You are not alone. Many companies invest in market research, without an actual, dedicated department.
If you have been thinking about expanding your market research investments but still aren’t quite ready to build an in-house team, another option is to build a virtual one.
What is a virtual market research department?
A virtual market research department is different than outsourcing to a full-service agency (which is, of course, always an option). A virtual department works for you. They act as an extension of your company. They are accountable to you, and all costs are transparent (such as the actual out of pocket costs of doing the research).
In practical terms, a virtual market research department is usually based on finding one or two key market research consultants. Experienced project managers with skills and experiences relevant to your company. Once you have them in place, they will take on the tasks of finding qualified resources as needed for specific projects.
What are the benefits?
Incremental growth. A virtual market research department is a great interim step. You can start with this approach, and if your needs continue to grow, transition to a more conventional, in-house function.
Flexibility. Since these are not regular employees, you have a lot more flexibility. You get to choose how many hours a week you need, and for what types of skills.
What are the risks?
Supervision. A virtual market research team needs supervision. Especially during the first few months while you get to know each other. Have realistic expectations about the amount of time it will take to get them up to speed on your preferences, company policies, budgeting processes, and so on.
Budget creep. Most likely, the team will be working for you on an hourly or daily rate basis. You need to have an agreed upon monthly budget or “not-to-exceed” figure to avoid misunderstandings. Of course, you also need to be reasonable; nobody can manage three different studies in 5 hours a week. And you can’t expect them to deliver fantastic research without a budget.
Building a Virtual Market Research Department in 30 Days
Yes, it can be done in 30 days. Start by documenting your goals for the function. Precisely document your required processes (for communications and decision making) as well as your market research goals (what types of information you will need, to support what types of decisions). Once you have these things documented, you can go ahead and start vetting potential virtual team members.
There are many independent market research professionals with great experience who specifically seek out these kinds of client arrangements. Need help finding one? Check out the many market research groups on LinkedIn, or ping me at KKorostoff@ResearchRockstar and I can make some specific recommendations.