10 Reasons to Hire an Independent Market Research Consultant
An independent market research consultant is a critical asset to any business during turbulent times. As organizations everywhere reinvent their business models, they are increasingly turning to market research consultants with the experience of a Big 3 consultant but none of the overhead or extra expense.
Xavier Fontaine heads an independent consulting business in Paris, helping global companies grow through market research and strategy. He’s spent 20 years in the CPG (consumer and packaged goods) industries working for companies like L’oreal, Unilever, and Mars chocolate.
Fontaine says that demand for market research consulting is accelerating today as businesses around the world face unprecedented challenges related to the pandemic and digitalization. Companies turn to him for help understanding and assessing the challenges they face as well as building and implementing solutions to address those challenges.
We asked Fontaine to list the main benefits a market research consultant brings to clients:
- Going beyond market insights.
A good independent market research consultant can deliver great insights about the market and about evolving customer needs, says Fontaine, but a great consultant does more, “providing client companies with a game plan” for taking action on identified opportunities. “Insights are great but mean nothing without a game plan, which is about how you’re going to translate insight into action.”
- Challenging internal assumptions.
A good consultant won’t accept the status quo on a project but will instead rigorously challenge and investigate underlying assumptions. Fontaine says that no company can begin a go-to-market strategy or media campaign “until it has first assessed the foundations of its business, which means answering basic questions like: Who are we and who do we serve? Why are we tackling the problem we’re trying to solve via this project?”
- Driving organizational buy-in for the project.
“Any consultant will need to develop allies for the project,” says Fontaine, to drive stakeholder buy-in. Great consultants have the ability to get impacted people to invest time, energy, and resources to make the project work.
- Providing functional capabilities.
Fontaine notes that “obviously any consultant needs to have expertise and experience related to the subject matter and tasks of the project at hand: “that’s probably the simplest and most basic requirements clients should look for,” he says.
- Bringing “brilliant” listening capabilities.
A great consultant hears what’s being said and what isn’t being said, explains Fontaine, and becomes a catalyst for value-adding conversations about the project. “Listening in a critical way helps the client crystallize what they want to achieve,” he says.
- Putting the client’s needs first.
“For the consultant, customer/client centricity is massively important. While the consultant is not part of the client’s organization, they should treat themselves as if they were, and have a genuine interest in solving the client’s challenges.”
- Bringing an ability to deal with ambiguity.
Fontaine notes that projects will change along the way, as will the people and circumstances related to the project. Great consultants are adaptive in how they develop the collaboration. “There may be new priorities and new leadership — consultants have to be able to deal with that and find ways to create value.”
- Leveraging an ability to communicate with clarity.
“The consultant’s role is to simplify complexity, to make the complex accessible to clients so that they can make the best decisions possible. That role requires the consultant to have the ability to communicate with clarity,” says Fontaine.
- Defining expectations and roles.
Fontaine spends a lot of time at the beginning of each project “working closely with clients to understand the scope of the project, what they expect from the project and from me as the consultant.” Every client is different, every organizational/project structure is different, and, says Fontaine, “so roles and expectations need to be clarified upfront on both sides.”
- Defining what project success looks like.
The consultant’s ability to help the client define success “has to do with three simple questions,” says Fontaine. “Why are you doing this project? What are you going to do with the result(s)? What are the consequences related to the project, what’s at stake for the business?”
An Independent Market Research Consultant’s View of Success
“Market segmentation projects are really about the consultant’s ability to deliver quality, actionable insights about the client’s market that can be transformed into value-creating actions,” says Fontaine. There’s nothing worse than “fluffy insights” that sound interesting but aren’t solid enough to be turned into action, he says. “Segmenting is about finding compelling customer needs, understanding precise pain points, and then developing ways to address those pain points via a client’s offerings.”
As an example, Fontaine cites working with a chocolate company to expand its market. “Chocolate sales are seasonal, with more people consuming chocolate in the colder months,” he says. He studied market trends and the client’s capabilities and came up with a plan “to get them into ice cream, which sells more in the warmer months.”
Moving from insight to action was fairly straightforward because of the client’s existing business model. “They already had supply chains, existing market relationships, and contracts for sugar and cocoa,” he says. “That’s a brilliant example of segmentation, of turning insight into action, because it’s pure value add.”