Market Research

Market research software buyer’s guide 2021

April 5, 2021 // 27min read

See how market research software can help you get faster, better quality insights to every corner of your organization and find which features to look for when choosing the right research tools with our ultimate guide

What is market research software?

Market research software is used by companies, individuals, and research agencies to collect and analyze data in order to help make better decisions. It typically combines survey tools with analytics and reporting capabilities, enabling users to field a study, gather results, and turn data into insights — all on a single platform.

There are a whole host of different market research tools on the market, with varying levels of sophistication. Choosing the right market research software for your business is essential to ensure it’s:

  • Powerful enough for your most sophisticated research programs
  • Simple enough for users with little experience in market research

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A (very) brief history of market research software

Before the age of business computing, research was an entirely manual process. In the 1940s and 1950s, survey responses were collected in person or via mail, and results were painstakingly coded, tabulated, and analyzed for insights.

As computer science began to develop, their processing power offered researchers the opportunity to increase the speed of research by automatically analyzing survey responses. In the 1960s and 1970s, huge amounts of processing power — think rooms full of computers — was required and so this kind of analysis was reserved for a select few academic and research institutions.

However, as processing power moved on and we entered the age of the personal computer from the 1980s onwards, research software began to be used more widely as more people had access to the computing power required to crunch the data.

But despite the advances in processing power and analytics, data collection was still very much a manual process. Survey responses were predominantly collected in person, or via telephone, and manually entered into the system.

As such, detailed market research was usually outsourced to specialist agencies that could achieve economies of scale by investing in expensive research software and data collection, and then sell that as a service to multiple clients.

But then came the internet. Online surveys began to grow in popularity from the 1990s onwards, enabling researchers to gather data at scale, at far less cost and far more quickly than before.

Just as processing power has continued to move on, so has data collection. Today’s researchers can gather insights through email, SMS, social media, websites, and many more channels and leverage the immense processing power instantly available in the cloud to analyze billions of data points through widely available research software.

The advanced analytics and survey-building capabilities now available on many SaaS research platforms has made complex research tasks as simple as clicking a button — or in some cases entirely automated. Where once you needed a team of PhD researchers to carry out a market research study, with the platforms available today, everyone in an organization can now launch a study and get real-time insights.

Do I need market research software?

Yes. It’s a pretty straightforward answer, regardless of your role. Where once market research software was the preserve of specialist research teams and agencies, today there’s not a single department in an organization that doesn’t need insights.

Whether it’s understanding your buyers better, optimizing your advertising and communications, or testing new product and service concepts, market research software helps you quantify what matters, make confident decisions, and take the right actions across the business.

Want to see how our research software works? Request a demo

10 key features of market research software to look out for

Not all market research software is equal. Across the various platforms out there, you’ll find a whole host of different features, capabilities, and user experiences which determine whether it’s the right fit for you.

Here’s what you need to look out for when choosing a modern market research tool for your organization:

1. Easy to use survey builder

The first step in any research is to build your survey. Your survey builder should ideally have a simple drag and drop interface with a WYSIWYG editor so anyone in the organization can write and update the questions and options.

The best market research tools will have pre-built question types - you’ll find over 100 on Qualtrics! — so those without research expertise can choose the right questions, and scales for their research. Look for a platform that offers a wide range of question types from your basic multiple choice and likert scale questions to heatmaps, hotspots, and rank order questions. Having a wide variety of question types at your disposal will mean your market research software is agile enough to handle any type of research you may need.

More sophisticated platforms also offer features like advanced routing, customizable survey flows, and embedded data. These help you easily build more complex surveys for advanced research. But even though the research is advanced, the features should still be easy to use for even the most inexperienced user.

With Qualtrics you can be confident that your team will be able to launch best practice studies thanks to our built-in QA tool, Expert Review. It provides real-time feedback to users on their surveys and recommends improvements to help them get better quality data.

See how Qualtrics’ survey builder works

“We have yet to find another survey software that is as fully-featured and easy to use as Qualtrics” - Stewart L. Research Manager

Read more reviews

2. Best-practice survey templates and methodology

We’ve already looked at question types available in many survey builders, but the best research tools go a step further by offering entire studies, pre-built and ready to go at the click of a button.

