Weighing the trade-offs between in-house versus outsourced market research is more complex than it might appear at first glance. As we have already talked about in this series, there are some compelling benefits, and thanks to new technology, real feasibility. But even after you assess the tools, the trickiest part is still at hand: how to assess in-house skills.
Can In-house Staff Handle All Market Research Needs?
Every organization is unique. In some, the plan may be to train existing staff. In others, the plan is to hire new staff. And in still others, a combination of training, hiring and even planned use of market research consultants.
Regardless of which strategy you plan on, the real challenge is to realistically gauge the amount of work and skill levels you will need—should you go so far as to fire your market research partners (well, “fire” may be extreme, but “downgrade” may apply). A pilot phase, as recommended in Part 2, is the best way to do this.
In assessing your staff’s readiness for more in-house work, there are certain skills that are basic requirements. Depending on the types of projects you conduct, knowledge of basic market research methods and techniques are obviously important. But beyond the basics of questionnaire design, interviewing techniques, recruit management, statistics and so on, are several categories of management skills that your market research agency partners have been providing. The question is, can your staff take on these aspects as well?
Market Research Skills Assessment
As you conduct 1 or 2 pilot projects in-house, assess your staff with brutal honesty on the following five items.
- Project Management Skills: Running a market research project, of any kind, from start to finish includes coordinating a lot of moving parts. Even in its most basic form, project management can be a very intense job, especially for the many real-world market research projects that have tight budgets and firm schedules. Q: During the pilot project, did your in-house team do a great job on keeping to a schedule, managing a budget, and communicating with internal clients?
- Reporting Process: Of course, it’s not just about project management. You need to go through an entire project and deliver results upon completion. What kind of output is generated? What does it take to turn that output into a client-ready report? Does your in-house team realistically have the time to focus on generating great reports? Even if it’s for a “friendly” internal client, was the in-house team equipped and able to generate a final report? Q: Does your in-house staff have enough experience with market research tools and analysis techniques to create a report that gets to the real “so what” of the results?
- QA Skills: Market research companies often have rigorous best practices for quality control (how they clean data sets for quantitative projects, how they error check charts, and so on). When you do your pilot projects, see how well your team manages the quality aspects. Are results delivered free of errors? If there is data that looks contradictory, does your staff identify those issues proactively, before your internal clients do? Q: Does your staff have the skills and processes to check and enforce data quality?
- Presentation Abilities: It’s one thing to write a market research report; quite another to actually present the results. The last step in many market research projects involves making a presentation to executives, and that requires the ability to stand in front of a group of people and present research in a compelling, objective, credible way. That ability can be boosted by context gleaned from having done many projects over many years. For example, a presenter who can truthfully say, “This unexpected finding is, in fact, consistent with other messaging studies I’ve done where…” is using experience to add context, and this enhances the research’s credibility. When you do your pilot projects, be honest: do in-house staff have the required level of credibility? Do they engage their internal colleagues sufficiently to get them to really pay attention and use the research results? Q: Are your in-house staff perceived as credible when delivering research results?
- Delivery Effectiveness: The brutal reality is that sometimes an outside research firm can deliver the bad news that market research studies may uncover better than in-house staff. You may find that customer satisfaction isn’t what you’d hoped, or that a new product idea isn’t being well received. Often, it can be easier for an outsider to deliver that news—and easier for the audience to “hear” it from them. So even if you have in-house colleagues who are amazing presenters, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they can be effective with the tough projects. Q: Will your internal staff be comfortable reporting bad news to their senior-level colleagues? And will those colleagues really listen?
Bottom line: Assessing your staff for basic market research skills is pretty straightforward; questionnaire design, interviewing techniques, and statistics skills are all obviously either there or not. Assessing your staff on the skills beyond the mechanics can be trickier—unless you do an actual pilot.
If you assess your staff skills across these areas during a couple of pilot projects, you’ll have a good sense of whether or not you’re indeed ready to move more towards in‑house market research. And, more importantly, you’ll know what staff skills to invest in or augment.
(This concludes a 3-part series on transitioning to in-house market research.)