Rigor vs Results: How to give your client disappointing market research results

It’s a situation every market researcher dreads. The results of your research study suggest your client’s

  • Sales will plummet
  • New product concept is a failure
  • Amazing innovation isn’t innovative at all
  • Engagement strategy isn’t resonating with consumers
  • New leadership isn’t connecting with their employees

And now, you, the marketing research expert, must put a smile on your face and proudly present the horrible results you generated to your client.

So what are your options?

  • You could re-evaluate all of your focus group data, questionnaire data, sampling strategy, and identify an alternative way to understand the data. Some additional or alternative analyses could be done that would very likely show a more positive outcome. Find the good and share the good. Be the researcher who has that special skill of always being able to find the good news in any dataset, qualitative or quantitative, interviews or questionnaires.

There is, of course, another option.


  • Bring that horrid report, warts and all, to your client. Share the bad news with no sugar coating. Don’t seek out happy news to detract from the bad news. Let the bad news shine in all its horrible, horrible glory. And cross your fingers that your client can handle it.

Which option sounds better to you?

Without question, the second option is the best option. Shine a floodlight all over those bad results.

Why is that?

First, your client has paid for, and deserves to learn what their reality is. By sharing that news clearly and without hesitation, you demonstrate to your client that you can be trusted to tell them what they need to know, even if it seems to make your work look bad.

Second, you conduct good quality market research. The research design was carefully thought out. Careful thought and consideration went into the questions and interview guides. The sample design was based on your extensive experience with similar projects and prepared with care and purpose. The data analysis checks were done carefully, and then double and triple checked for errors. The results were written clearly and with appropriate caveats, considerations, and implications so that both brand managers and executives would properly understand the process and the outcome. You built rigor into the methodology and the results are as valid and reliable as they can be. The undesirable result is reality.

But your job as a provider of market research doesn’t stop with handing over bad results. Indeed, if it did, your client would have good reason to be upset not only with the research results, but also with you.

As the designer, interpreter, and author of the research report, you’ve immersed yourself in the process and the results for weeks. Right now, you have a far better understanding of what your client’s consumers are thinking, feeling, and doing. You’ve had more time to mull over the undesirable results than your client has.


So don’t stop at the report handoff. You are in the perfect position to serve as their trusted advisor. Ensure the client understands the rigor that went into the research design so they have a sense for how valid and reliable the results are. Then, share the unique insights and interpretations that you hypothesized about as you progressed through the research process. Help the client identify which results:

  • can be actioned on and how this could done. If nothing can be done about a problem, it makes no sense for your client to worry about it. Sometimes, the only thing that can be done with a problem is to communicate that the issue is known, and move on.
  • affect more or fewer people. When more people are affected, finding a solution to that problem must take higher priority.
  • have a greater negative impact on people. When the effect of the problem is extremely negative, that solution must take higher priority.
  • could be tackled in the short-term and the long-term. When problems can be resolved in just a few days, some of those solutions should take higher priority. Quick wins can be important for customer/employee morale and demonstrating that you are genuinely taking action.

You can’t change research results and you can’t force your client to be happy about negative results. But, you can always work to ensure your client is happy with the research process and your ability to generate insightful outcomes.


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With nearly 40 years of experience, Canadian Viewpoint is field and data collection company that specializes in English and French offline and online services. We offer sample, programming, hosting, mall intercepts, pre-recruits, central location recruitment, mystery shopping, site interviews, IHUTs, sensory testing, discussion boards, CATI, facial coding, and other innovative technologies. Learn more about our services on our website. Canadian Viewpoint was an MRIA Gold Seal corporate member for more than ten years.

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