Industry Insider: The Workings Of A Research Agency

As students, the one thing we aren’t exposed to during our curriculum is the inner workings of companies. Yes, we do have ‘industry interactions’ and ‘industry visits’ but they don’t explain the structure or the business model of companies. For a course that will shape a substantial part of our working life, this information is critical. And if you consider the no. of students who get into MBA courses without any prior work-ex (like I did), the absence of this information is nothing less than tragic!

Hence, this series. In this post, we look at the workings of Research Agency: Specialisations: Quantitative and Qualitative Research

Quantitative Research is about studies involving large samples sizes, data coding, and statistical analysis. Thus, as a ‘quant’ specialist, a person is expected to know how to design research studies, sampling, and questionnaires that can be codified into numbers, analysed using statitical tests and reported as charts and tables. In stark contrast, Qualitative Research is about studies involving small sample sizes, tactical questioning, projective techniques, and analysis using psychological and cultural contexts.

While most Market Research textbooks and courses dedicate only a couple of chapters / sessions to Qualitative Research, it is a large field of work in real life. The ‘qual’ expert is usually someone with an expert understanding of human behaviour, needs and motivations. Educational training in psychology and culture also helps.

The organisation structure

Big Department 1: The ‘Field’ team

Consider your usual class or summer internship project that requires a ‘survey’ to be carried out. It is you and your team members who meet the respondents, ask the questions, and fill out the questionnaire. In real life, this is done by a separate department called the ‘Field’. Since the real-life quantitative research projects involve multiple cities, and going by truly random sampling, it is the ‘Field’ team that roams about in cities, goes door-to-door, meets people, and fills out the questionnaire. The actual people doing this are called ‘Interviewers’. Most of the time, they aren’t even employees of the research agency. They are freelancers, who get paid for each completed questionnaire. Most of them have completed education till higher secondary or graduation. In case of qualitative research, the Field team is responsible for going door-to-door, ‘recruiting’ respondents who fit the definition of the target group for the study, and scheduling face-to-face interviews, or focus group discussions with the ‘Research’ team. More about the research team a little later.

Big Department 2: The ‘Data Processing’ team

Again, let’s go back to our research project. After we complete our survey, we typically add all the data into an Excel sheet. The more enterprising ones among us will learn about a software called SPSS, and use that. In real life, this stage of work is done by the ‘Data Processing’ team, also called DP. So, once the questionnaires are filled, the DP team converts all questions and their responses into codes that are filled into a datasheet. Based on the structure of the expected responses, it is decided in advance on the kind of tabulation, cross-tabulation and analysis to be performed on this data. All this is done by the DP team using software that convert the raw data into tables and analytical outputs. These results are then shared with the ‘Research’ team. People who work in the DP team are usually graduates or postgraduates in statistics, and are also well-trained in operating the data analysis software. (One of the most common software used for advanced analytics is SAS)

Big Department 3: The ‘Research’ team

If you notice, the previous two departments don’t do anything related to understanding why the research is being done, or what decisions will be taken using the findings of the study being undertaken. This work is done by the ‘Research’ team. People in this team are usually MBAs. It is the job of the Research team to meet clients, understand their business problems, convert them into research projects, design the entire study, decide on the sample size, and prepare the questionnaire. Additionally, this team takes care of briefing the ‘Field’ team, explaining to them the nitty-gritties of the questionnaire, and also of preparing the Data Analysis Plan that is shared with the DP team.The ‘Researcher’ is the central coordinator between the clients, the field team, and the DP team, and hence, is supposed to possess a fair understanding of the work environment of both the departments as well as the workings of the clients. The ‘Researcher’ is also the ‘owner’ of the project i.e. he / she is accountable for the quality of work, timeliness of execution, and profitability of the project.In case of qualitative research, the ‘Research’ team designs the interview / discussion guide and the various stimulus to which respondents give responses, and most of the times, conducts the interviews and group discussions itself. It also prepares the final presentation, making connections between individual responses, group behaviour, and cultural insights.

Thus, qualitative research is a lot less segregated work compared to quantitative research.Does this paint a clear picture of the industry to a student? Do let me know. If you have any queries, add them in the comments.

(Cross-posted on my blog here.)

Nirav Parekh

Nirav is a non-IIM MBA, past researcher, brand manager, lecturer, trainer, consultant; present Account Planner in an advertising agency. All work and views posted here is in his personal capacity.