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In The Smarter Researcher: How to Survive in the Changing Market Research Landscape, I shared my thoughts on how empowered customers are transforming business and how this presents a challenge for insight professionals. While researching the book, I interviewed clients and other researchers and identified the skills that the best market research professionals have in common. Borrowing a popular meme, this post identifies seven key habits of successful market researchers.

1. Become a strategist.

Today’s customer is more empowered than ever before. Companies want to better understand their customers—to deliver products, services and experiences that will resonate with the fickle customer. At a time when timely insight is a valuable competitive advantage, the role of market researchers has never been more important.

Today’s great researchers aren’t just data-pullers. They provide strategic insight that can truly impact the enterprise. They elevate their importance and influence across the company and ensure that the voice of the customer helps shape the company’s strategy.

Tweet this!Great researchers provide strategic insight that can impact the enterprise. (CLICK TO TWEET)

2. Use both sides of your brain.

Many people in the research industry are naturally left brained, preferring to work with numbers, science, facts and method. Others tend to be more right brained, using methodologies that use images, words, people and meaning. In A Whole New Mind, best-selling author Daniel H. Pink made the case for developing both sides of the brain, and it’s advice that’s especially pertinent to the world of market research.

To provide meaningful insight for today’s complex business world, quant researchers, whose techniques tend to look at averages and groups, should also consider individual cases and the motivation that underlies the observed actions. Qual researchers should likewise consider the scale of the phenomena they investigate and explore how to be predictive and projectable. A combination of left-brain and right-brain perspective helps market researchers truly understand the empowered customer and make sense of the increasingly complex path to purchase.

Tweet this!A combination of left-brain and right-brain perspective helps market researchers truly understand the empowered customer. (CLICK TO TWEET)

3. Develop a specific expertise.

It’s critical to be well rounded, but you also need a specialization that can frame the rest of your work. That skill could be working with analytics, moderating, creating questionnaire design, writing reports or presenting.

Tweet this!As a market researcher, you need a specialization that can frame the rest of your work. (CLICK TO TWEET)

Having a deep expertise works in two ways. The more obvious benefit is that it will directly help with your role. But your expertise can also build your reputation as a go-to person in the industry, which can propel your career.

Let me provide a personal example. I am fortunate to have developed a reputation as a leader in the field of new research techniques. When colleagues are tackling a problem that has a ‘new’ component, they often seek my input. Because people reach out to me to discuss and work on ‘new’ material, I have a reason and an opportunity to keep working on this area. It encourages me to look at new trends and to predict how they will impact the insight profession. At the same time, my reputation in this field has opened opportunities to work on cutting-edge projects, write books and speak at conferences.

4. Seek out fresh insights.

Successful people read a lot. Just ask billionaire investor Warren Buffet, who reportedly spends up to 80 percent of his day reading. Great market researchers read a lot too.

Unfortunately, sales data from publishers suggest that one book a year is quite common for market researchers. Successful researchers aim to read at least three books a year.

Keeping your industry knowledge fresh—by reading trade press, blogs and white papers—is also critical. GreenBook and ESOMAR’s RW Connect are must-read blogs for insight professionals.

What you do during your free time can increase the quality of your work. At its core, market research is all about people, and your outside interests can provide the inspiration you need to fit your work in a wider frame. Great researchers try to create a two-way linkage between their profession and their passions. For example, I coach a rugby team, to which I bring my researcher’s observational eye to help understand why people do what they do. This in turn informs my understanding of today’s customers. My passion for rugby provides a fund of stories and illustrations, which help strengthen my professional work.

5. Share your knowledge.

The best way to understand something is to share your knowledge. This sharing can take many forms. It can mean running workshops, blogging, presenting at conferences, running lunch-and-learn sessions for colleagues and clients, or writing journal articles.

Teaching and writing can enhance your knowledge in many ways. When you share your ideas, other researchers will sometimes challenge you. That’s a good thing because it sharpens your understanding and it sometimes helps you realize that you need to update your ideas. More importantly, helping others creates goodwill, which comes handy if you ever need assistance from others. Teaching and sharing helps develop your areas of special knowledge and helps spread the awareness of your special skill.

Tweet this!Teaching and writing can enhance your knowledge in market research. (CLICK TO TWEET)

6. Question your own assumptions.

The adage “measure twice and cut once” doesn’t just apply to carpenters—it’s also applicable in the research world. Although great researchers are more often right than others, they are also more likely to assume they might be wrong. They double-check details more than others, they are more likely than others to practice their presentation one more time, and they are more likely to ask colleagues and friends to critically assess their work.

Great researchers check both the details and the big picture. They don’t assume that their solution is necessarily the best one, and they don't assume they will always be right. Great researchers expect to improve their own work and they expect to change.

7. Deliver actionable results on time.

Don’t underestimate the power of meeting your deadlines on time. Great and late is not great—it is often useless. On time and wrong is often worse than useless. Effective researchers are committed to delivering what is needed on time, which sometimes means putting in more hours at work and often means re-scoping what can be achieved so that your colleagues’ or the client’s needs are met. The focus shouldn’t be on delivering what the contract said by the date the contract specified—it is on delivering what is needed (which is often actionable advice), by when it is needed.


The role that market researchers play today has never been more critical. Companies need to meet the needs and wants of their customers—and doing so requires getting relevant and timely insight from the insight department. To succeed in the enterprise, insight professionals need to continuously develop and update their skills. The seven habits I outlined here should help market researchers succeed today.

What habits would you add to this list?

Re-imagining research: 10 golden tips for the modern researcher

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