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2 Questions You Must Ask Before Hiring a Market Research Agency

Planning to hire a market research agency to help with a project? Before you do, be sure to create a list of questions you will use to assess potential agencies for fit and qualifications. Some questions are obvious: experience with similar projects, years in business, company size, and so on. But here are two important questions that are often overlooked:

1. Do you belong to any professional associations? The answer should start with, “Yes, we are members of…”, and should finish with some combination of:

If they haven’t even heard of these groups, run. Run far.

2. What risks are we likely to run into with our project? All market research studies have some level of risk. An honest, clear-thinking researcher will easily be able to tell you what risks he or she foresees, and how they plan to mitigate them.  If you hear a response like, “There are no risks,” be skeptical.  At minimum, most studies have risks in terms of sample quality, data collection timeframe, and the possibility of “bad news” from the research results. All are manageable, but they exist. And an experienced market researcher will be able to tell you how they can be mitigated.

There are hundreds of market research agencies out there. Choose wisely.

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Kathryn Korostoff

Kathryn Korostoff is founder and lead instructor at Research Rockstar. Over the past 25 years, she has personally directed more than 600 primary market research projects and published over 100 bylined articles in magazines. She is also a professor at Boston University, where she teaches grad students how to analyze and report quantitative data.

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6 thoughts on “2 Questions You Must Ask Before Hiring a Market Research Agency”

  1. I’d take issue with the first question. Many of the best market researchers run small specialist firms and are individual members of professional trade bodies (rather than have corporate membership). Plus your list of organisations is somewhat US centric. In the UK I’d want the project manager to be a Full Member of the Market Research Society (the professional trade body for Market Research). Even better if he or she holds the Society’s Diploma in Market Research. As for the corporate trade bodies, firms may be members but their staff may not have proper professional accreditation. Therefore focus on the people doing the research (and their professional qualifications and experience) rather than organisation trade bodies.

  2. Thanks for the contribution, Jeffrey. I can’t speak for all organizations, but the MRA does allow one-person shops to buy a single person membership for just $350. And guilty as charged on the US focus! I did include ESOMAR,but clearly for UK folks the standard is the Market Research Society:

    Perhaps, then, the question is better asked as, “Is your company or its key staff members of any professional associations?”

    Alas, I have seen too many clients, and rescued a few from failed projects, that found a “market research” agency that really wasn’t. I’ve seen questionnaires written by “But he was a PhD…” that were full of obvious problems, I’ve seen data analysis that led to misleading conclusions, done by “our marketing agency said they did these types of projects too.” Market research buyers need a simple, safe way to sanity check credentials….

  3. Also, what about those firms that might take issue with what some of these orgs are doing or not doing? I think this is more likely to happen in the future. The industry is changing, truly good researchers should not be happy with the status quo. Some of these orgs will not keep up and may well become irrelevant.

    I would say if I asked clients the same question, only about half would be able to answer the same question. I think that is a key tell of what is to come… 😉

    No offense. But while I think this was probably an important question in the past, I’m not as sure it will be in the future.

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