8 Things to Look for in a Good Research Partner

Published on 03 Oct, 2017

If you're in business, you're at war.

Odds are you’re also trying to run a lean business, which means you've not got enough manpower to chuck into the trenches.

When it comes to gathering critical information about the markets, the competitors, or even the feasibility of key business decisions; most firms operating out there have in-house research experts that are a jack of all trades, but masters of none. And this might work in few cases.

Sometimes though, and this definitely sneaks up on the weary that aren’t wary, you’ll need to spring a little extra for situations that call for specific expertise.

Your first big decision is whether you want to tackle this internally, or hire a Research Partner. 

Picking a Research Partner —Why Decision Makers are Undecided

You need to find a consultant or provider with the right mix of experience, expertise, and eagerness to help you succeed, someone that can help you stay on top of the inevitable — Change.

Every quarter brings change; you’re probably grappling with fresh market dynamics, shifting industry trends, competitors that crop up, and any number of challenges or situations that you'd never dreamt you’d be in. This is especially true if you're expanding, with new businesses, into new geographies, with new activities to boot. Sometimes, change could even come simply in the form of internal overhauls that are meant to improve things, if not the bottom line.

If you don’t know what any of that’s like, you’re not doing enough to get ahead.

Either way, you need help.

The next step is obvious, a quest for the right research partner, and the inevitable parade of pitches.

You’ve heard it before.

They’ve all got it all; the best team of experts with years of experience in delivering innovative, world-class solutions through the most outstanding experience that you could ever hope for.

If you’re nodding politely through what seems like the fifteenth presentation of the same fluff, and you still don’t have a clear idea of which firm is your best bet, it’s about time you made a decision. After all, you’ve slid down this rabbit hole hoping to get things moving and get something done!  

Not sure if what you’ll get is what you paid for?

Not sure if what you’ve asked for will even be under budget?

Don’t know which research partner really has what it takes?

It's so hard to find good help these days you say?

Not if you know what you’re looking for.


8 Things to Look For in a Good Research Partner

1 — Original Ideas

Don’t spend a day in someone else’s shoes.

That’s your research partner’s job.

Any research provider that’s been in business for more than a few years probably has a decent playbook, and their guys have a standard approach to tackling the problems you’ve tasked them with. While that may work out to some degree, your research partner should be cognizant of a simple fact — your company wasn’t set up out-of-the-box, your research solution needn’t be either.

It’s up to them to go beyond the obvious operational questions, establish a well-defined scope of engagement, and fill in the gaps. A good research partner should listen, ask plenty of (good) questions, and try to poke holes in your replies, just as you’d do with theirs. When they’re trying to find a solution that fits your specific needs, their critique and insights should help you refine, perhaps even redefine your objectives, all the while helping you meet your goals.


2 — Tailor-made Teams that See You Through

Your work will only be as good as the people doing it.

Make sure you’ve got an A-Team.

A good research partner understands that, which is why they’ll not only give you custom solutions, but also a tailored team designed to meet your specific needs. They’ll go beyond just pulling together a bunch of their experts to fit your category or industry needs; they should be able to create a cross-functional team that can leverage its diverse expertise to cover every imaginable facet of your business universe — and the problems it could throw at you.

A good research partner will also ensure that their (nay, your) team sticks with you till the end. Be wary of firms that sell their best and brightest, only to switch you over to a junior analyst or manager once they bag the deal and the project kicks off.


3 — Agility/Inventive

Figure it out.

Because when your plans go up against the real world, the real world wins. 

This goes beyond just dealing with subtle differences due to factors like geography, local norms, and the nuances of your business space. Things change; you’ll have to as well. You need a research partner that can adapt quickly to changes in your time and space. The best firms know not to use a standard approach for similar projects, because they understand that you’ll need to tweak your strategy to cope with unforeseen changes.

It’s inevitable; you’ll need to extend deadlines, flex budgets, and cope with situations that nobody saw coming. Your research partner will need to step up their game and deliver within tight expectations.

If your research partner has the aptitude and experience they’re claiming, they should be able to accommodate changes and deal with new developments without a fuss.


4 — Relevant Experience/Expertise

The fastest swimmers aren’t always the best marathoners.

Will they be able to do what you need them to?

 Any established research service provider probably has a comprehensive portfolio listed on their website. It’s safe to say that, while they may have dabbled in all of them, they’re probably well-versed with just a few of those. They probably know even fewer like the back of their hand.

What you need is a provider that’s had enough experience with industry-specific factors to confidently say they’re ready for anything. Troubleshoot anything and everything you think could go wrong with them, and they ought to have questions and suggestions of their own.

