Can I move clientside as a qualitative researcher?

Letitia Oglesby
July, 2016

“It’s impossible to move clientside as a quallie”
“Clientside companies don’t do qual in house”

“You don’t have any quant skills”

Moving clientside is something a lot of agency side researchers aspire to do. The idea of taking research ‘one step further’, the opportunity to focus, plan, develop a brand and see business impact come to fruition is really appealing. Typically clientside businesses look for people with a mixed methodology skill set, so they’ll be able to quickly understand any research project required.

How about moving clientside with a pure qualitative background?

It’s fair to say it’s still pretty difficult but times are changing. Pure qualitative roles in-house do exist, admittedly not very many, we’ve recruited a couple of roles in the past – probably one a year on average. There is currently one advertised role (that I can see anyway) online that’s pure qual clientside. However I know of a few people that have come from qual agencies, or are qual specialists, that have moved to general insight roles.

How have they done this and how do they find working in house?

I recently spoke to a new insight manager, working for a global FMCG brand, who has a qualitative agency skill set. She said the most notable difference from working agency side compared to clientside is how much you have to ‘un-specialise’. If you’re looking for a clientside role similar to what you do agency side you’ll be looking for a long time or may never find such a role. You have to be flexible and be prepared to get involved in many different aspects of research. Projects undertaken are multi-disciplinary, they’re rarely a pure quant piece or pure qual piece. They’re much broader and you have to think about the bigger picture.

Fairly typical of in-house roles, you’re working in partnership with agencies, who are experts in their respective fields, who are on hand to support – ultimately agencies want to service their clients as best as they can, they pay the bills after all. Working clientside, the focus is much more on making sense of research, picking out insight and translating this into decision making, thinking ‘what impact is this going to have’? As has always been the case some of the things clients look for are people with the ability to make a coherent story from data (whether that’s quant or qual), ability to influence and stakeholder management skills.

The brand this insight manager works for fortunately happen to be open minded when it comes to candidates backgrounds. They’re not so rigid on ‘you must have xyz experience’. The hiring manager felt it’s much easier to train, say, quant skills than trying to teach someone ‘insight’ skills, and therefore when recruiting, the focus is on the latter. The industry is also changing at rapid pace, there are new ways of understanding consumers, big data, passive behavioural monitoring, social listening, future trend research is a big thing, behavioural economics, galvanic skin response, the list goes on. No one can be an expert in everything but core ‘insight’ skills are the most important thing.

If you are thinking of moving clientside as a quallie you need to be prepared to:

-Un-specialise, you will have to work on/with different types of research including the dreaded quant

-Being prepared to use both “information” and “knowledge” – A lot of the decisions insight managers take are about judgement, understanding and thinking – knowledge is no longer power. Everyone has access to such an -abundance of information, a good clientside researcher has a skill in turning that knowledge into insight. And as I mentioned before, on that principal, it doesn’t matter the ‘type’ of knowledge you’re dealing with!

-You need to be able to think of examples where your research had a business impact

-Get across your ‘insight’ skills at an interview

-Willingness to get stuck in and turn your hand to anything

In summary, it’s not impossible to move clientside as a quallie but due to the way clients recruit, it’s still pretty difficult. I anticipate over the coming years there will be a shift in how clientside companies recruit, that there will be more wiliness to consider different backgrounds. If they don’t, they’ll still have the same kind of insight people they had 20 years ago. By being so rigid they could be missing out on a superb insightful qualitative researcher!

Join our community