As researchers, it’s our job to ask questions. That job should not be limited to the conversations we have with our platform providers, recruiters and respondents. We need to start asking questions upfront of our clients that will help us design optimal research projects that produce the best insights. 

Bids, Quotes and RFPs 

How many times have you received an email asking if you’re free on April 1st for three focus groups? Or an RFP asking for a quote on 20 IDIs? New projects are exciting and we want to jump in and say “yes,” but the most important thing is to start a dialogue with the potential research buyer to truly understand their needs (and limitations) so that you can design the best possible project to meet their specific situation. Take a step back and ask for a meeting that will allow you to fully understand the project background and objectives. That way, you will be more likely to propose the ideal methodology.

A pre-design conversation will allow you to:

  • Understand the broader business decision the research will inform
  • Explore the client’s limitations and expectations 
  • Design a research approach to meet the client’s core research objective 
  • Prepare for reporting deliverables
  • Choose wisely from the ever-growing array of qualitative methodology options
  • Understand if a hybrid approach would serve the project

Don’t keep silent. Both research provider and buyer have shared goals—to unearth the best possible insights and to deliver the best possible results. It’s important to establish mutual respect and a clear understanding from each other’s perspectives. Don’t be afraid to ask about important elements such a context, timing, budget, audience, target market and client team involvement so that you can efficiently and effectively design the optimum research to meet your client’s needs.

Garbage in, garbage out. We use this adage when it comes to the importance of an excellent participant screener. It should also be applied when designing research methodologies and strategies. Researchers need to know the full story—the rationale behind the research and the intended use of the insights to be able to design research optimally.

Questions to ask your researcher buyer:


  • is the business decision the research will inform?
  • is the core research objective?
  • are the “additional” objectives?
  • is the budget?
  • is the stimulus material?
  • are the deliverables?
  • prior learning is there on this topic?
  • are the methodologies that you may or may not be open to?


  • can the research take place?
  • will stimulus be available?
  • are interim and/or full results needed?


  • is the target market? 
  • on the team needs to be involved and at what level?
  • will the learning be shared with and how will it be shared?


  • is the client?
  • is the target market?
  • does the research and/or debrief need to take place?

Be Prepared 

As qualitative consultants, it’s our job to come to the table with well-researched recommendations that we can stand behind. Consider adding the rationale behind your methodology recommendations to the bid itself (or in the cover email) so that the client has a clear understanding of your thought process. 

Once you start asking questions, clients may want to ask you a few of their own! Some answers you might want to have ready:


  • many participants do you recommend?
  • to best reach these targets?
  • much time is needed to cover the objectives?
  • might a hybrid qual approach help?
  • might a qual-quant approach help?
  • should discrete targets be handled?
  • many phases?
  • should it be handled — asynchronously or synchronously?
  • can we maximize the impact of the budget?
  • can the learning be best shared?


  • are the best recruiters for these key targets?
  • should the participants be — “fresh” recruits / panel recruits /client database?
  • will be in the backroom?


  • do you recommend the research takes place — in-person/online/mobile/social media?
  • are the targets best reached?


  • tools/platforms/techniques do you recommend and why?
  • do you think are the strengths of different methods?
  • is your experience with different methods?
  • should the length of interaction be — one hour or even one year? 
  • interactivity with the stimuli would you recommend?
  • homework/post-work will help?

Involve Suppliers 

If you include online and/or mobile research into your design, you’ll want to start asking questions of your potential suppliers as well. This will ensure that you can answer your client’s questions and choose the optimal tools to make the project a success. By asking questions like these, you’ll have the answers you need to pick the best tool for the job. You also start to bring them in as partners in the design process, setting it up so that you can work together to bring your research vision to life on their platform.

  • Can you give my end client a demo of the platform?
  • What are the white label options available to my client?
  • What level(s) of customer service do you offer?
  • What are your recommended instructions for each activity type?
  • How do we ensure participants answer questions fully, completely and in your desired order?
  • How can you make activities “private” vs. “public”, i.e. shared? 
  • How can you contact participants (via probes and/or email)?
  • What do the exports/deliverables look like?

Design Your Next Qualitative Project by Asking Questions 

Open up the dialogue, start your proposal process with questions and reap the rewards of better-designed projects that meet both your and your client’s goals, better designed for richer, deeper, more actionable insights.