The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

Costly costings, a client's view

The question of how much to charge, and for what, has always been a problem for qual, despite the existence of clear industry rates. Charlie Gower looks at this issue with her client's hat on.

Tight-knit relationships

We need a close working relationship with our suppliers. Since we work in telecommunications, however, a world in which some operators and manufacturers have large market research budgets, we can’t expect companies to work with us exclusively.

Our solution has been, where necessary, to limit the exclusivity to not working on 3 in a couple of instances and insisting on a completely separate team.

We also tend to work with a small number of suppliers. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • We get better research if a supplier is familiar with 3. It takes a surprisingly long time to understand 3 and the knowledge that our suppliers have built up is invaluable.

  • We expect our suppliers to be loyal to us, and what we try to do in return is not to ask companies to pitch for a project every time but give it without tender. We will, however, always go to tender for all large projects.

  • It is difficult to ensure a constant stream of work for suppliers. Our market research needs are often unpredictable and change depending on the needs of the business. The larger the roster, the more difficult it can be to keep all the agencies happy.

Another advantage of closer and stronger relationships with suppliers is that it is possible to be more challenging in terms of the brief. They may be able to suggest things we may not have seen.

Agencies have been carefully selected to cover a wide range of research expertise, with both qual and quant perspectives covered, and in terms of those that specialise in "big picture" projects and those that excel at looking at the detail.

We continue to have the occasional presentation from new hopefuls but unless we introduce a new stream of work or are dissatisfied with one of our suppliers are not likely to increase the number of research agencies.

Costs

Always a tricky question -- do you tell the market research agency the budget? If you do, and the proposal comes in a few pounds short of the figure, there is sometimes the feeling that the supplier has not provided the best solution but the one that meets the budget. Conversely, though, if you do not provide a budget it can be difficult for a supplier to know the type of solution you are after.

The main thing a client needs to know is ‘the maximum a project is going to cost’. It really does not matter how the research agency comes to its project cost, so long as it is fixed. One of the reasons for knowing the maximum amount is that it is easier for us in terms of our procurement procedures.

In addition, each supplier tends to have a different way to charging for the same project and, given that it’s important to us that we select the right agency for the right project, if there is a limited budget we will take this into account when drawing up the shortlist. For instance, some projects will not require a lot of face-to-face contact with the research agency. This may mean that we use a non-London based agency given that, without the overheads associated with the capital, they are cheaper.

Leslie talks about ‘units of interrogation’, and I admit that, when presented with a set of costings, I always do a mental check of the likely cost per group, per depth, etc., even though that’s becoming increasingly difficult. The philosophy that I do subscribe to, however, is the use of owner-managed agencies. This way I know that the director will be involved, but not necessarily with every group or paper that I see. I wouldn’t expect it, it’s not appropriate and I wouldn’t pay for it.

Ultimately, it is about honesty. As far as I am concerned, the research agency needs to calculate their costs in a way that works for them, and the more open and honest the calculation is the better, as we feel that we should pay for the services we receive.

See also: Costly costings, a researcher's view, by Leslie Hallam

 

Charlie Gower
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2003