This discourse ought to give you a good feel of whether they’re really on top of their game; if it doesn’t seem like you’re getting insights and inputs that stem from real-world experience, they’re probably just winging it.

If they’re selling you a seasoned team that’s worked well for years however, be wary.

You’ll need to make sure that the team you’re straddled with isn’t too set in their ways.  You do, after all, need someone on point that can think on their feet and adapt to (the inevitable) changes in your space. If you’ve gauged them as worthy through the first three gauntlets, chances are, they’ve got what it takes.  


5 — Size

It matters.

And one size doesn’t fit all.

Finding a research partner with truly global reach is important. Your business interests will probably span multiple continents, different languages, and diverse factors. Having one supplier that can handle it all is a definite advantage.

The biggest players in the research space are usually a one-stop-shop, and you’d probably think that going with one of them — budget willing — is a no-brainer. Well, you’d be wrong.

True, a big firm could handle everything under one roof. But before you decide to sign one, ask yourself – who are you, to them?

Your needs, whatever they may be, would be just another account for them to cater to. A large research service provider’s interest in your work would be relative to whatever else they’ve got going on. There’s a chance you’ll be a lower priority if your research partner has bigger fish to fry.

Conversely, if you’re signing up a small research partner for whom you’re a big fish, you’re sure to get priority. There is, however, always a risk that your research partner bit off more than they could chew when they signed you. If the volume of work coming their way increases, will they be able to accommodate it? If not, will they be able to scale up to meet your needs, be they short-term or long?

Bandwidth and priorities aside, you’ll also need to factor in flexibility.

Larger research providers have a lot invested in the processes and methods they’ve built over the years, and they aren’t particularly fond of treading off the beaten path. Relatively smaller research partners on the other hand aren’t so set in their ways, and they’re better able to adopt or adapt.


6 — The Right Tools

You wouldn’t bring a knife to a gunfight.

Neither should your partner.

When you’re facing challenges from new competitors, grappling with changes in technology, and perhaps venturing into a space you’ve not yet fully understood, it’s important to make sure, at the very least, that you’ve done your homework.

Most businesses rely on research partners that they’ve worked with before, and for the most part, that can work.

Still, what’s holding you back from trying someone new?

Chances are, a new research partner will bring plenty to the table, things like new skills, new perspectives, and more often than not, new intelligence avenues. When fielding a new research partner, it’s important to consider whether they’ve got tools or techniques that separate them from the competition, and if they do, then how those could work for you.

We live in a time where data is plentiful, but gathering information (and insights) isn’t as straightforward as it used to be; make sure your research partner is well equipped to serve you.


7 — Realistic

With their head in the clouds, they’ll promise you the moon.

Don’t buy it.

You’ve got your business objectives cut out for you, there’s a scope, a budget, and you’ve got a general idea of how you’d need to get things done.

A good research partner should be able to help you streamline all that.

They should help you distill your objectives to important goals, clearly defining your core pursuits and projects. They’ll then help you fit those goals within your budget, making sure that, at the very least; you’re covering what’s most important.

Watch out for someone trying to sell you something just to boost their bottom line. Your research partner should either be able to work with you within your constraints, or have a reasonable explanation why not. Don’t fret if you have to tweak your budget or timeline a bit, that’s perfectly normal. If done for the right reasons, you may even end up redefining your objectives to fit a larger strategic picture.

You should, however, be wary of providers that promise you everything you want just the way you want it; they’re either superbly confident, or desperate to close the deal.

If they’ve gotten through gauntlets #1 through #6 in this list, then chances are it’s the former.

If they haven’t, then spend some time, make sure they’ve explained every step of their plan (and its purpose) in detail, and ask them all the critical questions you could possibly come up with.  If they seem vague about anything or aren’t able to walk you through it satisfactorily, then they’re just clamoring to close the deal.


8 — References

Don’t take our word for it.

Ask around.

When you’re fishing for anything new, word of mouth is still a pretty strong influence. A good research partner knows that, which is why most of them have glowing client testimonials on their home page.

Look beyond those.

Don’t hold back from asking for references, and don’t stop at the list they give you.

Trawl the Internet, look for reviews, but first and foremost – ask them for a list of clients whom they’ve done similar work for. Call, email, do whatever you can to get a hold of them and dig into your prospective research partner.

If you've been in business long enough, then chances are you've had a bad experience with a consulting firm and been burned; make sure the firm you're considering doesn't have similar traits.

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