I recently had the opportunity to serve on a panel for the American Marketing Association-DC Chapter’s Market Research SIG and discuss emerging trends in the industry. It was a very engaging event, and one question that came up, I thought deserved a blog post: when should companies bring research in-house rather than using an external vendor.
Certainly as one of those external vendors, the natural reaction is to say, “Never, you should always hire a firm”, but there are certainly occasions when research can be conducted effectively in-house. Companies who have internal experts who can design an effective, unbiased study, certainly can conduct quite a few different kinds of studies internally without the help of a firm. And some research projects just need a quick and dirty read, and using a simple online survey tool is fine.
Despite all of this, certain stakeholders will require independent research. If the research is designed to provide data for financial analysts or other similar stakeholders, the research needs to be provided by a third-party. If the research objective is to determine the feasibility of a new product or service, independent research is best to provide a voice outside the echo chamber.
Ultimately, though, the real test is not functional at all—but whether or not the culture internally can sustain objectivity in the research. It’s easy to lie with statistics by cherry-picking results. If research is to be used to determine compensation, or compensation increases, it is almost impossible to keep it unbiased. Similarly, in a corporate environment that doesn’t take bad news well, conducting research internally might provide nothing but ulcers for the researchers tasked with the job.
At the end of the day, before making any decisions about how research should be conducted, it’s important to be realistic with the objectives as well as to understand the perspectives of the stakeholders.