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The current economic crisis has put many companies in a bind: Aside from revenue shortfalls, companies are seeing drastic changes in consumer behavior. Whether it’s a switch to online-only commerce, customers dialing back spending on “nice-to-have” items, or changes in merchandise selection (or services, if you’re a B2B company), the current COVID-19 crises has markedly changed how businesses operate. At InterQ, we’ve seen an uptick in companies seeking out market research services as they seek to understand the changing tastes of their customer base. If you find yourself in a similar situation, before you hire a market research firm, ensure you have a checklist to tick-off before hiring a firm. Below is a breakdown of key competencies that top market research companies have in common.

Top market research company trait #1: Mix of qualitative and quantitative methodologies

You may not know what methodology your firm needs to best understand your consumers, but likely, it’s a combination of “what are the trends?” and “what are people thinking/how are they behaving?” These two questions require different approaches – quantitative and qualitative market research. Not all market research firms handle both; in fact, some only specialize in quantitative research (surveys, for example), whereas other firms only conduct qualitative research (focus groups, in-depth interviews, online panels). Though a quantitative-only or qualitative-only firm may have partners they can outsource their research to, ideally, you’ll want to find a firm that can handle both, in-house. Why? Because the team will be more integrated and can work together. Often there is not a strict dichotomy between qualitative and quantitative methods. The questions used in the survey can inform or enhance the questions asked in qualitative research, or a survey may be deployed after the qualitative research to test if trends hold across a larger population. The point is optimal integration between teams, and this is best accomplished if the firm specializes in both quantitative and qualitative – and has specialists in-house who can do both.

Top market research company trait #2: Specialized qualitative recruiting

For qualitative research, one of the key factors that can make or break a project is the quality of the recruiting – meaning, can the firm find the appropriate people to interview? Many companies work strictly off of recruiting databases. These are opt-in panels where people willingly register and sign up to be part of a research project. Though this may seem like a good idea, it tends to attract people who are seeking out extra income sources and are biased toward research. Avoid companies that only work off of qualitative panels. If you’re doing B2B research, you’ll want highly specific job titles and roles, and you will have a hard time finding a database panel with the population you’re looking for. As you’re vetting market research companies, ask them about their qualitative research recruiting capabilities for respondents. Do they offer custom recruiting? Can they provide references who attest to the quality of their respondents? Without having people to speak to who exactly fit your target persona, your qualitative research project will have limited success, so ensure a market research firm has custom recruiting capabilities.

Top market research company trait #3: Client experience

The third factor to look at when vetting top market research companies is their book of clients. Who have they worked for in the past? Have they done research for companies that are in an industry similar to yours? Do they have experience with large clients and small clients? If large companies (think: publicly traded or well-known and respected) trust a market research firm, chances are, the company did their due diligence and can attest to the quality of the firm’s work. Ask to see the market research firm’s client list, and request case studies before you hire them.

Finding a top market research firm may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Start with these three big questions as you’re vetting firms, and you’ll find that it will narrow down your pool of choices. Be sure to ask for client references before engaging a firm. Happy researching!

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