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7 Step Process of Market Research

Are you wondering how to undertake a market research project? Looking behind the curtain at market research can help demystify the process and enable you to move forward, whether you plan to conduct research in-house or via an outside agency. The good news is that the process of market research is pretty much the same, whatever your topic. However, the devil is in the details and things can go awry for those unschooled in best practices. Provided below is a breakdown of 7 key steps to help you avoid common missteps and make your market research project a success.

Step 1: Define Scope of Research

It’s critical to first define what your research will – and will not – cover. To accomplish this, you should understand the business reasons motivating your research, what you hope to learn, and who you’re going to target for data. To get the best possible results, be as specific as possible when answering these questions.

Hint: Before moving forward, make sure all key stakeholders sign off on the underlying business goals.

Step 2: Review Existing Research

It’s important to look at existing research and competitive intelligence in order to build a 360 degree view of your market landscape. In addition, analyzing other research efforts can help you refine your own research strategy. For example, you can assess how other researchers screened for respondents and whether you want to ask the same questions or explore new territory. Moreover, you may find research that can be reused for your project.

Step 3: Create a Research Discussion Guide or Questionnaire

Once you have a good handle on your goals and other available research, you should next draft a discussion guide or questionnaire. However, this may not be as easy as you might think. Aim for brevity and questions that flow from general to specific concepts. Also be on the lookout for sections that bias whatever follows. And don’t forget to use terminology that the target audience will understand! If you’re using a market research agency, be sure to provide input on your target audience and sign off on discussion guides and surveys.

Hint: Consult with a couple friendlies in the target audience to review the questions and answers. It may reveal some important topics to cover.

Step 4: Procure Your List

Procuring a solid list can be involved. If you need to tap external resources for respondents, use a reputable research company that uses a research panel. Due to bias, logistical barriers and lengthy timeframes, using social media or asking salespeople to recruit customers are not good ways to recruit participants.

Hint: Don’t use a business list provider. The response rate will be very low and you’ll be less likely to screen for the right people.

Step 5: Conduct Fieldwork

With a solid foundation for your research project, you can now do the actual fieldwork. For qualitative research such as interviews and focus groups, key stakeholders may want to listen in on the first few interviews or observe and consult between focus group sessions. For quantitative research such as surveys, companies using an outside market research agency don’t need to be involved until the final report is ready.

Step 6: Analyze and Report

Many companies are unfamiliar with what it takes to prepare raw data for analysis. Whether your project is qualitative or a quantitative, this step can take time. The best reports are able to cover multiple audiences—managers through executives.

Hint: It’s useful to write a 30-second, 3-minute, and 30-minute summary of findings in your final report for use by various internal audiences.

Step 7: Create an Action Plan

With your data and analysis in hand, you’re now ready to connect the dots between your findings and underlying business objectives. Go back to the written scope you created in Step 1 and review your original goals to address each one in the action plan. Next, prepare an action plan that outlines how stakeholders can incorporate findings into their respective areas. An action plan is also a useful tool to document the value of the project for future reference.


There are multiple stages and steps involved in developing a stellar market research project and possible pitfalls abound. However, by following the 7 key steps outlined above, you can set up your project for success, whether you keep it in-house or bring in a qualified market research firm to do the heavy lifting.

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