Project Description

Best Practices for Conducting International Research

By Monica Grebe, itracks Director of Client Services

With the ever-increasing speed of globalization, companies are expanding their offerings and marketing to international customers.  In turn, the market research requirements associated with understanding these new international customers have also “gone global”. The complexity of research increases exponentially as you move from national to global studies in numerous markets.  Applying a few best practices to the logistics of conducting international research can significantly improve the success of your research and the value that it ultimately delivers.

Best Practices

1. People march to the beat of their own drum – Time is relative

It is important to keep in mind that “as soon as possible” does not have universal meaning. Respondents show up on time in some countries, but not in others.  While North Americans may keep a close eye on their watches and smartphone clocks, some cultures do not even use clocks! Do your homework of the local cultures and practices of a country before going in, so you understand the various cultural perceptions of time.

2. Go with who and what you know – Develop solid partnerships

In many circumstances the countries in which you are researching do not speak or write in the same language as you do.  You will need assistance in translating and moderating your research sessions.  Invest time in sourcing good local moderators and interpreters. Is there anyone in your network that comes highly recommended?  Never underestimate the value of a quality research partner.  Good local moderators and interpreters are hard to come by, so when you find one, stick with them.  Also, working with a consistent team of moderators and interpreters increases your researchers’ and, many times, your clients’ comfort level and decreases their stress level.

3. Do your pre-research

Good partners will look up the names of relevant products in the category BEFORE the first interview in their country.  It is important to do your pre-research before conducting your research.  Some of the products in one country may not be offered or are different due to local tastes.  Brand names also vary frequently by country.  For example, if you are working with pharmaceuticals, generic names are often the safest way to refer to a drug.  You should expect your partners’ desk researchers to do this for all countries being fielded.

4. Manage the “backroom” during your group

Be prepared for more back room client activity and complexities during your group.  The client teams get larger with the addition of local affiliates. Also, different research priorities by country can sidetrack the research. Having a single line of communication with the local moderator and translator is critical so that you can manage your backroom clients and keep your research objectives in check.

5. Be flexible and always expect the unexpected

The local moderator is your “best friend” when something unforeseen happens.  They know the local culture better than you and the practices within the country.  Maintain a good working relationship with your local moderator. They will be able to provide you with advice and could potentially help you with any hurdles you may face.

6. Be aware of local holidays

With the various countries and cultures, there are many different holidays celebrated that you may not be aware of.  Partners will alert you to holidays in various countries that you never knew existed.  When using trusted local partners you know that your research will not be scheduled at a time when there is a local holiday- even if that is when the client wants it to be!

7. Single-source partners in each country

When it comes to partners, a centralization strategy is the most efficient.  A single point of contact for translations, recruiting, moderating, deliverables, etc. reduces inefficiencies and confusion.  Ensure that all partners and their teams have documented experience in the market you are researching and that all partners are responsive to email within reasonable hours during your work day.

8. Understand your partner’s costs

It is important to know your international partner’s costs and the currency in which they will be billed.  Currency movements can present an element of uncertainty and impact to project budgets, thus it’s critical to identify what impact the exchange rates could have.  Looking at current spot exchange rates in additional to historical and recent trends should help you assess the risk and ensure that project budgets, with costs in foreign currencies, are set with some flexibility to mitigate currency exchange risk.

What to look for in a global partner

Here is a list of capabilities and qualities to look for when establishing your global partners:

  • Look for real experienced players, not hobbyists. You want organizations and individuals who can flex up their resources as necessary to meet your project’s needs.  Seek partners that are confident in their own ability to meet recruitment criteria.  Based on previous experience, generally, if your partners CANNOT meet the criteria, they will tell you.  Knowing their capabilities is important.
  • Deep experience in the topic in that geographic market. Extensive experience in the topic of focus will drive better quality research and relieve some stress that you or your clients may be feeling about the project.
  • Customized solutions that are flexible and adaptable. Your clients don’t want excuses.  They want solutions. This too, is what you should expect from your partners.
  • Ability to meet schedules. You have project timelines and parameters you must meet in order to satisfy your clients.  Your partner must take those time commitments seriously and make you a priority.
  • Flexibility on pricing and timing of payments. A partner that is willing to be flexible on pricing and time payments with your cash flow shows that they want your work and are willing to work together to establish a long term relationship.

Finally, the best advice to drive success is to go into a project with realistic expectations and understand that there is a learning curve when it comes to managing global projects.  May your international research projects be a great success!


About the author: Monica Grebe worked with GfK, a global research company, for several years.   She successfully managed everything from recruitment only to mixed methodology domestic and global studies involving 20+ countries. In her current role at itracks, Monica supports global research studies through project management, implementation of technology, and sourcing high quality research partners in various international markets.