What skills do researchers need to navigate the future of research? 

In the 2020 Q Report, researchers around the world made it clear they were up for the challenge of redefining insights and identifying the skills necessary to survive the unknown. This year, as the marketing research and insight industry works to manage a changing economy – including shifts in individual markets, consumer behaviors and research trends – we thought it appropriate to see what new skills and/or expertise researchers think would be most beneficial to their careers. 

While some respondents reported the need for more tools rather than expertise/skills (“I just need tools better than Excel.”), most responses focused on a combination of industry-specific hard skills, general soft skills and the importance of continued education. 

Focus on tech

Researchers made it clear they are committed to upping their digital game, though the focuses were quite varied. Respondents shared the desire to improve skills around a variety of programs and software, ranging from Zoom, PowerPoint and Photoshop to Tableau and SAS. One respondent simply wrote, “Anything that has to do with online/technology.”

Big data – a leading buzzword from years past – was only mentioned by name a handful of times. But there were multiple mentions of AI, data science, conjoint analysis, technical coding, programming and data analytics. 

Many made it obvious that the need for specific new skills stems from companies bringing more tasks in-house.  

Scaling in-house research teams, further education in developments and new capabilities in DIY/in-house research.

Be more independent in survey-building so that more in-house research can be done without spending on third-party and related analysis skills.

Training on advanced survey programming/analytics. I came from a large market research firm where we had a team of programmers and statisticians that would handle everything related to programming an advanced survey and running the data analysis. I am now on a team with just one other researcher and we handle everything from the first sales pitch to the final report delivery.

Learning R and Python programming for data analytics to marry customer data with survey data to gain a richer understanding of the consumer.

Several shared frustrations around barriers to access related to expensive software and learning curves. 

The jobs I’m applying for use their own set of tools that you seem to only learn on the job or by paying the vendor a lot of money.

Better statistical understanding. My experience comes primarily from on the job [training], rather than a statistical educational background.

Improving communication

Historically, storytelling has been a topic of interest for marketing research and insights professionals. So it wasn’t surprising to see many responses focus specifically on the ability to use data to tell a story and, ultimately, transform it into consumable insights. 

Better ways to show results – to make the information tell a story.

Communicating research basics to non-expert audiences.

The ability to persuade my team that data matters in the work we do. If I can demonstrate the value of my role in our department, then I think our overall success will increase.

Many respondents shared the desire to improve verbal presentation skills. 

Toastmasters-style ability to speak well and sound knowledgeable in any situation.

Interpersonal communication also made the list.

As a middle-aged white male, getting better at doing research with those who identify differently than I do.

Building authority/courage in asking peers/other teams to take on tasks – easy to do for direct reports, not so easy to do for people of the same title level or higher than you.


Leadership and management were two common themes, with many respondents sharing how their career would benefit from executive coaching, leadership training and people-management skills. And after more than a year of remote work and limited in-person contact, it wasn’t a surprise to see some individuals sharing the need for skills around “leading in a virtual environment.” 

One respondent highlighted how important forward-thinking leaders truly are:

We are at an inflection point. Until our executive director retires, our department will make no further progress in transforming into an insights function.

Presentation and strategy

Presentation skills and strategy – which represent a gray area where soft skills meet hard – were among the common skills researchers said would be beneficial to their careers. 

While many general presentation soft skills were named – communication, project management and public speaking – others called out hard skills, such as the need to improve dashboards, user interfaces and master data visualization software and techniques. 

Regardless of the focus, it seems the hope is to increase the actionability of research findings. 

Continued education

Numerous respondents reported that continued education would be beneficial to their career – which some may find surprising, given that 54% of respondents hold a master’s degree and 5% have a Ph.D. 

So what are they interested in learning? Several mentioned the need for qual-specific training, namely moderating.

Right now, I am seeing a big need for RIVA or Burke’s certification in qualitative moderating. Many organizations are requesting someone who is RIVA-trained.

I just completed moderator training and managed my first group. I intend to continue on this trajectory.

I think we’ll always need qualitative research, but even that will become more complicated and begin to demand people with advanced degrees (which I do not have).

Burke needs to come back to New York! We need affordable qual training!

Other responses highlighted the demand for training outside of marketing research and insights – including legal, pharmaceutical, financial, UX certificates, international business, foreign language, journalism and business – in order better meet the needs of often varied client-side roles. 

B2B marketing skills (SEO, etc.). My role was expanded beyond insights to cover marketing and my career is insights.

My company is currently investing in my education (MBA), which I believe is of great benefit.

Travel reimbursement was also mentioned alongside educational opportunities, reminding us that while much can be accomplished in the virtual realm, many researchers still value in-person learning.  

Eyes on retirement 

We’d be remiss to not include the responses from those nearing the end of their careers. While you undeniably can teach old dogs new tricks, some pre-retirement researchers feel new skills aren’t worth the investment. 

I am close enough to retirement that additional investment of skills by me won’t be very useful.

I’m actually in the pre-retirement stage, so it’s hard for me to answer this one.