person Guy Potter access_time November 14, 2017

How to charge for surveys is an ongoing debate for market researchers, so what works?

One of the greatest issues for market research has been the pricing and how we, as researchers, charge clients.  Historically, we have always charged clients a flat rate for respondents, i.e. the same price whether we ask a respondent 20, 30 or 80 questions.   The abbreviation cpi is so well worn that an explanation – “cost per interview”, is hardly necessary.

Clients will work out what the cpi is, researchers will quote a cpi of…. as being “a good one for this or that type of respondent”.  The abbreviation has been around for years, but it has led to one substantial issue for market research – if a cpi is quoted then “you may as well get the best out of it”, i.e. add more questions.

Of course, researchers have always stipulated in proposals that the questionnaire must not be longer than 20 minutes and I know how difficult it is to get a client to really buy into this, but now is the time to do it.  If we don’t respondents (who as we know are just people) will fail to take part in research, they will drop out and cease to be the bedrock on which our industry is built.

Flat rate cpi’s lead to “questionnaire creep” as more and more people from a client organisation get involved, more and more “nice to knows” get asked.  It is at the point of designing the questionnaire that a researcher must stand firm, because we all know that at this point the questionnaire can often morph.

At MaruUsurv we have recognised how difficult this can be.  Standing firm in front of a client who is, after all, paying the bills is never a comfortable place to be.  When designing our approach we realised the problem that flat rate costing caused for clients and researchers alike, frequently leading to substandard data as the questionnaires grow in length.

Our approach to pricing took us a long time to decide upon.  Charge on a per respondent per question basis; meaning we are cost effective for short surveys, the sweet spot of market research, but if you want 80 questions, please do not use us!  We will not be your cost-effective option, instead go with someone who will quote you a cpi and then just keep adding questions.  By the time anyone notices the questionnaire will almost be signed off.  However, caveat emptor, check the data from your survey carefully, you don’t know the mindset of people when they got there.

Guy Potter is maru / usurv's head of research and clients.