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A key component of testing out app designs, online services, user-flows, and UX is through market research. Often, large companies have internal teams that are solely dedicated to user research, but if their resources are tapped, they don’t have recruiting capabilities to find participants, or, if they rightly understand that there is too much internal bias with design, then they’ll look to employ market research firms who specialize in user research, qualitative research, and user testing. Interestingly enough, you would assume that Silicon Valley being – well, Silicon Valley – there would be an abundance of firms that specialize in market research. It seems, however, that so many firms are there to build the Next Big Thing, few firms have come in to offer systematic, methodologically sound market research.

If your company’s design teams, product teams, and/or marketing teams are looking to bring in outside support to help test and launch your product, here are a few things to look for when vetting market research firms in Silicon Valley.

#1: Ensure that a Silicon Valley market research firm has tech-specific experience

There are numerous firms in Silicon Valley and San Francisco that offer market research, but most of these firms tend to be generalists – they will cover everything from retail products to financial services, but not specifically tech. Market research in the tech industry is a defined niche: It requires a team that can get-up-to speed quickly on the jargon and details of a tech product, and moderators who can speak to highly technical audiences. Make sure you check out a company’s client list first – ensure they have brand credibility with large tech players.

#2: Look for a Silicon Valley market research firm that can recruit the right people

Recruiting the right participants – whether they’re consumers for an everyday tech app, or highly-specialized data scientists  –  is one of the single-biggest determinants of whether your market research project will be successful. Many Silicon Valley market research firms claim that they have strong recruiting capabilities, but they typically pull from databases of participants. These databases rarely have niche job roles and hard-to-find candidates, and there is always the issue of selection bias (people who sign up for research may not reflect the general population). Before selecting a Silicon Valley market research firm, ask if they custom-recruit or rely on a database.

#3: Find a Silicon Valley market research firm with a diverse set of research tools

Finally, when vetting market research firms in Silicon Valley, ask them about their capabilities. Do they offer user testing research? Mobile ethnographic research? (Testing apps over a period of time and getting daily feedback.) Focus groups? Surveys to validate the themes? Many market research firms rely mainly on focus groups or surveys, but their toolboxes are not creative or deep enough to handle all of the nuanced ways people may use your tech product throughout their days or weeks. In your third phase of due diligence, therefore, ask them what types of qualitative and quantitative methods they use.

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