Skip to: Main Content / Navigation

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Add This

All Forums > The Marketing Research Industry

Market Research Company Business Skill

Throughout my 30+ year career, I have been a client of numerous market research vendors and later an MR vendor myself. All that experience has caused me to conclude two things. One, there are a great number of individuals and/or market research companies that are methodologically proficient, meaning, they can competently execute research methodologies on behalf of their clients. Two, relatively very few of these individuals/companies are particularly good at running their own business.

This is not to say there are no successful MR companies or individual MR consultants. Obviously there are just as there are in any industry. However in the MR business the pyramid of success has an extremely wide and deep base that includes those who are not good at the business of running their business, quickly coming to a small and not very tall point that includes far fewer who are.

I suspect this is true because the cost to start an MR business is not very high, particularly these days when one can outsource any or all aspects of a research project they can’t or don’t want to do themselves. There is nothing wrong with this; after founding and running a vertically integrated 400+ person MR/database marketing company, I now happily outsource everything in my current business. Far fewer personnel problems which leaves me more time to focus on helping my clients develop new strategies/tactics for growth based on what we learn from the research.

The issue is not business structure or size. If the plan is to do more than just make enough money to exist, as with every business, MR professionals must be competent business people in addition to competent MR practitioners, just as is true with other service providers such as doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, financial advisers, etc. Those who are grow and those who aren’t go away almost without regard for their technical skills.

If you are an MR vendor what do you think about the business skills of the peer organizations you work with and/or compete against (no names please), as well, if you’re willing to talk about it, your own talents when it comes to running your business? I am also curious what the client perspective is on all of this. How do those of you who buy MR services from MR vendors see our business proficiency (or lack thereof) affecting what we do for you?

Skills, Ethics & Sound Research

The subject line really summarizes, what I believe and what I have found through the 15+ years as an applied statistician & market analyst.

Generally, I find that those whom I have dealt with, either by choice or because they are a part of a project team, is that there are those who understand and can apply the principals of market research (mainly in the consumer-based arena) both intellectually and as applicationists frequently appear (participate) on forums such as this, are willing to interact with others of interest and share their thoughts and opinions freely and without regard for hearing the thoughts & opinions of others regardless of agreement. This group tends to have an ethical approach to their craft.

Sadly, and gladly too few, there are those who simply sell their "skills set" with a lowest bid mindset and end up causing more problems then providing solutions. I say again, there are very few in this group but they are still there.

How does the "client" differentiate? That's where it gets tricky and I honestly don't have an answer except that when I am asked to review a project scope and then submit a proposal my basis is consistency with a candid attitude to what needs to be accomplished, offering alternatives and emphasizing the interest of the client first & foremost.

Was this to winded?

Too Winded?

Not at all (winded) and certainly less than my question at any rate; however based on your answer I am not sure my question was as clear as it should have been.

What I would like to know is do MR vendors feel they are good at running their own business? What do clients think?

Small can be sweet

Regardless of the industry, I think a many entreprenuers have great ideas and a passion for what they do --but they don't generally have a passion for running the operations of the business.

I also love "helping my clients" but find taxes, accounting and other business related issues a bore. To me they are required tasks but they take away from my true passion.

When a business grows larger the original founder either needs to embrace the operations role of the business or pass that role on to someone else. In reality, however, I think most founders try and do both...and ultimately that stunts their business....but what good is having a big company that is no longer fun....which is why small can also be sweet.

And, I think clients ultimately benefit from the personal attention (and price) a small company can provide.

Marc's Reply

I agree with you about most or at least many business owners not having a passion for running their business which is why I think so many MR consultancies either "stunt" as you said or worse never get traction and go out of business.

I don't know how many MR business owners are following this discussion but for those who are, in the tradition of MR questions, using a 1 to 5 scale with 1 equal to Not Very Good and 5 equal to Very Good, how good are you at the business of running your business?

Remember this is not how good you are as a researcher; only how good you are as a business manager. Also keep in mind that you personally do not have to do everything or everything well to earn a 4 or 5. One indication of a good manager would be an individual who knows when they need to bring in outside help. If you've done that and the business is doing well I'd say you deserve a high mark.

I'll start. When I first began my business I was a 4 because it was easy to do it all well given how little I had to do. But I quickly tired of the day-to-day stuff as the business grew and my rating dropped to a 3 and maybe lower at times. However I recognized this, brought in outside help as necessary, managed them and feel my rating again went up to the point that I had a very successful company.

ignorance is bliss

I thought this site was more for research company clients like myself, so I will be curious if you get many brave enough to respond. As a client things often seem to run smoothly...but I don't see what goes on behind the curtain and not sure i want to either :)

Behind the Curtain

Thanks for your response Ben.

As a vendor I can say that as with any business, things do not always go smoothly. In my experience some problems were the result of circumstances beyond my control whereas in other situations it was my fault because of mistakes I made running my business. However as far as the client was concerned, it's all the same. They want what they hired me to do; not excuses why it wasn't going well and I wouldn't have it any other way.

My question regarding how good a business manager did research vendors see themselves being is asking them to be honest about their business management skills and as you can see from the lack of response, that question is not something anyone other than me has been willing to answer even anonymously.

My hunch is that in general research vendors place too much emphasis on their methodology capability and not enough on their ability to run their business. Being successful requires both and if you don't have the second being the first won't matter for long. My original question stemmed from being curious as to how vendors saw themselves and to this point their silence is deafening.

Fortunately for clients such as you a sort of "natural selection" comes into play with those who consistently mismanage their business ultimately going out of business as a result. I've been successful not because I was perfect, no one is, but because I more often than not recognized my deficiencies and took corrective action.

Behind The Curtain

Years ago, I was part of successful, growing regional company. We got taken over by a global giant, and the guys they brought in started making changes - we all resisted, of course, citing quality concerns, issues of research professionalism etc. etc. The new boss got exasperated and put it to us that compared to Custom Research he "could get more return from putting his money in the post office" and we if wanted to maintain quality we'd better figure out how to combine it with decent profitability or start looking elsewhere for jobs. He wasn't an MR person, and he didn't judge our "success" in the same way we did. In the end, he had a point - good research has to combine a constant search for better deliverables and quality with an simultaneous on-going drive for better productivity and profitability. My experience is that too many MR managers focus on either client delivery OR business profitabilty - but these things must be pursued holistically.

It's clear to me that even quite successful MR companies tend to make less money than they should - given the value to clients of what we deliver. Many managers do think they have all the answers, and are resistent to taking outside advice (although we expect our clients to listen to us?). It's a fascinating subject - combining a MR business culture with a positive research culture is actually something my business partner and I regularly blog on ( if you are interested.