Posted on January 19th, 2018 By Joanna Byerley No Comments

Few weeks ago, Research Talent Hub caught up with Sally Watts – Senior Research Executive at Circle Research

Sally speaks about the future of Business to Business market research, her thoughts on working at a boutique versus bigger agency, and her journey into becoming a successful and valued member of her team. She is very inspirational and her account will hopefully provide market research Graduates with much needed career tips!


Joanna:  How did you get into market research?
Sally: Accidentally really! It’s not something I’d ever thought of doing until I started researching what I was going to do after finishing university. I’d planned on applying for the big management/consultancy grad schemes, but came across a job description for a market research role during my search and it sounded like the kind of thing I was looking for and had the right skills for. The consultancy side of research and working with clients from a variety of businesses really appealed to me, but the analysis side of the role was what interested me most. I’d done a few modules at university about decision making psychology and the ways people make decisions which I’d found incredibly interesting, and I liked the idea of really getting to the bottom of a problem and using data to understand why people behave the way they do.

Joanna: What are your agency’s criteria when selecting graduates? What are the core skills the team is looking for? Any advice on how to ‘stand out from the crowd’?
Sally: I think it’s generally accepted that market research is the kind of career a lot of people just fall in to. It’s better to be honest and focus on what it is about the field that interests you, and show that you’ve thought about what the role involves and how your skills would apply to the role, rather than pretend you’ve grown up wanting to work in B2B research. I think simply being friendly and engaging will make you stand out, a lot of the role is client-facing so it’s important to show that you could have a conversation with a client and be relaxed and confident. It’s a small agency so as much as it’s essential to have the right skills, Circle are looking for people who are going to be a good fit with the company.

Joanna: What’s Business to Business Research (B2B) as opposed to Business to Consumer (B2C) Research? Many budding researchers struggle to understand the difference …
Sally: In B2C research your client’s organisation will be selling products and services directly to consumers. In B2B research your client’s business will be selling products and services to other businesses. As an example, a multi-national communications company sells phone contracts to consumers, but they also sell these and other services like cloud and unified communications to businesses, and it’s that side B2B research is focussed on. The research process itself is largely similar, but in B2B the research is being conducted with senior business decision makers with a wealth of experience and a huge amount of knowledge about their field, so it’s incredibly interesting to hear what they have to say, and you learn a lot in the process.

Joanna: What does a typical day involve for a Senior Research Executive in B2B market research?
Sally: It’s very varied – you’re usually working on four or five different research projects at any one time, all at different stages of the process, so no day’s the same. Some days are spent managing suppliers and doing tasks like fieldwork set-up/management and data processing, while other days you’ll spend designing a questionnaire or discussion guide, analysing survey data or interview transcripts, or presenting findings and recommendations to clients at their offices. As you get more experience you’re given more responsibility in managing projects and take a bigger role in the analysis process. It’s been a learning curve but you get more confident each day as you get more experience in each area.

Joanna: What do you love about your role?
Sally: For me I think it’s the point where two or three months of work come together and you have something really great to deliver to the client. Most of our projects are ad-hoc, so the research is almost always commissioned based on a current business problem that the client needs an answer to now. At the end of the project we’re able to give them that answer and use insights from the market to help guide their decisions going forward.

Joanna: Your thoughts on working at a boutique versus bigger agency?
Sally: I can’t really speak for working at a big agency, as I’ve spent my career so far with Circle, but I’d think that working in a smaller agency gives you much greater opportunities to be involved in the whole research process from proposal to presentation, and lead projects from start to finish much earlier in your career than you would do at a larger agency. Even during my first few weeks at Circle I was getting involved in analysis and contributing to the design process. It’s a really close-knit team at Circle, everyone knows everyone which is something I don’t imagine you’d get in the same way at a larger agency.

Joanna: What’s the career progression like at your agency?
Sally: There are a lot of opportunities for progression at Circle, and as the company grows it means that there’s room for people to progress to the senior level positions. There’s a twice yearly appraisal process which makes it really easy to know exactly what skills you need to be focusing on developing in order to progress. Everyone wants each other to do well, so there’s a big focus on getting people the exposure they need to different tasks. I think the important thing is that it’s not based on ‘time served’ or ‘position vacancy’, if you’ve demonstrated the skills then you’ll get promoted.

Joanna: How important is training at Circle? How has it evolved since you started your career?
Sally: It’s taken very seriously. We’ve all been given the opportunity to take the MRS (Market Research Society) Advanced Certificate in Market and Social Research – it’s aimed at people in the first few years of their career and covers the main principles and techniques of research. We’re all encouraged to go on external training days if it’s something we’re interested in learning more about, or something we could do with some guidance on. So far I’ve done a workshop on presentation skills and an online course in project management, and I’ve got a couple more lined up over the rest of the year. There’s also an internal training plan including sessions with senior members of the company, as well as whole company training days – we’ve got one in a couple of weeks all about knowledge sharing and consultancy skills.

Joanna: Do you need some commercial work experience to get into market research? What was your journey like?
Sally: I came straight to Circle from university having done an Undergraduate degree in Economics and History, and a Masters in Management, but there are people from a real mix of academic backgrounds at Circle (Geography, Engineering, History…). A lot of people started at graduate level and worked their way up, a few have come from consultancy backgrounds, and some from other areas. I wouldn’t say it’s essential to have commercial experience though, I think it’s just as important to have a head for analysis and problem solving and be willing to learn!

Joanna: What are your predictions for the future of Business to Business market research?
Sally: I think there’s a growing importance of insight in business decision making – B2B clients are placing more emphasis on using insights to drive strategy and the results of research are increasingly impacting Board-level decisions. Secondly there seems to be an increase in the types of research that clients are interested by – as well as traditional qual interviews or quant surveys, it’s more and more important to bring in different sources such as social media analysis, or using statistical tools and techniques like facial or voice analysis to get beneath the surface. This means there is a greater opportunity for B2B researchers, but it also means that agencies will need to broaden their horizons.

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