Why the Best Market Research RFPs Allow Wiggle Room

Couple with a financial advisor
By Sandy Monahan, Martec Partner

Growing up my dad was very fond of saying, “Well, it appears you’re smarter than you look,” upon completion of an assigned chore well done, an ‘A’ on a school project or any number of trivial to significant accomplishments. In my world of B2B market research, this canned saying from my dad has come to mind on occasion when reviewing client requests for proposals (RFPs).

In some cases, we receive formal RFPs from clients with a scope of work that is framed in such rigid detail that it either intentionally or unintentionally advises the recipient “we know exactly what we want so please don’t bother us with any questions or suggestions.” And, that may be spot on in some cases – the drafted project request may warrant exactly that scope, approach, timing, etc. set forth in the RFP.

But much of the time, you should want us to pester you with our opinions and challenge your project thinking/approach/scope with our questions—because B2B market research is what we do every day. Market researchers work closely with a diverse cross-section of business managers and leadership teams across numerous industries and end-use markets. This gives us incredibly broad exposure to the ways various businesses assess how to successfully compete with their products, services, pricing, channels, communications and promotional plans. This in turn provides us with valuable perspectives other clients can lever when considering external research needs and the best way to ensure successful results.

When considering external research, it is a good thing to actively engage your market research vendor in the ‘what & how’ and even the ‘why’ scoping aspects of the research project being considered. Exceedingly stringent RFPs don’t allow for wiggle room… wiggle room that experienced market researchers can expand upon to amplify positive results.

Here’s what to watch for when drafting your next market research RFP:

  • Methodology – In market research there are many ways to extract and analyze the information your business is looking for. Try not to limit the options by stating only focus groups should be used or, drilling down even more specifically, ‘adaptive choice-based conjoint analysis’ is to be used.
    Your vendor might know that personal interviews, field trials or ‘Van Westendorp Price Elasticity’ is the better methodology to employ for a particular RFP scenario.
  • Numbers – Our recommendation is to not get married to an exact count or total interview number. Sure, ‘50’ sounds like a nice, round, fleshy number – but what if those ‘50’ interviews only give you half of the picture?
    In one situation based on the diversity of respondent types included, 50 may be too small a number. In another situation, it might be wiser to start with half that number and see if 25 will effectively deliver the information sought.
    The distribution of interviews across the value chain can also be an important consideration. For instance, your market research vendor may recommend 30-35 interviews be conducted with end-use decision makers and 10-20 with distributors to develop a more complete picture of the market.
  • Geography – ‘Global’ requests are commonplace, and if the research scope needs to span the globe, congratulations! But note that an experienced market research firm with global offices may see situations where diving first into select markets would make more sense and be more efficient in the long run.
    Be careful, too, of how many countries you include in a global or regional project. For example, for an Asia-Pacific project, more than likely you’ll include China and Japan (based on population and GDP), but does it really make sense to include an additional three interviews each from Malaysia, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand? Including interviews from more countries means adding several fieldwork team members for language capabilities, briefings, management and translations—which drives the cost per complete much higher. It may be worthwhile, but first be sure the value is there.

At Martec, among our US-based partner and director level colleagues alone, we collectively have over 200 years of experience. We’ve been exposed to thousands of client requests for external market research—which range from collaborative and iterative assignments with the goal of ‘how do we figure this out’ to projects relying on any number of highly structured, data-driven analyses and everything in between.

We encourage businesses we work with to draw upon our experience – because, as my dad would say, “we’re smarter than we look.”

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