These templates are designed by research experts and should include all the questions, routing, and any other advanced builds you need to run a best-in-class research project. Each type of study should have its own template, as the methodology is likely to be different, so look for a platform that offers plenty of options when it comes to out-of-the-box templates and studies.

Many of these pre-built studies will also include reporting, so when you field your study the data will automatically populate the reports and dashboards with the insights you need, helping you get to insights faster.

3. Instant access to respondents

A survey is nothing without respondents. Traditionally, organizations have either used their own customer database, or engaged a research agency in order to find respondents for their study.

However, modern market research platforms offer instant access to respondents directly in the platform. Whether you need responses from a general population sample, or need to survey a very specific demographic, you can build your panel of respondents in the same platform as you build your survey.

This makes it quick and easy to find the answers you need and enables you to self-serve rather than having to hand off to a third-party vendor in order to source your responses.

4. Survey distribution

There are plenty of ways to distribute your survey, and increasingly companies are looking to a mix of channels in order to reach a broad demographic. The best research platforms will offer you the flexibility to distribute the same survey in a host of different channels.

Make sure at the very least the software you choose offers distribution via:

  • Email
  • Social media
  • Websites
  • Apps
  • SMS
  • Messaging apps (eg WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat etc.)

The more channels you have open to you, the more likely you are to be able to reach the right audiences for your different research projects.

5. Contact frequency management

If you’re using your own database as a source of responses, you need to be able to control contact frequency — i.e. you need to be able to put rules in place to ensure you don’t ‘over-survey’ people.

This is particularly important where you’re using the same platform across multiple teams or departments and, without safeguards in place, you run the risk of ‘spamming’ your customers with research requests.

The best research solutions have built-in controls that enable admins to set rules around who can be contacted for research, on which channels, and how often.

6. Real-time insights and reporting

One of the biggest benefits of cloud-based market research software is the speed and agility they offer. As results come in from your studies, you should be able to see them in real-time — no waiting weeks for them to come in.

As well as real-time insights, look for a platform that enables you to easily build out reports with easy-to-read graphs, tables, and filters that you can share with others too. Ideally the two should work together so as more data comes in, your reports update in real-time too — this enables you to build the structure of a report, share it with the right people, and keep them up to date on the insights as data comes in.

Whatever research platform you’re using, ease of use is essential when it comes to reporting.

From adding new visualizations and customizing the look, to adding response weighting and sharing live reports with your stakeholders, make sure it’s simple to build and even simpler to understand.

“Qualtrics makes it really easy to understand your results by viewing charts that make it easy to spot trends and then make decisions.” - Brandon O, Senior Product Design Engineer

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7. Powerful analytics

The analytics capabilities can make or break a market research platform, so this is an area it’s worth really focusing on as you choose the right platform for you.

Analytics are what turns your data into insights, and when you’re collecting a lot of data, you need powerful analytics tools to mine for deep insights.

The ‘must have’ analytics for every research platform are:

  • Text analysis — essential for identifying trending topics and sentiment from open text responses. Having text analytics in your market research software helps to get better quality data by letting respondents answer in their own words and then using the platform to analyze it and draw out deep insights.
  • Statistical analysis — from simple correlations to multivariate regression, there are many different methods you can apply to draw insights from quantitative data. In Qualtrics, Stats iQ automatically chooses the right test, applies it, and presents the results in plain language.
  • Key driver analysisidentifies the most important factors behind an outcome (e.g. customer satisfaction, employee engagement, intent to buy etc.) so you can prioritize actions to improve it.
  • Predictive analytics — applies various statistical analysis techniques to make a prediction about future behavior, for example likelihood to churn.

Within each of those categories, there are varying levels of sophistication from one market research platform to the next — for example some text analytics tools will need you to do a lot of manual work to create a topic library for open text responses while others use machine learning and AI to automatically update them, reducing the need for manual set-up.

