“Thou shalt not use market research as a lead-generation mechanism.”

It’s a basic tenet upheld by most professional market researchers. We decry selling under the guise of research. We are swift to chastise those who cross the line. We are quick to point to ethics standards promoted by CASRO, ESOMAR and MRA.

But are we being honest? And are we being short-sighted?

After all, market research is frequently used as a lead-generation mechanism—at least indirectly so. For example:

  • If a company does a survey to support a thought leadership piece, market research is used as collateral to generate leads.
  • If a company does a survey about its cool new product or service, it knows darn well it is raising awareness of that new offering through the process.
  • If a company does a customer satisfaction survey and finds clients who have a problem that can be addressed through an upgrade or new service, the company will follow-up. You betcha.

This blurred line extends to qual research too. I’ll be the first to confess: I have done focus groups to test new product concepts, and as a result generated leads for the client. Intentionally? No. But when respondents ask how they can be the first to buy the product in question, who am I to say, “Sorry, but I can’t...ethics...,” especially as the client who funded the research watches from behind the glass!

So like it or not, market research is already entwined in the lead generation process. Even if it makes us uncomfortable.

So why not take it a step further?

Maybe we should use market research as a lead generation mechanism?

Let’s say you sell appliances and you are doing a project to measure sources of pain related to countertop kitchen appliances. At the end of the survey, why not simply say, “Thanks for your input. Our company sells X, Y and Z. Please indicate by checking the boxes below if you would like to receive further information about our products.” In this way, it is clearly optional and clearly opt-in.

Stop gagging and think about the benefit. If market research is used for lead generation, what would that mean?

Here is what it could mean. It changes the role of market research in the organization. Market research is no longer a pure cost center. The market research department can now be linked clearly to profit generation. Executive perceptions of market research will change. The next time someone proposes a market research study, their colleagues will be less likely to roll their eyes or object to it as a decision making delay tactic. It makes researchers seem less ivory-towerish and more business-focused. Market research could, potentially, even pay for itself.

Is that really so bad?

In All Honesty
Frankly, I am not actually comfortable with using research for lead generation myself. But I do think it’s an issue worth considering. We have many long-held assumptions in market research—it’s time to challenge them all.