s end.  Firms that do not internally possess the resources to turnkey the project have to hire other firms or individuals who will, ultimately, have an impact on the overall success of the project.

Who, specifically, is going to do the work?

As with any service-oriented business, the people actually doing the work will have the greatest impact on the project’s success or failure. That’s why it’s often said that you hire the people, not the company.

Meet the key players upfront so you can more clearly evaluate the firm’s ability to deliver. It matters little that senior members of the firm are well-known industry leaders if they are not going to be involved in your project.

If the researcher you’re thinking on selecting uses sub-contractors, ask to meet and interview them as well.  Many times the lead researcher’s ability to successfully deliver the project rests in the hands of someone who he or she may have little to no direct control over.

Establish your expectations for outcomes and process at the start. Make sure you are comfortable with how the firm responds to your expectations.  Also, evaluate how well those working on the project fit with your work style and company culture. Many projects have gone bad because the client team and the research team couldn’t work well together, even though the actual work done by everyone involved was top-notch.

After the project is completed, what are your deliverables?

Most qualitative researchers offer a variety of reporting approaches ranging from written report (toplines, executive summaries, full report, etc.) to in-person presentations.  The type of reporting will vary depending on your needs and pricing considerations.  At the end of the project your organization should have learned more about how your customers feel in a way that aligns your marketing efforts with the needs of your customers.

What type of participant recruitment will you perform or have a sub-contractor perform?

In some cases when focus groups are utilized, those recruited can be ‘professional participants’ (as the industry calls them), or participants who are used over and over by research firms and recruiters.

Ask the researcher if their recruiter uses a database and, if so, how will they reassure you the participants will not be professional participants.

What is your philosophy of moderating?

The answer should be in line with the client’s general approach to marketing research and also align with the client’s corporate culture and with the type of product or service being researched.  For example, if the client firm is a staid, no-nonsense company, its in-house researchers may not be comfortable with a moderator who uses a variety of exploratory projective techniques.

Here are my project objectives — what would be the best qualitative approach to accomplish them?

Keep an open mind as to which is the best methodology: focus groups, in-depth interviews or ethnography.  Think about your customers — how they can be reached best and how well would they respond to each methodology?  A strong qualitative researcher, not only has all of the resources to deliver either or all of these methods, but should be able to consult with you and help you identify the best methodology (or combination of them) for your project.

Once the firm has outlined the general approach, insist it relate the specific techniques to be used directly to the research objectives. This does two things for you: 1. Confirms that the firm fully and correctly understands the research objectives.  2. Allows you to assess the firm’s ability to think strategically and its understanding of the application of the findings to your business.

A research firm that understands your company’s strategy and business issues will provide you with insight that you can actually use. Look for a firm that begins with the end in mind—a firm that sees the end not as the report they will deliver but the execution of the strategy developed using the research. That approach will allow them to provide the right information in the right form for you to make better decisions.

We’re ready

Thinking about selecting us?  We’re ready to answer these or any other questions you might have.