Editor's note: This article appeared in the July 25, 2011, edition of Quirk's e-newsletter.

The vendor side of the research industry appears to be rebounding nicely from the Great Recession for a second year in a row, according to our 2011 salary survey of 1,776 vendor-side researchers. However, while base salaries are up and the bonuses more plentiful in 2011 than in 2010, vendor-side researchers seem to be growing restless as job satisfaction took a dive and more researchers are interested in new employment. 

Longer hours and not-big-enough raises could be to blame although responses to our two open-end questions indicate that researchers have additional concerns regarding the challenges research - and its reputation - are facing: a lack of qualified, quality researchers and an abundance of new technologies.

Increased or stayed the same

Research providers may have made budget cuts but thankfully for researchers it's not to salaries. Ninety-three percent of respondents said that their 2011 base salaries stayed the same or increased compared to 2010. Thirteen percent even reported a base salary increase of more than 10 percent.

2011 bonuses were less consistent. Fifty-five percent of respondents' bonuses stayed the same but 10 percent reported a bonus decrease of more than 10 percent and 18 percent reported a bonus increase of more than 10 percent. Overall, 30 percent reported receiving larger bonuses and only 15 percent reported receiving smaller bonuses. This is the opposite of 2010 when 28 percent reported receiving smaller bonuses and only 20 percent received larger bonuses. These numbers are certainly trending in the right direction for researchers and may also be a sign of strong recovery for the industry as a whole.

Harder than ever

The salary and bonus increases are likely warranted as researchers are working harder than ever, with over one-third of vendor-side researchers reporting working more hours now than in the past. A full 91 percent of vendor-side researchers are working the same or more. In our 2010 salary survey the same percentage (34 percent) of respondents reported working more hours, although in 2010 12 percent reported working fewer hours and only 9 percent are working less in 2011. (At this rate, working will be all there's time to do!)

Satisfaction is down

Perhaps the longer hours are taking their toll because overall job satisfaction is down from last year's strong showing. In 2010, 75 percent of vendor-side researchers reported being somewhat satisfied (14 percent), satisfied (33 percent) or very satisfied (28 percent). That number dropped to 68 percent in 2011 (16 percent somewhat satisfied, 33 percent satisfied and 19 percent very satisfied), while the number of researchers very dissatisfied with their current employment climbed from 2 percent in 2010 to 5 percent in 2011.

This year, job satisfaction correlates highly with salary. Vendor-side researchers who are very satisfied make an average of $109,182 annually while the very dissatisfied researchers earn only $76,122 per year.

Likely to seek new employment

Also in a departure from 2010 results, more vendor-side researchers are likely to seek new employment at a different company. In 2010, 61 percent of vendor-side researchers said they were somewhat unlikely (7 percent), unlikely (17 percent) or very unlikely (37 percent) to seek new employment. That number dropped a full 20 percent in 2011. Now, only 41 percent of researchers said they were somewhat unlikely (8 percent), unlikely (17 percent) or very unlikely (16 percent) to seek new employment and a different company, with 13 percent being very likely to do so.

Vendor-side researchers looking for new employment should have plenty of opportunity as 32 percent of respondents said that it was very likely that their company will hire additional market research employees in 2011. Overall, 62 percent of respondents said their company would be somewhat likely (13 percent), likely (17 percent) or very likely (32 percent) to bring on new employees.

Rather decorated

Vendor-side researchers shopping around their resumes are likely to be rather decorated - more experienced, in fact, than their client-side counterparts. While only 13 percent of client-side researchers claim more than 25 years of experience in marketing research, 20 percent of vendor-side researchers said the same. Twenty-two percent of vendor-side researchers came in with 16 to 25 years of experience; 19 percent have 11 to 15 years; 20 percent have six to 10 years; 13 percent have three to five years; 5 percent have one to two years; and 1 percent have less than one year.

Education-wise, not much has changed from last year. The number of vendor-side researchers who reported having a high-school diploma (4 percent), bachelor's degree (46 percent), master's degree (42 percent) or doctorate (8 percent) all remained the same.

Up one percent from last year, only 20 percent of vendor-side researchers reported holding a professional or industry certification related to research (i.e., PRC, Principles of Marketing Research, RIVA, Burke, etc.).

Help improve the reputation

This small number persists in spite of a large number of respondents suggesting in open-end responses that professional certifications would help to improve the reputation and standing of marketing research as a profession.

