If researchers looked at custom (primary) market research from the End User’s perspective, we would learn that in many ways they resemble customers we study for other businesses.

End Users want research results the day they determine they need them—when they are trying to address a business issue and find they need information about a group of people that isn’t available.

End Users evaluate market researchers on whether we deliver the information they need on time and within budget. Quality — the expertise, creativity and skill to produce results—is assumed, unless we demonstrate it shouldn’t be.

To End Users, “on time” means that researchers deliver results in a time frame that enables them to meet their business objectives; it is not the date researchers tell them is realistic or ambitious.

To End Users, “within budget” means the final cost does not exceed the cost researchers quoted when the project was approved, regardless of the increases due to adjustments in research objectives or target populations made afterward.

End Users don’t need to know how a car is built to drive it, or how the telephone works to use it, and they don’t need to know how research results are produced in order to use them. So, if they are dissatisfied with their custom market research, we can’t expect them to tell us how to improve.

There are two criteria that must be met for custom market research to provide value to End Users and the businesses that employ them:

  1. Results must accurately represent the target population
  2. End Users must be able to appropriately apply results to resolve the issue that prompted the research.

Market researchers usually have no qualms about accepting responsibility for the first; it is responsibility for the second that causes consternation. But if we agree that the business paying the bill does not realize a benefit unless results are appropriately applied to address the issue that prompted the research, we should look for ways to ensure that outcome. Here are a few suggestions for research suppliers:

  • Ensure that clients designate a client project manager for every custom market research project.

Ask the person requesting market research to designate a project manager for the custom market research project. The research requester should be told that the client project manager will be responsible for project coordination and for ensuring that all client tasks are performed well and on time.

A client project manager should be identified and contacted before you bid on the project. (If the company requesting market research support has its own market research department, the person requesting market research support will often be the research project manager, but that isn’t always the case. Always ensure a client project manager is designated for the project.)

  • Contact the client project manager to determine how much market research and project management experience he/she has. Do not be surprised if the answer is little or none. The less experience a client project manager has, the more support he/she will need from you.
  • Develop tools to help clients perform the most critical task in the custom market research project—Define the business issue that prompted the research request and clarify expectations for how custom market research is expected to help. Give them to the client project manager. Ideally, the client manager already has these tools, and the End User referred to them when writing the research request. Don’t count on it.

Management consultant Peter Drucker said, “Management by objectives works if you first think through your objectives. Ninety percent of the time you haven’t.” The same can be said for defining the business issue that prompts a research request.

Due to the urgency of most business issues, researchers often design methodologies and estimate project costs before clients have fully thought through the business issue and identified how research is expected to help. Providing tools that help clients define and communicate how research is expected to help their business helps them and you.

  • Give the client project manager a project timeline with client tasks highlighted. For each client task indicate the person responsible to see that the task is accomplished (the client project manager), and the person or persons expected to perform it.
  • Set up a meeting with the client project manager to review the timeline and discuss inputs and outputs expected from each client task. Suggest that the client project manager review the timeline with the research sponsor/requester, and other business associates as appropriate.

Be sure that your project timeline includes the following critical client tasks and indicates the person(s) responsible for performing them. The tasks mentioned in each bullet can be addressed at the same “meeting.”

Project Initiation Tasks

  • Define the actions, decisions, or strategies that will be made based on research results and identify the business associates who will make them. (Research Requester/Sponsor)
  • Contact the persons expected to take actions, make decisions, and formulate strategies based on research results (End Users), and ensure that they or their designated representatives are on the project team. (Research Requester/Sponsor)
  • Review and, if appropriate, revise: the definition of the business issue, anticipated actions/decisions/strategies that will be based on research results, and the end users expected to take them.
  • Define and prioritize research objectives. Specify research deliverables and support that end users will need to translate results to anticipated business actions. (Research Requester/Sponsor, End Users on the Project Team, Client Project Manager, Supplier Manager, Research Designer(s))
  • Review project cost; finalize research objectives, and give approval to go forward. (Research Requester/Sponsor, End Users on the Project Team, Client Project Manager, Research Designer(s))

Research Design Tasks

Review drafts of research instruments to ensure they will provide the information needed to take anticipated actions, decisions, or strategies.* (Research Requester/Sponsor, End Users on the Project Team, Client Project Manager, Supplier Project Manager, Researcher(s))

*Researchers should provide tools that help end users: review drafts; understand what information will be obtained to support each research objective; make comments and suggest changes; specify additional information they need that is not addressed in the draft.

Research Reporting & Presentation Tasks

Present & discuss the full research report with the client project team. Discuss how findings impact anticipated uses for results, and End User deliverables. (Research Requester/Sponsor, End Users on the project team, Client Project Manager, Supplier Project Manager, Researcher(s))

Results Implementation Tasks

Review, approve, and comment on proposed actions, decisions, and strategies based on research results. (Research Requester/Sponsor, End Users on the project team, Client Project Manager, Client Researchers on the project team).

This task is vital but often not performed. We don’t drive a new car without checking if there’s gas in the tank and a pilot doesn’t fly a plane that has just been serviced without running through the flight checklist, but many clients spend a lot of money for research without taking an hour to check that end users have correctly interpreted results.

By helping clients and end users navigate the research process, researchers can help them transform research results into business results—a victory for all of us.