Buyin research

5 questions you should be asking your research supplier before buying from them (but you’re almost certainly not asking yet)

Buying research from an external supplier brings a considerable amount of real, potential and perceived risk.

Acknowledging this risk feels important – so let’s not just brush it under the carpet.

I once pitched to a new client with the ‘risk of buying research’ as a central message in the pitch. We won. So, perhaps clients appreciate this level of honesty.

I’ve spent roughly equal amounts of time in my 20+ year market research career buying as well as selling research.

In my humble opinion, ‘we’ (research buyers) don’t ask enough searching questions when we buy from a research agency (and agencies don’t ask enough searching questions of their clients but that’s a topic for another day).

Here are 5 crucial questions I think you should ask the next time you engage with a research agency.

1. How busy are you at the moment?
An agency run off their feet is far more likely to drop the ball. Equally, an agency with no work could ring some alarm bells in your head (why is no one using them?). Either way, can either really service your needs properly?

Linked to this is the level of seniority attached to your purchase. Find out at the pitch or proposal stage who is going to work on your project and make sure the agency sticks with this. We’ve all experienced the Director being wheeled out to win the work and the junior team carrying it out. This might be ok as long as you know this upfront and it meets your expectations. If this comes as a surprise, then it can be really disappointing and is poor service from the agency.

𝟮. 𝗪𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗵𝗮𝘃𝗲 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝗱𝗼𝗻𝗲 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗹𝗮𝘀𝘁 𝟭𝟮 𝗺𝗼𝗻𝘁𝗵𝘀 𝘁𝗼 𝘀𝘁𝗿𝗲𝗮𝗺𝗹𝗶𝗻𝗲 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗽𝗿𝗼𝗰𝗲𝘀𝘀𝗲𝘀 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗮𝗱𝗱 𝗺𝗼𝗿𝗲 𝘃𝗮𝗹𝘂𝗲 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝗺𝗼𝗻𝗲𝘆 𝘁𝗼 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗰𝗹𝗶𝗲𝗻𝘁𝘀?
In research, time equates to money. Let’s not argue; research can be very expensive. But modern processes and tools can do a lot to reduce the amount of administrative time required for an agency to run a research project. This time saved ought to be passed on to you, the buyer.

Do you want to pay for your research partner to carry out tasks that can be automated, streamlined or sped up?

𝟯. 𝗪𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗱𝗼𝗲𝘀 𝗵𝗮𝘃𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗯𝘂𝘀𝗶𝗻𝗲𝘀𝘀 𝗺𝗲𝗮𝗻 𝘁𝗼 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗯𝘂𝘀𝗶𝗻𝗲𝘀𝘀?
Some agencies won’t consider you a big fish unless you’re spending big. Feeling like a rather insignificant number counting towards your agency’s sales target can be a little underwhelming.

So, client <> agency fit is crucial to the success of your research project, the quality of output and the impact the insight will have on your business.

It’s worth asking this question upfront. OK, you might not get a 100% honest answer but the response can still be telling. You need to gauge where you sit among their client base to understand how important your business is to them.

𝟰. 𝗪𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗵𝗮𝗽𝗽𝗲𝗻𝘀 𝗮𝗳𝘁𝗲𝗿 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗽𝗿𝗼𝗷𝗲𝗰𝘁 𝗶𝘀 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗽𝗹𝗲𝘁𝗲𝗱?
One of the most important aspects of buying research is how you apply the findings to your business, in order to drive return on investment. There is a gap – the ‘insight-adoption gap’ – which exists between agency debriefing and client implementation. A great agency will do what they can to bridge this gap.

Do the agencies you’re considering have any ‘after care’ in place? Are they keen to get back in touch with you and find out what the outcome of the project was on your business, or whether you need further help in implementing their recommendations? Or do they just send you a final invoice and add you to their email list?

𝟱. 𝗪𝗵𝗼 𝗲𝗹𝘀𝗲 𝘄𝗼𝘂𝗹𝗱 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝗿𝗲𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗺𝗲𝗻𝗱 𝘄𝗲 𝘀𝗽𝗲𝗮𝗸 𝘁𝗼?
This sounds like a joke but is, in my view, a valid question. Clients want to know they’ve made the best pick from the best available options. Agencies want to be certain they’ve won work based on their own merits and haven’t won work simply because they’re the only one on the list.

As a supplier of research, I would be happy to recommend a set of competitors for my client to consider and I would be (pretty!) confident we could deliver what they’ve asked for and win the work.

And the response you get to this question will be very telling. Are they going to give you a couple of duff suggestions or are they confident enough that they can suggest you go to their top competitor and still win the work?

Try these questions the next time you buy research, reduce the risk and get the best product and service you can.

About the author:
Gideon Barker has over 20 years of experience in the research and insight roles, having held senior roles in client and agency organisations. He specialises in helping clients find new opportunities, working hard to help translate research findings and insight into actionable roadmaps. He has a genuine passion for what he does and has a keen interest in how research can be improved by using online tools and tech.

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