A 12-Year-Old, a Cow, and a Qualitative Proposal without Secondary Research are Submitted to a Client…

Secondary Research

What? Huh? What do these things have to do with each other?

They’re all wrong. For different reasons.

The 12-year-old isn’t old enough to be working for you, the RFP didn’t ask for unpasteurized milk (not to mention that the cow is too big to be emailed), and just regurgitating what the client gives in the background section is leaving a primary researcher vulnerable to losing an opportunity to better-informed competitors.

So why would a qualitative researcher conduct secondary research?


You want to be known as a knowledgeable partner.

Don’t play the role of the middle-schooler who only reads the texts before tests.

If you want to be known as a go-to source for research in a particular B2C space, you should be reading about those industries every single day. For instance, if you have repeated business or inquiries from the manufacturers of baby food, pet food, and snack foods, read The Journal of Consumer Research, The Journal of Food Products Marketing, Pet+, Pet Business, and Pet Product News. Professional journals feature the "breaking news" before mainstream media publishes or broadcasts the news – if they ever do.

If you are providing B2B or B2C market research to the healthcare sector or pharmaceutical manufacturers, you should be reading the Journal of the American Medical Association, New England Journal of Medicine, and perhaps The Annals of Internal Medicine. Subscribe to KFF Health News, Medscape, and STAT emails. Sign up for webinars given by NEJ, KFF, and JAMA. Healthcare is not only big business, but also "news you can use" for yourself!


You want to create meaningful reasons to talk with your clients.

Hopefully, you don’t wait for RFPs to pop up to have conversations with your clients. That’s almost as bad as emailing the cow!

Several baby food companies are being sued for allegedly allowing dangerous levels of poisonous heavy metals in their products. Your client was cited as being one of the best buys by a notable consumer guide. Corn is expected to be in short supply in the last quarter of 2023 and most of 2024 because of the ongoing war in Ukraine. Canned pet food will be harder to get, as aluminum is experiencing manufacturing issues. Place a call or send an email and find out how your clients are responding. If you email, you can send the news with footnotes, too. (Just like at the end of this article, something the twelve-year-old would probably overlook.)

A study published in April 2023, revealed that AI-based chatbot responses to patient questions were superior in thoroughness and quality and were more empathic than those from physicians. That could certainly be an interesting conversation with practically any healthcare client, including hospitals, large physician groups, healthcare insurers, LTC care facilities, and healthcare tech companies. (Footnotes again!)


You want to write knowledgeable responses to an RFP in less time.

There is never enough time in the marketing research business! Being able to respond quickly with a solid background in the client’s area of concern is like being ready for a pop quiz (which not many 12-year-olds can claim.)

Go beyond the bare basics of the business objective stated in the RFP. Include relevant updates regarding the industry, mentioning any meaningful events affecting the target audience (e.g., college loan forgiveness for Gen Z), competitor activity ― anything that shows you’ve been staying current in the client’s business. This is not difficult if you’ve been staying on top of your reading! The RFP response should always put the client’s concerns above the capabilities of the market researcher, but demonstrating your ability to speak to the client's needs shows your expertise.


Discussion guide suggestions are easier to create if you are aware of the issues in the industry.

A good extra to include in your proposal would be a few questions relevant to the client's goals that you might add to the discussion guide for the project. Your questions might provide the "Aha!" moment that could win the project ― something that neither the smartest 12-year-old in the world nor the biggest-producing cow can do.


Pamela Waite

Pamela Waite

Qualitative Consultant

Pamela Waite has been providing strategic direction with qualitative research to healthcare, educational, and charitable organizations for over 25 years. She specializes in uncovering and describing the behavioral, cognitive, and psychological components that inform decision-making. Dr. Waite received her Master’s and Doctoral degrees in Counseling and Consulting Psychology from Harvard University. She also holds an MBA from Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim Business School.

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