In 2010, a study by Intuit predicted that 40% of the US workforce would be contingent workers – that is, freelancers and consultants – by 2020. Today, we’re halfway to that year and it appears that we have already hit 34% of the workforce engaged as independent contractors, freelancers, and moonlighters.
It’s a significant shift in the mindset we have about work and employment – some are even blaming our slow economic recovery on this change. Whether you’re a researcher looking to go out on your own or a client that wants to hire a market research consultant, recognizing these traits will help you get the most out of your choice.
A good marketing research consultant is more interested in meeting the needs of the clients than furthering their own agenda. It doesn’t mean bending to a clients’ every whim, just understanding what they want from a project and guiding them towards the best way to get it.
2. Good listener
You need to be a good listener – what clients say they want isn’t always what they need. Similarly, you need to be able to listen to research participants (particularly in qualitative studies) and ask questions that help them get to the crux of what they’re trying to say.
A marketing researcher works with people and you should be truly interested in them and why they do things. For a quantitative researcher, that may mean asking yourself “What might make this person answer my survey?” For a qualitative researcher, you could be putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to get them to open up to you.
4. Analytical, yet creative.
You have to be able to see things from different sides – there is a creative aspect to developing a research project and an analytical part that happens after the data has been collected. Then, you must go back to your creative side and come up with a good story about customers, branding, or anything else the client wants to know. Don’t recite data, tell a story. You need to be objective while synthesizing information, but creative when turning it into something interesting and meaningful.
It doesn’t matter how great your research is, a consultant often acts as an educator for the client. Most people aren’t experts on research so if you’re a poor or unengaging communicator, your recommendations won’t be acted upon (read: waste of money). It isn’t only about clients, you should be able to communicate with participants as well so you can get the information you need from them.
In this world, all you have is your reputation.
You may follow a rigid research structure or receive very specific proposals, but it’s your ability to go with the flow that will determine your success. Research projects don’t always go to plan, people don’t always do what you expect them do, so you must be able to think on your feet and get a sense of what needs to be done and do it.
When it comes down to it, clients want to know that you are bringing them value. Your results may not always scream ROI but you must be interested in furthering the goals of the business. This is where marketing research diverges from academic research: it’s not just about being academically correct, it’s about providing value to a company. Not only that, but you are running your own business – if that’s not going so well, it will be hard for clients to trust that you can help them with their companies.
You will be working with internal and external teams, so you need to be able get key people doing what needs to be done. The best way to do that is with diplomacy and good organization skills.
Experience counts for a lot – whether it’s the connections you have from a long career or insider industry knowledge. But experience you can gain with time. Intellectual capacity and training certainly help when you’re trying to get executives to come to a conclusion they may not have reached on their own.
A consultant needs to be confident enough to sell and stand up for your ideas. Though you may have been hired by your clients, you are still a leader and expert in what they have hired you to do.
12. Sense of humor (“people person”)
Or at least the ability to connect with people – especially for qualitative research. A marketing researcher needs to make people feel at ease and get them to like you because in the end, you are asking for their help.
As mentioned above, you need to connect with people. Judgment is a way of distancing yourself from others, which is a terrible way of conducting qualitative research. Find something likable about everyone so that people feel comfortable and open with you.
Being a consultant means you have the freedom to set your own schedule so if you find comfort in structure and being told what to do, you’ll find it difficult to succeed. You have to have high standards for yourself and be able to organize your own time.
15. Ability to see the big picture
Marketing research isn’t about execution – it comes down to developing strategies and plans for brands. You have to be able to see the overall market, the company itself, its buyers, and what effect different business decisions might have. The ability to step back and see a wider outcome is important.
Photo by Markus Spiske.
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