Tips on how to choose the right social research or market research firm

There are many market and social research firms in Australia that can help you with your project.  An initial Google search of market research firms in Australia brings 242 million responses.  Where do you start with that sort of information? It can feel more overwhelming than helpful to have that much choice.  Choosing the wrong firm can be costly and choosing the right one can make a huge difference for your organisation.  At NSF Consulting we have put together a list of the top 8 important factors to consider when choosing a market research or social research firm.

1. Understanding of your sector

In order to understand what you are trying to explore, it is important to select a market research firm that ideally has some experience in your sector, or has demonstrated they understand your sector.  Have a look at the firm’s client list.  Look for experience that is relevant to your study, even if not directly related to it.   Do you get a sense that the company has enough related experience to hit the ground running with your project?  If your are looking to commission a social research project, it may be prudent to eliminate market research firms who only with in FMCGs (fast moving consumer goods).

2. Understanding research objectives

This goes hand in hand with #1 and is perhaps the most important factor to consider when choosing a market research firm.  You need to be sure that the company understands what you are wanting to achieve with the research.  Sometimes this only becomes obvious when a company responds to your research brief with their proposal.

3. Reporting style

Try to look at a few report examples of a company you would consider commissioning.  Do you feel a connection with their reporting style and use of language?  Of course, a good market research firm will be able to adapt a writing style to suit the intended reader audience, but you will be best to consider a firm that writes in plain English in a professional manner, with good spelling and grammar.

4. Strategic recommendations

Unless you do not know what you are commissioning your research for, you will be advised to choose a market research firm that demonstrates it is able to take research findings and translate them into clear, actionable strategic recommendations.  Some firms only provide Powerpoint-style topline reports, which may be all you need.  But if you are looking to make strategic decisions for your organisations, you will be best to see a few report examples and assess whether you feel the company will be able to provide you with actionable recommendations.

5. Capabilities

Try to select a market or social research firm that has demonstrated it has used multiple methods in previous projects.  A firm that only conducts quantitative research will be good if you only require a survey.  But it can be good to have a few options.  Sometimes a company will advise you to consider a method you hadn’t thought about. This may include focus groups, surveys, in-depth interviews and online surveys.  The greater the capabilities the company demonstrates it has in more than one of these methods the better.

6. Timeline

A market research firm may have all the capabilities and experience to deliver a great study, but if they are not in a position to meet your deadlines, they will be of no use to you.  This quality is best evaluated when you assess proposals in response to your brief.  If you have a particularly tight timeline, you may be advised to have a conversation with a market research company you are considering commissioning, in addition to assessing their proposal, to ensure they will be able to deliver.

7. Cost

This is always a contentious consideration.  It is often the most common initial factor that organisations consider when selecting a market research firm.  It is only realistic that you have a given budget for a research project. And money that is saved on research could be budget used elsewhere in your department.  However, choosing a market or social research firm who offer services for the lowest fee can be a false economy.  A firm that drives costs down by taking short cuts and skipping components will do you more harm than good, and in the end you will pay for it.  Reliable market research firms come at a cost.  The firm needs to spend enough time connecting with the right people, using the right techniques to get answers for you.  Try to resist choosing a firm purely because they came in with the lowest quote.

78. Location

Some organisations prefer to work with local social research or market research firms.  Something nothing can beat a face-to-face meeting and regular in-person meetings to catch up on progress.  But don’t rule out a firm that may be located interstate.  Flights are inexpensive these days and hardly impact on a project’s overall cost.  Plus, it is possible to utilise Skype and run meetings like you were all these in person.  And even more importantly, evaluate a company’s willingness to travel.  You may find an interstate company who has other contracts in your city and can be in your office regularly or with little notice.  On the other hand, just because a company is based in your city doesn’t mean they will be available when you would like to meet with them.

Choosing a market research firm is a big decision.  As well as pondering the eight tips mentioned here, it is important to go with your gut feeling.  Sometimes the style of a website and the image of the Principal consultant can communicate a lot.  If they look like they will be compatible with your organisation for the purpose of the research, then  have confidence in that feeling.  For more tips about how to select a market research firm, contact Natalie at NSF Consulting.  You can email at or call on (02) 9327 5219.

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