5 Ways Smaller Research Firms Do It Better

Maria Vallis 11123 for Web.jpg

MARIA VALLIS is the Chief Relationship Officer at Hypothesis. Prior to coming to Hypothesis, she spent 14 years at Millward Brown. Contact Maria at mvallis@hypothesisgroup.com.

Over the last 20 years I’ve had the benefit of experiencing the market research industry from a variety of perspectives. I’ve worked on the client side; I’ve worked in extremely small firms (one had under 10 people); I’ve also worked in the world’s largest firm for 14 years on 2 continents. Then in 2014 I joined Hypothesis.

Someone asked me the other day how Hypothesis compares to working at a large-scale company with vast resources and trademarked research “solutions”. After giving this a lot of thought, I’ve concluded that there are some key advantages to working in a smaller firm.


1.       Fewer meetings. More time to think.

Clients come first here. I no longer have days where my calendar is booked back-to-back with meetings, or worse, full of meetings with only 15-20 minutes in between–not enough time to actually get anything of real value done. I have quality time to think and collaborate with colleagues during the day, and I’m available when clients call. The “thinking” work gets done first, not late in the evening after a long day of meetings.


2.       Every client is a big client.

Every client is important here. Our business is not carried by a few very large clients and their ongoing tracking studies that dominate the time and attention of our team. Instead we focus on custom-designed foundational research that’s strategic in nature. That kind of work requires a hands-on approach and the active involvement of our senior executives. In larger firms, those executives often remain isolated from strategic brainstorming, making strategic projects a rarity.


3.       No packaged “products” to sell.

We design studies to answer business questions; we are not constrained by a suite of off-the-shelf research “products.” Every brief we receive is unique and every day we are challenged to think about how to best answer those questions—creatively, quickly and cost-effectively. Having stock solutions has its advantages, being simple to execute and highly profitable, but as soon as a client’s question deviates from the standard question, the stock solution doesn’t work and the question needs to be altered or abandoned. A smaller firm means more flexibility and ability to investigate questions and invent solutions tailored to each project.


4.       The resources are right here.

All the brain power is right here in our office: the client service execs, the design team, and the analytics team. We don’t outsource critical thinking. We don’t fill out a form with a work order request for someone in another office, in another time zone, to interpret and then try to make a deck pretty or run analytics for a study they haven’t been involved in. We work side by side, collaborating from the very beginning of a project. That collaboration is rare in a large multinational firm, but it makes a world of difference when it comes to the quality of data and reports.


 5.       Everyone has a say.

The client service execs are not the only stars here. Client service, analytics, and design are all working in the same space and everyone’s ideas have value starting with how we design our studies. The analytics team helps us get to the right insights and the design team helps us turn those insights into a story that anyone can understand—we work as one team, in service of the client.


In the end, the smaller-firm environment has more collaboration, more flexibility, and less bureaucracy. We're better equipped to handle novel questions by generating novel solutions. We support each other and dig deep into questions as a team, each person sharing their expertise in real-time which helps the team resonate. The work is more challenging, but also more gratifying because we’re able to provide a service for our clients that bigger companies can’t. We deliver insights to our clients that only smaller firms can, in a way that only a smaller firm can deliver. That makes all the difference.


Have you worked in a large or small research company? Share your experience in the comments below.