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Although companies have for years relied on marketing research to better serve customers and identify new markets, the way they are seeking research today has changed.

Before the rush toward globalization and the advent of wholesale corporate downsizing, an internal research department usually was responsible for coordinating and managing research needs. Today, however, many different departments are requesting information, and that isn't always producing optimum results. Because of the internal communications required and a lack of experience in building Requests for Proposal (RFP), time and effort often are wasted in acquiring usable proposals and subsequent research studies.

For those of you who (for better or worse) are becoming involved in research requests concerning customer, employee or general marketing issues, consider the following primer as a way for you to move through the process more confidently and efficiently.

A Little Insider Insight

Researchers, like many of us, lead inordinately harried lives. It is critical that you and the researcher are on the same page about your wants and needs. Here are a few tips:

  • Always introduce yourself.

  • Take a few minutes to spell you name. Many of the '60s generation took great pride in finding new and innovative ways to spell their children's names. Today Smith may be Smyth or Smythe or Smithe. Kelly may be Kelli, Kellie, Kelley or Kely.

  • Be sure to include your company's full name (e.g., Cornwell, Consultants to Management, not simply Cornwell). It is easy to slip into using an abbreviated name and not give it another thought, until the proposal you want to send on to others is returned with the wrong name.

  • Remember to always give your telephone and tax numbers. Failure here extends the supplier's requirement for delivering a timely and usable proposal. When applicable, include your email address and Web site.

As part of communicating clearly, take a few minutes to relate the call's background—i.e., why you and your associates believe research is required. If possible, you should share the names of the departments that will be affected by the research. This will significantly enhance the final product.

As you describe your needs, add any information that might help the researcher build the proposal. For example, if the study needs to be conducted every year, make that clear. Frequency significantly affects how research is developed. Specific questions not required for a one-time report but valuable for a study that will be fielded over and over again (tracking study) should be considered.

Review other information that might be used in combination with the study. The additional information (internal date, earlier studies, etc.) will help your researcher design the data files (cross tabulations) produced for the analysis. As with other suggestions made here, share only as much as you are comfortable sharing. Realize, however, that the more you share, the better the proposal—and the subsequent research—will be.

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Garry Upton is senior vice-president of client service at Decision Analyst, Inc. (www.decisionanalyst.com), based in Arlington, Texas.