Market Research

The Irrelevant Market Research Supplier…or Client

Do you consider yourself a market research “supplier” or “client”?

And how easy was it for you to answer that question? I’m betting many readers will actually hesitate before they answer.

Many market research teams have experienced dramatic shifts in research work content and scope over the past few years.  Perhaps the most notable change has been that many market research teams changed how they think about outsourcing and insourcing—often moving away from project-based thinking (where projects are either entirely insourced or outsourced) and instead fragmenting the research process (choosing when to outsource a specific function).  Interestingly, this can be seen in both research client and supplier organizations.
Consider the following hypothetical cases:

  1. If I am a market researcher working for a big CPG company, and some of my projects are outsourced and some are done in-house, am I not both a client and a supplier?
  2. If I work for a market research agency that outsources moderation and high-end statistics, am I not both a supplier and a client?
  3. If I run the market research department for a pharma company, and I do all research in-house except for panel management, am I not an in-house agency (a supplier)?

Today, “suppliers” may be full-service agencies or in-house groups (just like many large companies have in-house PR agencies).  And “clients” may outsource entire projects, or only pieces. Don’t we all know at least one “client-side” research executive whose team does everything in-house (and very well) except they outsource reporting? And others that do the opposite: whose team outsources data collection and analysis, but does the reporting in-house?

So, do you consider yourself a market research “supplier” or “client”?

Or, do you find that categorization entirely irrelevant?

Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.


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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8 thoughts on “The Irrelevant Market Research Supplier…or Client”

  1. Distinctions are becoming ever more fluid. I see myself as both a supplier and a client, depending sometimes on the hour of the day. In my capacity as market research manager for Global Knowledge I perform most of my own work, yet I require external sample and programming periodically. As a partner in Anova Market Research we service other agencies with analytics and reporting yet we also serve clients without an internal MR resource.

    As long as there are new developments in analytic techniques and software, or even in areas where we have little expertise (e.g. qualitative for me) we will outsource or invest in the time and resources to “skill-up”.


    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Greg. Yet another reason why dividing market researchers by client or supplier labels may no longer be meaningful: a lot of people do in fact have multiple roles.

  2. Great question! We just conducted our Corporate Research Survey (to be published in September) and our data (600+ corporate researcher responses) show a similar finding. We asked:

    What percentage of your research projects are conducted in-house vs. outsourced?
    Partially outsourced: 22.99%
    Fully outsourced: 34.20%
    Conducted in-house: 43.22%

    We followed it up with the reasons why they outsource — but that will be part of our report.

  3. Great article! Like the others I consider myself both…client and supplier. We don’t do the data collection (at least for quantitative research) but can handle basically everything else. That said – I like to work with “specialists”…people who really specialize at one skill set. For example, if I want to do sophisticated analytics then I look for a statistician. I don’t necessarily find the need to hire a “full service” research agency that will manage the project from start to finish.

  4. I find this fascinating, especially on the heels of Lenny’s post on Greenbookblog calling for MR companies to look at the need to change their strategies as more and more DIY research tools are made available (such as Microsoft’s recent announcement). Increasingly, as you pointed out, various aspects of the research are being run by various teams. I am currently working for a supplier, but I don’t execute the study or the analytics: I’m the project manager and partner with my client in looking for the insights from the data. I see the industry opportunity in two areas: working with DIY researchers to teach them best practices, perhaps consulting with them to make their research better; and partners in generating insights and crafting the stories from the data, perhaps recommending deeper research as a result of questions discovered while reviewing findings. I’ll be curious to see if we see more firms pivoting to either or both approaches.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I agree with your points, though I do think as an industry we use the term “DIY” too loosely. Many client-side researchers I know are doing research-in-house–but it isn’t “DIY” with low skills or low-end tools–I know plenty of client-side teams that have the same skills and tools many agencies have.

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