A welcome source

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, outsourcing in marketing research often focused on taking advantage of India’s newly burgeoning tech industry – a primary benefit of which was “they work while you sleep,” meaning that labor-intensive jobs like questionnaire development and text analysis and coding could be sent across the world overnight and received back the next morning to keep projects on-schedule and, at least in theory, on-budget.

Over time, outsourcing has morphed to have a less geographical feel and is instead more task- and capability-focused. Asked in our most recent Q Report survey to choose from a list of reasons why they outsource today, respondents put speed (16%) and cost (7%) low on their list, instead picking “providing an expertise that isn’t available in-house” and “lack of internal staff” each at matching 31% choice levels.

We last queried Q Report respondents about outsourcing in 2015 and responses eight years later to a question about the most-often outsourced functions were identical: recruitment, data collection, data analysis and project management.

To get a sense of the current levels of outsourcing, we asked what percentage of research projects are conducted in-house vs. outsourced and respondents said just over half (52%) of projects are fully in-house, with about a third (32%) fully outsourced and 15% partially outsourced.

We asked for additional comments/insights on why they outsource and for many, the size of the project is one of the main drivers:

We only outsource larger, strategic projects (e.g., brand health tracking, segmentation, DCM, creative testing, customer panel development/execution) and we also have support for programming and data collection.

We outsource projects that we don't have the tools/capacity to do in house, such as customer journey (advanced quant analysis and focus groups), financial modelling.

[We outsource] our big customer quant surveys and the majority of our qual projects with external customers.

And in addition to those who outsource part of a project…

This depends by department; some departments fully outsource; my department mostly does things in-house – we mostly buy sample and do everything ourselves.

We outsource recruitment for survey respondents, survey programming and data collection via a survey platform but we write the surveys ourselves. We also outsource recruitment for qualitative respondents and programming/setup of the online qualitative platform but we write the discussion guides and design the activities ourselves.

…others outsource the whole thing:

We outsource entire projects that we don't have the manpower to do. For example we just outsourced a segmentation project using "jobs to be done." The project took a year.

It depends. We have an offshore team we use for data analysis and reporting. We typically work with internal partners to set up the research objectives, then work with market research agencies to determine the methodology and field.

If we have the respondent information (e-mail address, etc.), we conduct the research ourselves. We enlist the help of research vendors when we don't have the respondent information or we are looking for guidance on proper research methods.

Many respondents mentioned using outsourcing as a way to avoid the appearance of bias and to grant some authority to the results in the eyes of internal audiences.

We only outsource when we need third-party credibility on research results. Usability feedback and generative research is all handled internally.

We do a brand health study twice a year. Its purpose is to validate the data we collect internally and give us insight into non-customers in our markets. As such, it's important we have a third party lead this effort to prove there is no bias from us.

Sometimes we believe it is better to have a third party conduct the research so that there is some reassurance that the research is unbiased.

To maintain proper blinding and compliance with confidentiality and prevent any appearance of “research as selling.”

For improved validity – we are not collecting customer comments/data. The outside researcher removes the question of potential tampering. 

Recruiting is also a popular task to outsource, given its time-intensive nature and the constant vigilance required to maintain respondent databases.

Having someone else manage recruitment is just easier and less of a headache, especially for qual research and scheduling.

We outsource some of our data collection for hard-to-find audiences and for larger projects with more sophisticated analysis requirements.

We outsource recruiting but manage it (through User Interviews/Respondent.io) and have a couple of key tracking studies that we fully outsource, though on the latter we are moving them in-house to make them more responsive to our needs.

We mostly outsource the recruitment for focus groups and IDIs, as we do not have the database or resources to deal with most recruiting efforts to the level we desire. Sometimes, we will have mall intercept research done out of state, where I will fly out and show how interviews are to be conducted and then we outsource the large quantity of programmed interviews in the out-of-state location.

We use panel companies to recruit and the platform we use also provides survey programming support. I am closely involved, however, in both of these processes.

[We outsource for] data privacy for patients and we don't want to have to maintain our own panels or pay them for responses. I've done that as well as programming my own surveys and doing all the analysis and it's a nightmare to manage all at the same time.

Not a good idea to maintain our own panel.

It's mostly about finding respondents that we have less access to ourselves.

We outsource almost solely to reach niche B2B audiences that are tough or impossible to recruit. We do this mainly through expert networks.

For several respondents, outsourcing serves as another extension of the partner-like nature of their relationships with their vendors.

We collaborate on design and underlying objectives w/our suppliers and once we have the proposal and get internal buy in, the supplier takes the project.

We have a small contract with a dedicated team and sometimes they help with programming surveys or advanced analytics. I would say we are still firmly DIY and the DIY portion will likely grow in my opinion over the next year.

We use third-party full-service vendors to conduct much or the research we do but virtually always in partnership with an internal project manager/researcher who directs the work from beginning to end.

It also just makes sense from a budget perspective.

We may have the professional expertise but not the tools. I'm not investing in a full conjoint tool if I only do one a year.

Don’t have the large fieldwork systems in-house. And do not want to have [them]!

In-house data collection and recruiting respondents require fixed team and the cost of hiring the field forces. Rather not take those on.

For others, outsourcing is a welcome option to have at the ready. 

More efficient for our group to stay nimble and across the business. It's a better model for us to oversee and direct the research we need vs. getting into the weeds with executing it.

Given the (smaller) volume of research projects, it is not efficient to develop all qual/quant capabilities in-house (e.g., we would have to staff and acquire enterprise-level tools to convert all surveys in-house).

We would rarely fully outsource but it's nice to spin up a team for one dedicated project, on a per-project basis.

Wanted an outside source to do the brand tracker. And they developed a segmentation plan that was beyond in-house expertise.

[The firms we outsource to] seem to be able to adhere to a timeline. We tend to struggle without killing work/life balance.

[With outsourcing], we focus on being “insight leaders” internally, rather than researchers.

Hired a report writer; it's really time consuming and I'm not good with design.

Two responses in particular deserve a hearty thanks for their honesty. (What is it with the C-suite execs?)

New C-suite exec and high-level management seem to believe that spending massive amounts of money to pay prestigious vendors to do work that is already capable of being done in-house is somehow more efficient/better.

Primarily when we outsource research, it is for participant recruitment and moderation for qualitative research. More recently, we have C-suite execs who are enamored with bringing in big-box vendors and outsourcing large projects (both qual and quant) to them from start to finish – sometimes with us at the table as a consultant, sometimes not.

This response pretty much sums up the current state of outsourcing.

It depends on the project. When we conduct research through our online panel, it is housed, fielded and data is summarized by the panel company. We do some research ourselves online that we do every aspect of. We conduct some of our research studies by mail and for those, we outsource the printing and mailing aspects. We typically request data tabs from our vendors, as well as SPSS files, and we analyze the data ourselves when wanted or when needed. Other studies we use such as JD Power and Forrester are completely outsourced – we just pay for the results. 


The Q Report work life and salary and compensation study of end-client/corporate researchers is based on data gathered from an invite-only online survey sent to pre-qualified marketing research subscribers of Quirk’s. The survey was fielded from May 24 to July 10, 2023. In total we received 1,969 usable qualified responses of which 707 were from end-client researchers and used for this end-client report. An interval (margin of error) of 2.17 at the 95% confidence level was achieved for the entire study. (Not all respondents answered all questions.)