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An Interview with a Project Manager Supplier

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Q - What do you see as some of the positive aspects of your job?

A - There is something very rewarding to me personally in being able to take a concept and provide the necessary analysis to answer the questions that it raises. I enjoy the job itself; there is some travel and opportunity to interact with other professionals in the business. From a personal standpoint, it is a job with significant visibility, and it can be financially rewarding. It allows an individual to accept as much responsibility that he or she is willing to assume.
  • I get satisfaction from knowing that we did a job within a budget that the client could afford, that we did it well, and that my client is highly satisfied. I know that a satisfied client means repeat business and that I have made a success out of the account.

  • There's an advantage of working in a place like my firm, because you are at the leading edge of research technology. It is an exciting kind of an environment. The pay is good, and our business is virtually immune to recession. We have had one of our best years this year, and not too many industries can say that.

  • First, it's the independence that I like. I do have a boss, but he is handling other "clients" as well, so he has very little influence on my day-to-day routine. A lot of time I am working as an independent consultant making my own schedules, getting my own estimates, and deciding on my own designs. It is a very wide-open kind of job. Second, I like the competition and that we are problem solvers and are challenged by many different problems a client might have.

  • I like the variety. Every day is different in the sense that we work with so many different products and services-new products that come out or existing products that are in trouble. We are looking to see what consumers need and not just from a couple of products, but anything from automobiles to politicians. When that phone rings, you never know what it is going to be this time.
Q - What are the negative points of your job?

A - I would say the major disadvantage is that we're a research supplier, and sometimes our view of the situation is fairly narrow. We might do a project for a client and never find out how the client responded. We could suggest that a new product be introduced. We wait and wait, and it never is. And we don't know why.

Sometimes I'm a little disappointed in the technical level at which research is sometimes conducted. There are some procedures that are used that are historical and therefore resistant to change, so they aren't as accurate. Sometimes projects are designed with a questionnaire in mind; thus, how the data will be analyzed becomes somewhat secondary when it really should be the critical component. That can be a source of disappointment. I've got a lot of clients who are highly sophisticated and know exactly what they want to do with research and that mitigates the negatives.

It is frustrating not to be able to see a piece of work to its final use. Being on the supplier side, you don't often see how your research is finally used by a company or if it is used at all. It's frustrating to work very hard on an account or a particular project and to do it to the best of your ability, only to have it take on a very minor degree of significance with the people you are working for. Also, it can sometimes be demeaning in that you are a service supplier and may not be recognized by the clients you work for as having much expertise.

Q - Is there a lot of stress associated with your job?

A - It can be very stressful. The primary role of a market research supplier is that of a service agent, and I would say that meeting client deadlines is the most stressful aspect of the job.

Personally the biggest source of stress that I find is not the pressure, but rather the fluctuation of the workload, and that is more or less the nature of the business. You either have nothing happening or you have four projects starting at once. I find the famine more stressful than the feast, because it is easier to stay geared up than to wind down for a time and all of a sudden have to get totally geared up again.

Q - How much time to you spend working per week?

A On the average, forty to forty-five hours a week. We are pretty much in control of our own time, in contrast to project services. We really have to dig in sometimes to adapt to certain situations, but we can pretty much schedule our time.

It fluctuates depending on workload; this business is very much a feast or famine thing. It's very seasonal and very dependent upon such things as the economy. Although, when the economy is bad, sometimes we actually get busier.

Q - What are some important skills for marketing research?

A - It would be to your advantage to pick up survey research technique in social behavior, psychology, sociology, or nonliteral science. You need some background in statistics, at least to the point of knowing what different methods can do for you. Also, since so much of our work deals with proposals, analyses, and presentations, writing skills are very important.

Knowledge of computer programming in its basic sense would be valuable. It doesn't mean you have to be a programmer in a particular language, but at least to have an adequate knowledge of what computer programming is; its limitations, advantages, and so forth; and how to effectively use it as a tool.

You must have a certain amount of drive and determination, or you might suffer frustration early in your career and become disenchanted. You should have very good writing skills and be able to communicate effectively. You need a reasonable knowledge of statistics and mathematics in general. But you don't need to be a whiz at calculus. I would like a person to have some knowledge of basic research methodology dealing with sample construction, population, sampling theory, and research techniques.

A master's degree really isn't required to get into marketing research. One needs the ability to think and should have a broad background with exposure to different areas. These are really more important than any specific academic training. A lot of advancement potential depends on your ability to interact well with clients, and that is something that comes from a broad-based background with a wide range of interests. Many skills can be learned in school; in fact, we prefer it that way.
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