In Hollywood, a movie director and a movie critic are very different professions, which are typically held by very different types of people. One is the visionary and creator who makes sure the movie is completed to meet certain goals (such as a creative vision, and adherence to a plot); the other has the training, and distance, to objectively assess the movie (identifying, perhaps, opportunities for improvement). Both roles have value. But in market research, we don’t often have the luxury of two different people; in many cases, a market research manager has to be both the director and the critic. Especially when it comes to budget planning.
Nearly every functional area within an organization has had to improve its cost-effectiveness in recent years, including market research. While some efficiency-boosting options might be obvious—cutting an underused program so that dollars can be allocated to new tools, for example—others can be hard to spot without the benefit of distance.
If you feel like you need some help playing the critic and identifying potential savings in your market research budget, here are a few helpful questions to ask yourself:
1. Am I sufficiently leveraging existing research?
Whether primary or secondary, there is certainly a lot of research out there. Some of us in the primary research world do have a bias towards doing research from scratch. But existing research sometimes exists that will answer the questions at hand—if we look for it. It is worth a perusal through research aggregation sites like marketresearch.com and the-infoshop.com. You might also check with your trade associations; some industries have associations that fund research which their members can access.
2. Has it been more than a year since I asked existing research suppliers to get creative? Can they help me manage my budget?
On one hand, if they come up with some great ideas, you might be a little annoyed that they didn’t share them sooner. But sometimes just asking gives them the motivation.
3. Can I change which departments are paying for which research?
For example, a client was able to push a huge project from the central market research budget to the product development team’s budget—since that was the only internal client for the particular study.
4. Do I need to rethink my mix of quant versus qual research?
Sometimes savings comes from rethinking the overall mix of quantitative versus qualitative research. For example, a client who had traditionally preferred quant had also been having increasing issues with sample quality. By challenging her past assumptions about qual versus quant trade-offs, she ended up doing more qualitative methods—which helped her save money and be more realistic about reaching hard-to-find respondents.
5. Would different payment terms help me better manage my budget?
For example, longer terms or retainer arrangements could help stretch your dollars.
6. How satisfied are my internal clients with existing research programs?
Ask yourself, “Are there some programs with which they are not satisfied? Or feel are simply no longer relevant?” If the answer is “yes,” you now have a list of places that may be worth cutting.
7. Do I have a complete view of what research is being done, formal or rogue, throughout the organization?
Could some of this research be consolidated? Or could fees with a specific agency be negotiated based on volume/minimum commitments?
If you feel a bit uncertain about the answers to any of these questions, then it is time to conduct a Market Research audit. Unlike a tax audit, this is nothing to stress about. It just describes an objective process for A) documenting all of an organization’s Market Research resources and activities so that B) they can be assessed for effectiveness and fit with organizational priorities. A Market Research audit is a great way to zero-in on areas of budget excesses and shortages, allowing you to refresh and realign the Market Research budget.
With these seven simple questions, being the director and the critic is possible, even for a deadline-stressed market research manager. And with a little discipline, we can be our own critics, and identify successful improvement strategies. Wearing two hats at once doesn’t really have to be burdensome.
[For more budget optimizing tips, check out these other Research Rockstar articles: