After nearly 20 years as Marketing Research Consultant, I have heard every client question there is when it comes to selecting a qualitative market research company.

So, I asked myself, if I was in the client shoes (which I and many of my fellow IIM Consultants have been in the past), what questions would I ask/what would I be looking for in a qualitative marketing research partner? What is essential when looking for the ideal partner?

Here is what I came up with, but feel free to add/comment on the below with your own thoughts!

What to Look For In a Qualitative Marketing Research Partner:

1.  Ability to Become the Consumers’ New BFF -Years of experience, background and industry experience are all great, but they don’t mean anything if your consultant cannot connect with the consumers in the room (or online) and uncover insights that matter to the client. Ask your potential qualitative consultant how they get consumers to open up and get at what consumers are really feeling. How can they get consumers to say what they normally wouldn’t say?

Tip:  An additional way to measure this is to ask yourself:  How good is my connection with the consultant on the phone? Are you holding back or opening up? A great signal of a consultant’s ability to connect comes from how he or she treats their clients. Choosing qualitative research partners is a lot like dating, if you don’t know after the first meeting that you want a second date, then you probably don’t.

2.  Ridiculous Amounts of Energy / Enthusiasm for Mundane Things – Most clients recognize that although their project is really important to their brand/company, it rarely is top of mind for the consumer.  Much to our dismay, consumers do not walk around all day thinking and talking about yogurt, home cleaning products, insurance, etc.   Therefore, you really need someone in the room that can break through the barrier of boredom and engage consumers to get them excited and motivated to provide quality information (even about boring items or topics!).

Tip:  Ask your qualitative research partner what techniques things they use to energize and engage with consumers in the room and incentivize consumers to provide valuable feedback (after all, participants’ monetary incentive is for showing up and not for adding value!).

3.  Unapologetic Honesty & Willingness to Take Risks – While you are the “official” boss of the consultant that you hire, any qualitative consultant that doesn’t view the consumer as his or her boss as well shouldn’t be trusted. You are hiring a qualitative research partner for their expertise and thus their unabashed honesty. Hire someone that isn’t afraid to push back on you and challenge your thinking – all for the greater good of your brand.  If your partner doesn’t push back, strive for objectivity, and tell you what they really think then they aren’t being a true partner, but instead an order-taker. Sometimes the best news you could tell someone is bad news.

Tip: This is something that the consultant should offer up to you vs. something that you ask for. If this does not comes out during a working style or a partnership discussion than there is likely a problem with your prospective partner.

4.  Multi-Taskers with Kick-Ass Debriefs – You want a partner that can do it all, manage the project, seamlessly move from group to group all while preparing mentally for the final debrief at the end of the day. You want more than a moderator, but a consultant to lead the debrief, summarize and synthesize key findings and address the project objectives. A consultant that is proactive and action-oriented will stand out and will deliver a debrief that will spur the client team to action without a detailed report. After all, the time to act is now.

Tip: Ask the consultant if they lead the debrief and what they hope to deliver at the end of the debrief. Regardless of the study there should be some form of summary/debrief taking place. If they won’t lead it or describe the approach they take to do it and make it actionable then they aren’t worth your time.

5.  Anticipates & Understands Stakeholder Needs & Concerns – A research project often involves the consumers, researchers, the marketers/brand people, agencies, and more! That’s a lot of people invested in one project. In order to manage these unique and distinctive POVs, you need a strong consultant who understands that their role as a consultant is to answer questions and anticipate the needs of various stakeholders. Preferably, you want someone who has been in these stakeholder’s shoes (like our IIM consultants!) and has a broad experience base that enables them to easily pursue stakeholder alignment.

Tip: Look at the background of the research team you would be working with – have they been on the client-side? Agency-side? Were they senior marketers? Look for a diverse mix of experience to ensure your projects success!

Have any more tips on what to look for in a qualitative research partner?  Add them here