What to look for when selecting a research firm.

Investment in market research is driven by need for visibility in critical business decision making.

That means confidence over the size, growth, psychology, internal dynamics and external forces shaping a market. Whether you are a not for profit, government or commercial enterprise, market intelligence is essential.

With very few exceptions, market research projects should contribute to decision-making or problem solving . The output of research may be interesting, but it should always go beyond the provision of insight to assist management in making more informed and intelligent business decisions.

So when you are selecting a research firm, what are the must-haves?

There are 7 key factors that define an effective research agency.


1. Access to data.

Not all information is readily available. But getting information that is inaccessible to most researchers and your organisation will save time and money while providing valuable insight. The data needs to be recent, relevant and procured using a sound methodology.

2. Knowing where to find credible, recently acquired data.

Chances are, if you’re employing a research firm, you’re looking for information you don’t already have. Sometimes that may require a fresh look at your organisation’s data and, usually, a search for external sources.

There are some main sources of data – some raw (just information), others already analysed:

  • your organisation’s information systems and records
  • external websites
  • online tools (e.g. Google Adwords)
  • government databases (e.g. ABS or governmental departments)
  • commercial data (from companies like Nielsen, IBISWorld and BIS Shrpanel)

3. Intelligent perspectives on useful data types.

Not all data is created equal – you only have to read the fine print on skin care advertisements to know that! And the internet is brimming with information, only a small percentage of which should be considered for research purposes.

Make sure your research firm can:

  • Confirm the credibility of the source
  • List the dates on which the data was sourced/analysed
  • Explain the various research models used to source and assess data
  • Clarify the relevance of the data to your project

4. Awareness.

If you’re just after numbers and graphs, with no analysis, perhaps you just need some resourceful graduates who can use the software. However, we’re guessing you want some serious analysis that clearly demonstrates an understanding of your sector.

As marketing, communication as become so much more integrated; as markets have become so much more vertically and horizontally integrated; as the world has become more complex and ever changing; you  need people who are aware.

Awareness means knowledge and experienced based perspectives on the market. It means knowing emerging technological and cultural trends. Applying awareness in research methodology will ensure the findings and recommendations, and therefore the decisions the company makes, are right now and into the future.

5. Multiple disciplines.

Unless your research project is a literature review only, you’ll be commissioning some surveying, focus group testing or other research which leads to analysis. Research is generally split into quantitative and qualitative analysis. Each area requires specific skills and intelligence. For simplicity’s sake, think of quantitative as logic/left brain and qualitative as creative/right brain (more on that here). There is cross over between the two, so your consultants needs a grasp of both as well as specialisation in each area.


  • Econometrics – developing formulas specific to the market in order to produce accurate numbers
  • Survey design – asking the right questions to get data that can be manipulated to gain deeper insights
  • Statistical analysis and correlation
  • CATI phone interviewing


  • Economics – both a macro and micro view of all the factors affecting a market
  • Facilitation/Focus group design – capacity to facilitate a discussion with a group of people to get insight without guiding them to a preconceived conclusion
  • Market needs and like analysis
  • Psychographic profiling
  • In-depth stakeholder interviews

Look at your firm and their team. Do they have creative and statistical disciplines represented in consultants and associates?

6. Intelligent manipulation and analysis of data to gain deeper, more accurate insights.

The best methodology won’t translate into deeper insight unless your consultants can think creatively to manipulate information in useful ways. There are often ‘epiphany’ moments on research projects where the interrelationship of data sets leads to key findings. That’s what keeps us all going!

7. Effective reporting (understanding client objectives).

Researchers are notoriously poor communicators. They too often misunderstand the way a company Board or executive team thinks. Or how the research is to link into strategic planning activities.

Research is never a means to an end; it is an important first step on the journey to a solution or a plan.

Make sure you brief your researchers on your expectation in terms of reporting. Be detailed: is it a PowerPoint, a meaty report or a board presentation – or all of these things.

You’ll note this blog article is light on research lingo. That’s because communication is essential to just about every human interaction – including research!

Ellis Jones expanded its research activities in 2011. Our specialisation is market research and market economic analysis. We assess online and physical markets and communities. Our recent experience includes  infrastructure, health, ageing and arts.

image credit : epSos .de