The 7 skills that separate “Great” from “Average” researchers
There’s nothing like speaking to a teenager to make you feel old. I grew up thumbing through the sale racks at Our Price, my musical horizons limited by my budget. The young people I interviewed on a recent project had only ever downloaded music and with free sources everywhere, their tastes were eclectic, unbounded.
It was a lesson in how technology changes behaviour and a reminder of how quickly things change.
We live in a complex world. Clients commission market research to help their organisations navigate through that complexity, developing strategy and tactics that will allow them to prosper. They come to the researcher with questions, problems, issues – all being well once a project is completed they leave with answers, solutions and ideas. Every commission involves trust and teamwork, working together to get to an answer.
A researcher needs to be skilled in many areas, as befits the variety of the job. There’s lots of information out there about core skills required for qualitative or quantitative market research roles. However I’d argue that beyond these characteristics there are broader skills which great researchers have.
1) An opinion! The first part of your job is to understand people, markets and buying situations: it requires objectivity. The second is to guide clients to meaningful action: this requires charisma – the courage of your convictions. The average researcher stops once the data is delivered; the great one uses their personal influence to ensure clients make the right decisions.
2) Great communication skills. Market research lives and dies by how it is communicated. Inspiring presentations, video & infographics are in; 200 slides of synapse-wilting data are out. Adapt your approach to your audience.
3) Curiosity bordering on obsession. Or being nosy in other words. You’ll probably spend a lot of time wondering ‘why?’; you’ll have your own research interests beyond client work; you’ll become irritated when you can’t find an answer. Develop these instincts.
4) Diplomacy. You’ve got to deliver bad news (“your employees are unhappy and the majority are looking for other roles”) & good news (“the campaign delivered record-breaking ROI”) but more often it’s a mix of both. You’ll have to arrive in a room, understand quickly whose agenda is where, and flex your approach accordingly.
5) Adaptability. I’ve worked in research for 10 years: even in this short time I’ve seen online research become the main data collection method from a standing start, and approaches like semiotics and behavioural economics change industry thinking. The current talk is of ‘big data’, Google consumer surveys and location-based mobile research. Evaluate which market developments are fads and which are keepers – then get using them.
6) Being able to build rapport quickly. In qualitative research relaxed respondents are good respondents. You may be speaking to a parent about washing powder or an oil rigger about health and safety: the start of any interview is for listening, understanding and making a connection. Once you’ve made that connection the rest will fall into place.
7) Enthusiasm. If you’re at an agency you’ll work with a huge range of clients. Monday might be a charity, Tuesday a bank, Wednesday a B2B online startup. Embrace each one with vigour; fake it if necessary.
In summary? If you are interested in the world, how people act and why research could be the right place for you.
Simon Shaw is Account Director for leading market research consultancy Brass Agency.