Market Researchers Hire Market Researchers - But Should They?

One of the key themes I saw popping up in 2009 was the need for market researchers to communicate insights instead of information (or even worse: data). I've been at a number of events where this was discussed and I followed multiple discussions in market research groups like for example Next Generation Market Research (NGMR) on LinkedIn. Personally I added to this discussion by publishing a report called The Marketing Of Market Research - Successful Communication Builds Influence.

The general consensus is that market researchers should stay away from elaborating on the research methodology and presenting research results with many data heavy slides and graphics. Instead, they should act more like consultants: produce a presentation that reads like an executive summary (maximum 20 slides or so) and starts with the recommendations. The presentation should show the key insights gained from the project, cover how these results tie back to business objectives, include alternative scenarios and advice on possible next steps.

However, another consensus from the conversations is that not all market researchers are equally well equipped to deliver such a presentation, where they're asked to translate data into insights, come up with action items, and tell a story. Most participants in the discussions agreed with the statement that the majority of market researchers still feels most comfortable when they present research outcomes (aka numbers).

One would assume that when communication skills have become such an important element of the job, market researchers would change their hiring requirements. However, a study conducted early 2009 in Forrester's market research panel shows that the majority of market researchers don't care much about applicants' writing, story telling or presentation skills.





In order to elevate market research internally, and increase this influence we're all talking about, market research departments need to hire more often people who master these communication skills (of course in combination with market research knowledge).

I'm interested in your opinion: I realize that this data is almost a year old, do you think that this has changed in the past year? Do you test for communication skills like story telling, writing, or presenting when you hire for a market research position?If so, how?


Should researchers hire researchers?

This is a very important discussion and I hope I can contribute to it.

It seems to me that most research buyers now know they have a choice about where to go for market research insights. Research firms are just one option. Insights can also be provided by marketing agencies, consultants, and even in-house marketers. The in-house marketers may know less about methodology but if they have a better understanding of the business problem and their time is "free" this can be a great choice. Savvy buyers explore a variety of options to see how they can get the most quality and credibility at the lowest price.

I have no doubt that clients want more insights than they are getting. I agree with those who say researchers have to step up to this. We need to hire more people who are flexible, versatile and willing to partner. We can't compete on methodology expertise alone.

re: Market Researchers Hire Market Researchers - But Should The

Good summary of a perennial problem! When I worked in a marketing role (within a research environment) we would often tear our hair out at how we'd create streamlined, involving presentations for researchers and they'd want to move the methodology back to the beginning, put the data back in here and here, and before you knew it your slim 15 slides was back in the 40s. (Mind you, sometimes they were right and our enthusiasm for editorial sleekness had driven out a lot of nuance in the content.)

But! I've also seen research firms hire "communicators" who turned out not to be terribly good. One problem is that if you have great storytelling, presentation and writing skills, are you likely to WANT to join a research agency? We don't generally value the skills much and we don't usually pay for them that well. So probably your CV isn't even crossing the desk of the person making the hire.

But precisely BECAUSE researchers don't value those skills and don't have them, they also don't really know how to spot or assess them. So if they go looking for those skills they're likely to overrate the candidates they do get! Of course I've seen brilliant non-researchers get hired as well as mediocre ones, but when you do take the plunge, be picky!

re: Market Researchers Hire Market Researchers - But Should The

this is a great post on potentially the most important issue facing the market research profession globally.

It is hard to find great people with both skills sets. Some young researchers are the exception i feel although we need to ensure they hang in long enough to be great.

So we need to establish small teams to service clients (2 is a team!), really strong research expertise combined with strong communication skills/ability to distill the story and communicate it well.

re: Market Researchers Hire Market Researchers - But Should The

Sadly, I really don't expect your data has changed much. Out of all the conferences I attended last fall, the AMA MRC really focused on the need for better communication: I think marketing professionals in particular are frustrated with the quality of analysis coming from market researchers.

