5 tips for getting the best out of your research agency

Commissioning research can be a significant investment and so I thought I’d share some tips for getting the best out of your agency when you do.

1. Write a brief

It doesn’t have to be extensive or comprehensive, but it should be a start point for discussion. I would suggest the following as a minimum:

  • What do you want to know? What are your objectives?
  • Why do you want to know it? Feel free to provide some context here.
  • How did you identify your insight needs?
  • What will you do with the insight once you have it? Are you looking to improve a process or a product, improve customer satisfaction, save money, increase sales and so on?
  • Who are the key stakeholders?

If nothing else, a brief helps you to clarify your thinking, pin down the expectations of stakeholders and importantly, acts as a catalyst for discussion with your agency, they can question and prioritise objectives with you to ensure that any insights projects commissioned address those needs.

Remember if you’re using the right agency, they are the experts.  It’s better not to confine them with a methodology unless you will not consider an alternative, typically any agency worth their salt would rather look at your objectives and budgets (see tip 2) and suggest an appropriate methodology based on both.


2. Set and share your budget

All too often commissioning clients are loathe to set or share budgets with agencies in the belief that those agencies will ‘spend’ right up to the budget, what this can mean is that agencies propose a solution to fit the objectives, only to find that this is well beyond an organisation’s means. By sharing the budget you’re allowing the agency to propose pragmatic and creative solutions to meeting your objectives, that doesn’t mean they won’t challenge the budget if your expectations are unrealistic, but it does give them the opportunity to suggest what is possible with the monies available.


3. Share your wisdom and hypotheses

Insights agencies can sometimes be accused of “telling us what we already know”, unfortunately whilst this can be down to the agency, it can also be a symptom of a poor briefing process. If you already know it – tell your agency, if you have anecdotal knowledge or hypotheses but would like to know definitively, add it to your objectives.  Unless you download your wisdom, knowledge and theories from the outset, how will your agency know if what they’re telling you is ‘old news’ or a business critical insight?  We like to start a project with an immersion meeting.  Yes, it might need a couple of hours out of the key stakeholders day, but the added value is worth every minute.


4. Allow time for collaboration

Commissioning a project should be the beginning of a collaborative partnership, not, as it can sometimes seem, a way to move a ‘task’ from one desk to another. Working in partnership with your agency and making yourself available to collaborate on research design, on data/information collection and on analysis and reporting can make a huge difference to the quality of the insights delivered.

We often find that best value comes from projects where the clients have been fully engaged throughout the project lifecycle. It doesn’t have to take up too much of your time, but building a close partnership not only helps the agency to understand your needs, but makes for more agile working, which can deliver more valuable insights.


5. Think about the outputs at inception

Who will you want to share the insights with? How will you want to share them? Is there a dissemination plan? Are you planning to publish any insights?

All of the above will impact the style of reporting/delivery.  Perhaps an infographic would be better than a white paper or a face-to-face debrief would be better than an exec summary, maybe some video would help dissemination across your business.  There are cost implications here but also and more importantly, audience implications which will prescribe one style over another.


If you’d like to find out more about getting the best out of your insights projects or would like to discuss a potential project with us, we’d love to hear from you.

Posted:  Lisa Holt

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