This blog post was written by our guest blogger Paul Dybas, former Business Development Associate at Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS), a global market research firm located in Syracuse, NY.

There are many market research firms to choose from that can help you with your project. At the initial Google search, the process of choosing one could seem overwhelming, but choosing the right one can make a world of difference for your organization.

Solid market research conducted by a team of experts can answer important questions you have about marketing, customer satisfaction, feasibility and strategy.  On the other hand, choosing the wrong firm can be very costly, and the lost expenses of conducting the study is only the beginning. If the research objectives are cloudy or the data is misinterpreted, you could find the results leading you toward a poor business decision.

No worries! The team here at RMS put together a list of the top 10 important factors to consider when choosing a firm to conduct market research. As you compile your list and place your initial requests, use the scorecard matrix below to see how each firm stacks up.  This way your organization itself has some market research on the market research firms you are choosing from.

Choosing a Market Research Firm

Screen-cap of a scorecard matrix example designed by RMS. Click to enlarge. To edit and save the file click on the link provided below.

Click here to download and use our scorecard matrix, which makes choosing from multiple market research firms a breeze.

1. Understanding of Research Objectives – This is perhaps the most important factor to consider when choosing a market research firm. In order to conduct a meaningful study, you have to be sure that the firm understands what you are trying to accomplish with the research. It is crucial that the research team has a “think like the client” attitude when developing an approach. Consider a company that is looking to conduct focus groups with customers to gauge their level of satisfaction and ultimately improve services. The research firm needs to be comfortable recommending that the client conduct a survey instead. In this case, a survey may be a more useful approach because it can reach a larger population and give the research team enough data to develop quantifiable conclusions. While focus groups would provide some feedback, it would not be the most effective in achieving the goals of the particular client. Verifying the research objectives should be the first step in every market research study.

2. Reporting/Actionable Recommendations – This goes hand-in-hand with number one. It is important that the firm looks beyond the data by drawing conclusions and putting the results into the context of the client’s situation. These conclusions translate into action items, which are discussed with the client after the project. Some firms will only provide “banner runs” or raw data results. A good firm will provide insight on what the results truly mean for the client. Before selecting a firm, be sure to ask for a sample report. This will give you an idea of the quality of information you can expect.

3. Capabilities – Make sure that the firm you choose is able to use multiple methods to conduct research. A firm that only conducts surveys will be good if a survey is necessary, but the methodology may change once the objectives are fully understood. You’ll want to have a few options. Sometimes it is necessary to combine multiple methods as well. If the firm has a variety of methods in its arsenal, you can be sure your questions will be answered effectively. Surveys, focus groups, in-depth interviews and mystery shopping are some key methodologies to look for.

4. Experience – This one is pretty obvious. Take a look at the firm’s client list.  Look for information on the individual analytics team members and decide whether their experience is pertinent to your study. Be sure to call a few of their references to get a little background. This is a good time to pull out your score card and go through categories to verify your own ratings.

5. Timeline – A market research firm can have all of the right qualities to conduct a great study, but if it can’t commit to turning the project around in a reasonable amount of time, you’re probably better off going with someone else. All market research is time-sensitive. Every day that you don’t have your report is a day that you are missing opportunities to improve your organization. You have urgent decisions to make. Be sure that your market research firm can keep up!

6. Relationship – This is a big one. Make sure you talk with someone from the firm before you engage. Get a sense of the firm’s culture. A strong, positive culture is a great indicator of how well the members of the team communicate and work together. This is important because they will be working and communicating with you! You’ll want to be up to date on the study as it progresses and you’ll be anxious to hear some preliminary findings. Make sure you like the people you will be working with and that they are consistently available for discussions and updates.

7. On-Site Facilities – The more resources the firm has in the physical office, the higher the guarantee on data integrity. Having an on-site call center means that the firm can monitor the fieldwork and conduct quality checks. Some firms outsource calling and have the call center send back the raw data. It gives a great piece of mind knowing that the firm managing your project is the same firm that is conducting the actual fieldwork. A focus group facility is also an advantage. A firm that houses a focus group center can create a controlled environment for holding focus groups or in-depth interviews. These are usually decked out with all the bells and whistles like a one-way mirror for private client viewing, video and audio recording equipment and sound-proofing for confidentiality.

8. Cost – Cost is by far, the most common factor that organizations consider when selecting a market research firm – and it shouldn’t be. Ever get a great deal on a generic product, only to find that it doesn’t serve the same purpose or isn’t as high-quality as the original? You probably ended up buying the more expensive one later anyway. The same is true for market research, except the horror stories are far worse. A firm that drives the price down by taking shortcuts and skipping components is doing you more harm than good – and charging you for it! Reliable market research comes at a cost. The firm needs to connect with enough people and the right people to get answers for you. Remember that market research is an investment. Organizations that see it as such are the ones that are flourishing.

9. Location – Sometimes organizations are more comfortable working with a local market research firm. A face-to-face meeting and an in-person presentation certainly adds an important element to the working relationship. Don’t rule out a firm because of location, though. Nearly all market research can be conducted remotely, and if done correctly, will give you the same results as if conducted locally. If you are torn between a local firm and one that is long-distance, evaluate the long-distance firm on its ability to communicate and willingness to travel. You may find that the long-distance firm feels closer than the one sitting right in your backyard.

10. “Go with your Gut” – Choosing a vendor for market research is a big decision. If you have narrowed down the pool of firms but still can’t decide, sit back and let your intuition choose. If you are looking to conduct market research, you are obviously business-savvy already. You have done your homework and you should have confidence in your “gut feeling.”

Best of luck with your project!  If you are new to market research and need some help getting started, or if you have experience and are looking to conduct another study contact our Business Development Director, Sandy Baker at 1-866-567-5422 or