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Why is it so important to fill in a brief before ordering research?

  • Wednesday, 09 February 2022

I wanted to talk about the beginning of the client-agency relationship and how to make it as effective as possible for both parties.

Let's say that you are a client and have started to become vaguely aware of the need to do research. You have not yet decided whether you will do it in-house or will you work with a contractor. What do you do in this case? That's right - you study the proposal to see whether it's beneficial for you to outsource and avoid a headache, or to concentrate, find resources within your team and save money. You Google it, find a few agencies, and send them an enquiry. And this is where the difficulties begin. In the feedback, the agency usually has some sort of brief form that you're asked to fill in, but there are a lot of questions, and you only wanted to ask a simple question, didn’t you? Let's sort out why these questions, whether answering them actually gives researchers the key to your trade secrets, etc.

I think you understand the pricing process within your company. I will let you in on a little secret - researchers have the pricing process too. When we receive a request similar to "We want to do a survey about car parts, how much will it cost?", it is not just difficult, but impossible for us to respond to such a request. To calculate the price, we need:

  1. Understand the TG (at least approximately) - natural or legal persons, is it about trucks or cars, what is the price segment (parts for imported or domestic machinery), the requirements for customer experience (previously purchased parts of X brand, but have recently switched to a Y brand, etc., etc.).
  2. Have information on geography - are you interested in all of Russia? Cities with a population of millions? Specific regions? Do you want to do a spot survey in the small village? Or are you still unsure and waiting for an expert opinion?
  3. Determine your method (at least at a qualitative/quantitative level) - we can do this either by your wishes, or by your business goals that you plan to cover with the research.

If you ignore the brief, however, by completing which you would have given us all the information we need for calculations, you are wasting your time as we will be contacting you regardless, asking questions to get the information we need.

Hence, conclusion one - filling in a brief by a potential customer

  1. Saves time (oddly enough)
  2. Allows the team to get a clearer idea of their needs, which again saves time
  3. It gives them a relevant pricing and study designs that they can compare against what other contractors’ offerings

Moving on. Ok, you have realised that filling in a brief is not some kind of research fad, but a necessity. Now you've started to fill it out and you've seen that there are questions in there that you find boring, uninteresting and seem to not be confidential. Let's look at this in detail.

For example, company information. What, they can't Google it themselves? They can, but it will take time to do so. Your time, which could have been used by you to compare bids you receive from different contractors.

Or the background - why should the researchers know how long you have been in the market, that you used to produce shoes and now you produce tyres? What was your market share last year and what is your market share now? Of course, you can conceal this valuable information. After all, you said that you need to conduct exactly 8 in-depth interviews with men who buy tyres every 3 months by themselves, so let them do just that. But really, an agency with experience and a panoramic view of the market as a whole can offer you other research design options based on this information. For example, expand your TG to include those who have been familiar with your brand since the shoes were made. Conduct an additional couple of expert interviews with tyre purchasers, to understand why they stopped buying your tyres and switched to others’. After all, you may not agree to this, but one head (yours) is good, but two (including the researchers’ one) are better. Maybe, your vision will change, and you'll think similarly?

Here is probably the most disliked question of the brief by potential clients - the estimated budget. I understand the fear that answering it will result in a proposal that covers that entire budget, or even slightly overlaps it. But on the other hand, when you write something like "the cheaper the better" or "what can you offer", you risk getting a completely inadequate offer (you wanted 50k and got 1.3m), which, again, wastes your time - either you still have to go through explaining to the agency what you wanted and wait for a new offer, or your management, seeing such offers, will generally decline to consider an outside contractor and the task will fall on you and internal resources. That's a pity.

Another question - about timing. For some reason, this information is also stubbornly concealed by the potential client. Apparently, the logic is: if we don't write any deadline, we'll encourage them to write the minimal one. I do not know any self-respecting agency that will write a deadline that won’t allow them to provide you with a quality product. But if they will have information that you need everything in a week, maybe just will not take the project at all, estimating their busyness, too. I.e. one less deceived expectation.

My favourite is the aims, objectives of the research and the business goals to be covered by the research. I understand the apprehension - what if, having learnt everything, the agency uses the information and, and.... something terrible will happen? I suppose the danger does exist, but there are some lifehacks here too - you can choose an agency that you trust for one reason or another. You can sign an NDA with an agency. You can think through the text of the tasks so that it's safe, but still gives the agency at least some information about the work to be done.

What is this for? Well, as mentioned above, knowing your objectives will enable the agency to suggest the best methods, sample size, characteristics of the TG and other details. By the way, the list of objectives allows researchers to determine such a trivial parameter, as the required duration of contact with respondents, which ultimately affects the accuracy of the price calculation.

So, conclusion two - secrets of Madrid court is good and all, but it makes it difficult to get an adequate response to the enquiry and ultimately reduces the effectiveness of both communication with the agency and the solution of your unique objectives.

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