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Market Researchers need to understand the client’s business

Last week, I talked about how market researchers need to think more like marketers.  Today I’m going to tackle a closely related point – knowing your client’s business.  On the surface, these two items sound like they are the same, but they aren’t.  The distinction I’m making is this:

“Thinking like a marketer” is about understanding the end game – what actions will the users of your research take (or not) based on the information.

“Knowing your customer’s business” is about understanding the context in which those actions will occur.

Thinking like a marketer helps you understand why your clients need certain information and clues you into how they may use it.  Knowing your specific client’s business helps you get to the “so what” in the data. Only by understanding the issues that keep your clients up at night can you transform market research data into actionable insight that answers marketers’ questions.

How do you do that?

If you’re working in a market research function inside a company, your job is relatively easy. By virtue of the fact that you’re in the company every day, you already have a good handle on what the issues are and how the business works. You can easily fill whatever gaps exist in your knowledge by discussing the situation with your internal clients.

Your job is a little more difficult if you’re an outside market research consultant or supplier. To understand the business issues your clients face, you’re going to need to make a concerted effort to educate yourself about the industry generally and your client specifically.

Luckily, there’s no shortage of sources for this information.

Even the most cursory Google searches on the industry and the company will likely turn up a treasure trove of background information.  Of course, the more experience you have in any particular industry, the larger your natural knowledge base will become.

We see market research companies specializing in particular industries all the time and we see some clients who place a high value on this type of specialization.  An industry focus can certainly be a smart marketing strategy on the part of a research consultant.

Eventually, though, you will reach a point of diminishing returns on additional industry expertise.  You should strive for a good working knowledge of the client’s business and issues. Remember, your client hired you first for your market research expertise and your ability to help them get the information they need.  Knowing the client’s business helps you do those things better, but no matter how much you specialize, your client will always know their business better than you will.

This background knowledge helps you answer the most critical question in any market research project.

So what?

Conducting a survey or focus groups and writing up a descriptive report of what you found doesn’t require any particular industry or company knowledge.  This type of report also leaves all of the heavy lifting to your clients. By addressing only the what, and not the so what, what you’ve really done is a data dump. You’ve left it to your client, the person relying on you for insight and expertise, to figure it out for themselves.

When you can walk into a meeting and not only tell your clients what you found, but why it matters, and provide some thoughts on what they can do with it, you’ve become a valuable ally in helping them get their job done.

Next, I’ll talk more about the third thing marketing researchers can do to become more valued – improving communication and presentation skills.  Don’t miss it, subscribe the RSS feed now.

About the Author

Ed Erickson is the President of Erickson Research, a Chicago market research consulting firm. You can find Ed on LinkedIn and .


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