By Mike D’Abramo
This post is a defense of professional market researchers. I’m telling you that because, well, I am a professional market researcher so you should know my bias up front.
There are a number of high quality, easy to use DIY tools out there. I certainly don’t discourage their use: knowledge is power, and I happily advocate for businesses to know their category, their customers and their business better, no matter how they get that insight. Information matters, and most businesses don’t do enough to gather that information.
That said, compensating for the absence of a skilled, professional researcher by using DIY tools can generate data that you can’t rely on. No matter how carefully DIY tools are built, no matter how much templates are relied on, a professionally trained researcher will always strive to conduct research the ‘right way’—with rigour and precision—and do so efficiently. They will understand the nuances unique to your specific situation in order to avoid unanticipated bias in the development of your data collection tools, your questionnaire. There is an art and science to the research, and DIY tools can only help with a portion of the science.
Beyond that, in my opinion, the most important reason for working with a research professional is perspective. I was presenting a research report to one of our clients last week. In the middle of a deep exploration of the nuances of the challenges faced by their partners, I was asked, “Is this unique to our industry?” I was able to draw upon experiences with two different industries that had nothing to do with her business. She found this both reassuring and eye-opening. By drawing on my experiences over many years and across different industries, I was able to contextualize her unique problem as a result of external pressures. I helped her see her company’s partners in a different light. Our collaboration of client and professional led to a far better strategic outcome.
This is where DIY research tools can be problematic: when we only ever conduct and see research for our own business, we lack this perspective. We ask questions from the point of view of the ultimate expert. We can skip essential questions or assume too much of our respondent because some information is so internalized, we don’t realize it isn’t common knowledge. We can miss the chance to understand successes and failures in other categories, learnings that can add valuable insight. Whether it is understanding customer needs or user experience testing, an objective professional researcher who works with a multitude of clients in a multitude of categories and industries will see things that you may not.
So to all the DIY researchers out there: keep doing your thing, keep learning about your business, keep learning about research. Just know that, at least sometimes, hiring a professional researcher isn’t a cost, it is an investment in gathering both deeper insights and a broader perspective.