Turning a market research project over to an agency, even if they are an experienced firm, does not automatically ensure that satisfactory work will be the result. Terms of reference (based on the research brief) must be drawn up and the agency must be carefully selected.Research agencies vary widely in terms of the type of research they undertake and the kind of skills they can offer. Some agencies specialise in doing research within certain industries, such as food, engineering or tourism. Others specialise in particular types of research, such as motivational research or test marketing. Another fundamental difference between agencies is that some specialise in consumer research and others in industrial (i.e. business to business) research. It is rare for an agency to be equally skilled in all of these areas.

No reputable market research agency should hesitate to supply references and the feedback provided by former clients should enable the firm to narrow down the possibilities to a shortlist of two or three promising agencies. An interview should then be arranged at which the research needs are discussed in detail. More specifically, the exporter should provide the agency with the following guidelines:

  • A detailed description (and/or sample) of the product(s) in question
  • A statement of the research problem(s) (preferably in the form of a written document)
  • An indication of the types of decisions that are likely to be influenced by the research results and the uses to which the results are to be put (e.g. whether publication is envisaged)
  • An outline of the budget available for the project

The agency should, in turn, present examples of its work, e.g. reports that have been completed for other clients. After the initial interview, each agency should be requested to submit a written research proposal, including, for example:

A detailed description of the research design covering:

  • The scope and nature of any preliminary desk research or pilot studies to be performed
  • The data collection technique(s) to be used, i.e. how the information is to be obtained
  • The universe to be sampled. i.e. who is to be interviewed/surveyed
  • The size of the sample, i.e. how many are to be interviewed/surveyed
  • The method of sample selection, i.e. how the respondents are to be selected
  • A statement of the cost of the project and a clear indication of how this figure has been arrived at (including any assumptions made)
  • A reasonably detailed timetable for the project

We have provided a checklist for you to use for selecting a market research agency.