One respondent commented, "Certification, such as PRC through the MRA, has been an excellent step in improving the reputation and standing of MR as a profession. I think continuing to further educate and develop professionals in this industry, as well as outreach to legislators and the general public to convey the importance of the research profession and how it helps shape our lives, will be crucial steps."

Another respondent said, "It would be nice to see some sort of professional certification/accreditation so that those of us who know what we are doing can distinguish ourselves from the hacks."

Overall, respondents called for "more education, certification" and they want their companies to support their efforts with "more corporate involvement/funding with certification efforts of MRA/PRC."

One respondent suggested imposing a minimum-certification rule: "I think ESOMAR or other bodies of research should start some sort of MR certification and every MR organization should need to have at least one certified person in the organization."

Another, more extreme variation, was that researchers "should not be able to practice without certification." However, not all vendor-side researchers agree that certification and training have value. "Forget about the industry-driven 'training' and 'certifications' that are not worth the paper they are printed on."

Overall, though, vendor-side researchers hope that more training and certification options - and more researchers taking advantage of them - will preserve data quality and the integrity of the industry.

"I see a lot of sloppy work and lack of planning, attention to detail and data-checking. Remember, you can't spell analyst without ANAL."

Another respondent suggested that researchers being required to get and stay up to snuff might diminish the ubiquity of low-quality DIY projects done by non-researchers. "Many end-clients are beginning to use software packages that allow anyone to do consumer research without understanding basic sampling principles."

The heart of researchers' concern

The DIY debate is alive and well among researchers and was discussed in Quirk's Editor Joseph Rydholm's report on the client-side portion of the salary survey . At the heart of researchers' concern seems to be the boom in technology. 

According to the open-end responses to the question asking what researchers think are the biggest challenges facing marketing research in the next few years, the concerns with technology were overwhelming.

It appears that technology is troubling vendor-side researchers in three ways. First, researchers worry the industry is unable to keep up with the changing technologies. In short, one respondent worries about "old-school researchers who are afraid of using new technology for research purposes."

Most researchers agreed that in order to remain relevant, research needs to adapt to and keep up with changes in technology or risk becoming obsolete. "Advancing technologies have or will eliminate many of the more procedural tasks. We need to find new ways to add value as researchers when many clients will have more direct access to their data."

However, keeping up with technology is easier said than done. "Technology is outpacing marketing research's ability to collect and analyze data - by the time we understand user behavior, technology has changed."

Another agrees that technology is changing the industry but that research isn't necessarily sunk. "The prevalence of mobile and tablet computing may well revolutionize the way consumers and businesses gather, use and distribute information and how they purchase goods and services. The mobile revolution is here and the market research industry is not ahead of it - yet."

Too wild, too new

Second, researchers are concerned that newer research technologies are too wild, too new to be proven effective. One respondent believes that there is "too much change in technology and a move toward unproven methods."

Another echoed this sentiment, citing "too many new technologies clouding the analysts' view on how to conduct market research. We need to weed out those technologies that cannot be validated and therefore negatively impact the quality of research."

Most agree that researchers are charged with the task of "incorporating new technologies and trends, such as online qualitative, social media and DIY tools, without compromising integrity/validity of results."

Allows non-researchers to conduct research

Finally, researchers worry that technology allows non-researchers to conduct research and, in turn, sully the industry's good name. One respondent said that the greatest challenge is "making end-users realize research is a technical skill, not something anyone can do because there are providers like SurveyMonkey."

Some DIY projects rely too heavily on technology and "too little on researcher and research knowledge base."

However, new technology doesn't only invite the riffraff. "Technology is bringing new entrants from other, non-research-related backgrounds in to the MR arena. The newcomers often join the fray with fewer preconceptions about how to do things, more open minds, better strategic connections and better funding."

In the end, one respondent said it best: The ultimate goal of the research-plus-technology future should be to lift the industry as a whole. "Some would say all the new technology, the incursion of outside methodologies like Web mining, data mining, etc., are a threat to market research. I would say the biggest challenge is learning to adapt to new technologies and to avoid going old-school and adapting our philosophies and core discipline to the changing needs of research users - making our work more valuable."

State of flux

The research industry may be in a state of flux with the emergence of new technologies and a demand for more - and more-qualified - researchers but this survey indicates that financially we're headed in the right direction and vendor-side researchers seem to have their heads on straight. Now that the challenges have been identified, it's up to the industry to overcome them.