Considering Custom #3: Custom Market Research Project Structure & Timeline

Custom Market Research TimelineCustom market research offers solutions tailored to individual business needs, so each customized market research project will be different. Structure and timing depends on a number of key elements, including complexity of project objectives, determined size of primary research components, difficulty in recruiting target participant segments, etc. Though a research company may have experience conducting research in a specific market, it is important to bear in mind that each project is tailored to a specific business need and is, therefore, unique in its scope and deliverables. The fluid process of custom allows for changes and “tweaks” to improve the output as information is collected.


The complexity of B2B markets typically requires a combined research approach including both secondary (desk) research and primary research. By combing data collected through each method, the quantitative, numerical data can be combined with the qualitative to give deeper insight into specific topics and processes.

Secondary research is typically started upon project initiation and gathers existing, previously published data from sources such as company websites, case studies, analyst reports, articles, census data, and other government statistics. The process plays a crucial role in developing the accuracy of the overall project by establishing baseline information of a target market or company and by confirming primary research findings. Secondary research may also be significantly cheaper and quicker to complete because it does not require the same amount of resources as primary research.

Extensive primary research, in which new data is collected through direct contact with knowledgeable individuals, is what distinguishes custom research from syndicated reports. Primary research methods may include telephone interviews, face-to-face interviews, surveys/panels, focus groups, and observations that can probe for quantitative and qualitative data. The key benefits of primary research include the ability to explore critical points in greater depth during a discussion, cover areas that may be important but not included in the discussion guide, and seek clarification where necessary to ensure the quality of the information. Conversely, extensive primary research usually costs more and takes longer to conduct and analyze.

Sample size is less important in B2B market research versus B2C research. B2B follows the 20/80 rule, where the bulk of your interviews are targeted to the companies that control most of the market, whereas B2C research usually strives for a statistical validity threshold. What is critical in B2B research is insuring the information is truly reflective of the market, directionally sound and not just the opinion of a single person.


The first order of business is to select the type of primary research to use (face-to-face interview, telephone interview, survey/panel, focus group, etc.). Each method has an upside and a downside. Face-to-face interviews are very effective, but expensive, while panels are cost effective but are scripted and lack depth of information. Multiple methods can be applied to a single project to balance cost and the necessary deliverables.

Interviews are the most versatile form of primary research and aim at the development of qualitative data and the confirmation of quantitative data. Interview participant groups are selected based on the established criteria or objectives of the project. It may be necessary to interview individuals familiar with multiple parts of a supply chain to develop a complete overview of the industry. With an interview (telephone or face-to-face), the interviewer can gain a deeper insight to specific answers by treating the questionnaire like a meaningful discussion and deducing the validity of each response. Telephone interviews are often the preferred method of interviewing in the B2B space, which takes less time to schedule and conduct than a face-to-face interview.

Surveys are perhaps the most common method of primary data collection and are a great way to develop quantitative data. There are a variety of survey implementation methods including on-line, mailed, telephone, and panels. Since the communication is not one-on-one, sample sizes can be large (e.g. 200-300 completed surveys), although they do not have to be. This is a cost-effective approach to reach a large but targeted audience.

Focus groups aim to produce qualitative data (opinions and attitudes) on a particular topic. Typically, focus groups are implemented as fuel for innovation or branding. Though “focus group” is a buzz word in market research, it is more widely used in the B2C sector for direct communication with consumers about brand perceptions, understanding the consumer purchase decision process, etc. Often in B2B research, key decision makers are few and spread out geographically (often globally), making focus groups an unrealistic methodology in most cases.

Timing Requirements

Keeping in mind that all projects are different, a typical custom market research project can range anywhere from 6-12 weeks. An average 6-7 week project may consist of 10-25 interviews, 2-4 focus groups, or a brief survey. Sometimes projects extend past the originally estimated timeline due to unexpected hurdles along the way. The biggest hurdle that market researchers face is the recruitment of primary research participants. It takes time to identify and locate those individuals that are knowledgeable of project objectives.

A typical 6-7 week project timeline is as follows:

Week 1: Project initiation. The scope of the project and key objectives are agreed upon. Secondary research starts immediately to develop baseline information on the market for the team of analysts to become familiar with the market.
Week 2: Preparation and recruitment. A contact database and necessary questionnaires/discussion guides are created for the primary research component while secondary research continues.
Weeks 3-5: Data collection. It takes several weeks to set up, recruit, implement, and collect data from primary research participants.
Weeks 6-7: Analysis and report generation. After all data has been collected and organized, the necessary analytical techniques are conducted to provide a solid report based on objectives.

As mentioned earlier, multiple research methods can be conducted for a single project, which can dramatically affect the timeline of the project.

Here are some examples of common project types and their normal timelines:

  • Market Assessments: 8-10 weeks
  • Market Opportunity Assessment: 10-12 weeks
  • Market Insight (brief Market Assessment): 4-6 weeks
  • Competitive Intelligence: 5-7 weeks

Projects that are targeting one specific market or one particular competitor can be completed in the 6-7 week timeline. Projects that require a more in-depth assessment, such as a phased market attractiveness project that involves multiple market segments, will take up to 10-12 weeks in order to develop specific attractiveness/fit models for each individual company and to evaluate and prioritize multiple target market segments.

Any custom research project requires structure and timing flexibility. As the research collection reveals new market insight, methodologies and approach may need to be altered to insure project deliverables reflect the true needs of the customer.

For more information on determining how to successfully navigate the market research process, download our free eBook. If you have questions about our custom research, find out more about our services.

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Editor's Note:

This post was written by Priority Metrics Group (PMG), a partner in custom research.

About PMG:

Priority Metrics Group (PMG) is a professional marketing consulting firm based in Spartanburg, South Carolina. PMG provides customized research, analysis, and consultation services designed to generate profitable growth for clients. They work with leading organizations in a variety of manufacturing and service industries. They are experts at gathering and processing market information, analyzing data, and translating information into actionable growth initiatives.

Topics: Market Research Strategy Custom Market Research