The best research and insights are the result of close collaboration between client and consultant. Not all of my clients in consumer health and life sciences have dedicated market research or customer insights functions to marketers work with insight partners. To those brand and product managers I offer these best practices to get the most out of your investment in customer insights.

Developing a briefing document

Taking time to develop a briefing document that outlines your key objectives would be the first step. If there are multiple stakeholders that have an interest in the research, get them involved and aligned. ESOMAR, the world association for market, social and opinion research has a publication “How to commission research” which is incredibly useful. It is also worth reviewing Market Research throughout the product life cycle” from EPHMRA, the European Pharmaceutical Market Research Association.

Selecting a vendor

For a selection of vendors, the AMSRS, the Australian Market and Social Research has a directory of Qualified Practicing Market Researchers where you can filter by expertise. Procurement may nudge you to only work with a shortlist of vendors—my advice would be to push back and point them to the WRAP framework by Chip and Dan Heath, first introduced in their book “Decisive: how to make better choices in life and work“. The WRAP framework is an acronym for:  Widen your options
Reality test your assumptions, Attain distance before deciding and Prepare to be wrong. 

Widen your options

Procurement tends to frame a narrow set of choices. In some cases agencies are asked to fill out a grid so that options can be easily compared. This approach stifles innovation and by specifying what you want, you are actually getting into a narrow frame: “…we want to do a 15 minute online survey with…” rather than meaningfully different options.  

Reality test your assumptions

You may think you have a good handle on what different agencies have to offer, but reality test your assumptions. People switch jobs, mergers and acquisitions happen, and technology changes faster than ever. All of these have an impact on the capabilities of a vendor, for better or worse. Staying informed of the relative strengths of different suppliers is a challenge in itself;  expand your professional network by meeting with new market researchers from time to time.

Attain distance before deciding

You can gain some distance by having some time between the agency’s pitch and actually making the decision. All too often there is a week between sending the brief and having an agency present their solution, but how much time do you allow for reflecting on these? Having one colleague attend the pitch meetings, and another review the proposals by themselves give you two different perspectives to take into account, which is another way of gaining distance. 

Prepare to be wrong

The methodology you had in mind may well be a valid option, but there could be better ways to achieve your objectives. Getting different perspectives and thoughts is what you ultimately pay your vendors for. Similarly, the strengths of vendors may be different from what you initially had in mind. 

Managing a research project

ESOMAR publishes guidelines on the “Mutual Rights and Responsibilities of Researchers and Clients“, and EPHMRA’s booklet “Managing a research project” has good advice. In addition to the Code of Professional Behaviour, the AMSRS has guidelines and factsheets on recruiting; on observing, recording and handling images of research participants; on incentives and on the Australian Privacy Principles.

Deliverables and debriefing
You are entitled to detailed information about the methodology of any research project commissioned and researchers must document this information fully, transparently and accurately. When the results are presented to a wider team, who may not have been involved in developing the brief, ask to see the deliverables prior to the presentation. Allow the researcher some time between the first deliverable to you, and the presentation to the wider team.