Another key consideration is how easy they are to use. While a platform may be capable of running a complex conjoint analysis, unless you have a team of researchers who know how to do it, the platform needs to make it accessible to everyone.

Our analytics tools have been built to be incredibly simple to use — in many cases they run automatically in the background so all you ever see is the insights and recommendations that appear in your notifications or reports. And if you do need to do anything, it’s never more than a few clicks to run any kind of analysis.

Learn more about our analytics tool, iQ

8. Enterprise controls and management tools

As market research software has become more accessible to everyday users, organizations have struggled to keep up with the proliferation of tools used across the company. With different teams using different software, with different capabilities, methodologies and data protection standards, it raises a shadow IT risk.

Even when consolidating all your research into a single platform, not all platforms afford the same control over access and management of data.

Look for a platform that gives everyone access to the tools they need, but at the same time provides administrators with tools to control user access and permissions. In a world where organizations face increasingly tight controls on how they use and store customer data, it’s vital you have oversight of how it’s being used.

Another key feature to consider is the ability to share data, insights, and best practices across the organization. If you’re looking to roll out a research platform for the entire organization, being able to build your own best-practice methodologies, custom templates, branding etc. into the platform and making it available to all your users is essential to ensure everyone gets the most value out of it.

9. Data security and privacy features

With the amount of data organizations are collecting today, be it from customers, panels, suppliers, employees, or any other stakeholder, you need a market research platform with robust security and data privacy features.

The best market research software should meet the international standard ISO 27001 as well as SOC2 Type 2 certification — make sure you ask your vendor if they have these.

Depending on your industry, there may be other standards you need to consider such as FedRAMP for US federal security standards, HITRUST in healthcare, or GDPR in companies with operations or collecting data in the European Union.

Always check with your IT and infosec teams on what your requirements are, and ask your market research platform vendor to demonstrate their security certifications.

Beyond the ‘official’ certifications, useful security and data privacy features to consider include:

  • Sensitive data controls so you can set rules around the collection of personally identifiable information (PII)
  • GDPR controls so you can comply with ‘right to erasure’ requests and other parts of the legislation
  • User access controls like single sign on or multi-factor authentication

See how Qualtrics protects your data

10. Integrations and automation

Your market research doesn’t exist in a vacuum — you’re using it to drive action and make decisions across the organization. So look for a platform that can integrate into your existing tech stack.

It could be something as simple as an integration with Slack to alert the right people to insights that impact their day-to-day, or into a respondent reward platform to automatically generate rewards when people complete a study.

Many platforms have pre-built integrations which are essentially plug and play, as well as an open API which means, with a small piece of code, they’re able to integrate into anything.

It’s a great way to ensure you’re not only getting the best insights, but you’re using them to drive action across the organization.

Check out the Qualtrics integrations


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Carol Haney // Head of Research and Data Science

At Qualtrics, Carol Haney is head of research and data science. Her principal research area is online quantitative research, specifically focusing on best practices around sampling, Total Survey Error, and advanced analytics.

Carol currently works with multiple commercial clients, mostly in the financial, health, and tech spaces. Carol has experience running large survey programs that involve customer experience, segmentation, and performance measurement. In 2015, Carol was honored by Qualtrics as the most valuable player.

Prior to Qualtrics, Carol has worked in executive positions at Toluna; Harris Interactive; TNS; SPSS; and the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Carol currently leads all the formative research for the CDC’s anti-smoking ads for the past five years, a campaign that has in part contributed to the five-year decline in smoking rate in the U.S. amongst adults from 23% to 14%.

Elizabeth Dean // Senior XM Scientist

Elizabeth Dean is a senior experience management (XM) scientist with 20+ years of designing and leading research for commercial, academic, and government customers. Her expertise is in survey and market research design, UX research, brand health, technology adoption and cross-cultural research. She is passionate about designing questionnaires, contact strategies, and experience management tools that reduce respondent burden and simplify the data capture process. Liz has published research in the International Journal of Social Research Methodology, Military Psychology, and Social Science Computer Review, and co-edited the book Social Media, Sociality and Survey research, published in 2013 by Wiley Press.

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