It's too easy to spit out a report in the order respondents were asked the questions -- that's focusing on the data itself rather than treating it as a means to an end. Our presentations need to clearly answering the essential business questions that prompted the research in the first place, and the data should be structured to showcase how it best supports our conclusion.

re: Market Researchers Hire Market Researchers - But Should The

True enough that clients are looking for insights - but the problem in providing them is not just due to the communications skills of the researchers. Too often, especially in Asia, clients do not let researchers get close enough to properly understand the issues, or business imperatives, driving the research in the first place, or the different needs of different stakeholders in the presentation. Consultants, and agencies, generally are allowed to get close enough, but then they are not working on project based renumeration. Basically if you want consultancy, you need to treat people like consultants. Where researchers are kept at arms length its probably not suprising if researchers fall back on a narrative of the research story (ie the numbers). Besides which I think researchers tend to have in built programming to present evidence based recommendations - probably from years of having every data point challenged! So whilst I would agree that some researchers do need to improve their communication skills, so do many clients

re: Market Researchers Hire Market Researchers - But Should The

Thank you all for your comments.

I agree with you Guy that part of the problem is a result of not being informed properly about the business objectives of the research projects. But this is somewhat a chicken and egg discussion, where lies the problem (or solution)? I really believe that market researchers can play a much stronger role within an organization if they start to think, communicate and act in a more strategic matter. And that involves for example being very clear on what you can and can't do (or wont). But it takes patience and commitment: I've talked to market researchers who in their own time ran a research project to show the organization they could do the same as the consultancy firm the organization was planning on hiring. Or another researcher who used part of her own MR budget to run a project she was confident the organization would benefit from greatly. It did help them both to change their role internally, but it's not an easy way.

To Tom, with regards to the hiring requirements it's indeed challenging to find people with data interest and skills who are great communicators. What I've done in the past is have candidates present on a data set I shared with them. What we were looking for was creativity: some included news articles to give some urgency to the data, others had done an additional survey on surveymonkey, or they engaged us in some role-play. But other times we had to sit through some boring or painful presentations. To make a long story short, I believe that people who show creativity and curiosity and dare to take some risk in such a setting can be trained and developed into great communicators. Hope this helps

re: Market Researchers Hire Market Researchers - But Should The

Great blog post that managed to get me blogging:

My view in brief: can any researcher embody all that is required of the job. As in journalism, where you have writers and editors – one to do the leg work, the other to maximise the impact of the written word – should the research role not be split between ‘insight gatherers’ and ‘insight communicators’.

re: Market Researchers Hire Market Researchers - But Should The

No doubt this is an ongoing issue that is not easy to address. And I have often cringed when seeing reports that begin with methodology and sample requirements. As a marketer I want to know the key findings and what to do about it right away.

This is definitely not an easy problem to solve, mostly based on the nature of people who end up in research and the fact that bringing a writer in at the end loses much of the nuance.

One way to help is by framing the story points before putting charts on the page. What are the 5 things the client needs to know? How do we support those points? Rather than "here are a ton of charts" what are the key takeaways from them.

re: Market Researchers Hire Market Researchers - But Should The

After 10 years in research as a non-researcher/communicator I cannot believe this is still the problem it is! I think the approach to recruitment is wrong. Research skills can be learned by a reasonably intelligent and curious individual, but I think communications skills are more innate and harder to learn (to do with linguistic ability, confidence, experience). Recruiting good communicators as client-facing agency or client side researchers, and bringing them up to speed on research skills, makes more sense than attempting to force an academic or introverted researcher into abandoning methodology and data charts and doing a great song and dance act.
I know from agency experience like Tom's that this doesn't always work but that is mostly when the 'communicators' were not interested in research, which clearly makes them unsuitable for the task of working in a research agency...
And I think Brian's point is fair; research does need people with different skills - but you cannot divorce the gathering from the communicating. If you stick a brilliant communicator in front of a load of data that they don't really know or understand they will fall flat on their face.