Will your customer choose you over your competitor? Should you target a different demographic? Are people satisfied with your employees? Market research is the only effective way to obtain the answers to questions like these.

In conducting quantitative research, businesses (usually along with the help of qualified market researchers) create surveys and send them out to a group of respondents. Analysts interpret the results, treat them as data, and present an answer to the company's initial questions. Once the questions have been answered, marketers will take the synthesized information obtained and create strategies that will ultimately lead to a more successful, profitable brand or product. In this sense, market research is not merely an expense to your business; it can be a useful investment.

Conducting Quantitative Market Research: Deciding What's Right for Your Business

In its most basic interpretation, quantitative research makes use of questionnaires and surveys to reach a sample in order to understand a specific question a company has. Unlike qualitative research, quantitative researchers do not use focus groups or interviews; rather, they collect a set of quantifiable data to assess customers' desires, perceived needs, and opinions.

The disadvantage of quantitative market research is that the discussion with the sample isn't really flexible, says Greg Rice, a principal of Kelton Research, a market research firm based in California. With qualitative research, on the other hand, "You get a lot of depth in your questions and you can do things like observe people's reactions, and not necessarily what they say, but how they react with body language," he says.

The advantage of quantitative market research, though, is that it is easier to project your questions to a bigger sample, which, in turn, can result in a more accurate snapshot of the market. "You need to do something with a robust sample in order to start to feel safe that the answers you're getting are representative of the people you're trying to study," Rice says.

Conducting Quantitative Market Research: What's Your Objective?

The best "step one" is starting with stating your objectives, Rice says: "What business questions do you want to answer and what gaps in your customer base you have."

Too often clients will have a fuzzy set of ideas about their customers, Rice says. That will lead to fuzzy research, and the result is that you don't learn a whole lot.  It's important to be crisp about your goals for the research.

Additionally, when defining the specific research needs, the first thing an organization needs to do is have a particular outcome in mind, says Manny Flores,  vice president of the Technology, Media, and Telecommunications Research Practice at Harris Interactive, a global market research firm based in New York City. "Many times companies will initiate research but not understand what they want in return. For example, maybe they want to increase their share in the market, or maybe they're losing customers and trying to win them back," he says. "Maybe they're trying to increase awareness of their brand, or maybe they want to have a higher purchase consideration for their products." All research is unique to the product and to the potential customer, so asking these questions is vital to the success of the campaign.

Step two, Flores says, is to find relevant research that already exists. Some universities offer studies, which can be obtained for a fee. Some analysts also syndicate research to the public. 'In other words, figure out what we already know, whether externally, or internally about the particular objectives, and more importantly, what we don't know about the market, competitors, and customers.

If you're a start-up planning on going to a venture capital firm to ask for money, there are quantitative surveys you should consider conducting beforehand, says Flores. "The first thing they're going to ask is what's the size of your market and what's your total opportunity? And then they need to know who you're competing against, what share [of the market] they have, and what people want that they aren't getting."

Conducting Quantitative Market Research: Designing the Survey

To design the survey and its questions, firms will need to work collaboratively with the research firm to achieve the most accurate results possible, Rice says. "We try to find out what the client is trying to achieve. First, we take a crack at writing the first draft of a questionnaire. Then we'll come back and have a workshop session and go over why we did one question in a certain way as opposed to another."

If there are particularly complex questions, you can do what's called metric testing - or question testing. "Essentially, Rice say, you have someone read the question and ask them what you think you meant."

Sample design, or the types of people you are targeting for the survey, is important to consider when asking the questions.  "Let's say you're launching a new product. You want to appeal to them and you want to know how they'd react to it," explains Rice. But sometimes a product can alienate your core, which is why finding the right sample design is necessary.

Many research firms rely heavily on the knowledge the business owner already has. "If their job is to sell tape recorders, they're the expert is selling tape recorders," says Flores. "They're not experts in research, so we partner with them and we learn about tape recorders and they learn how to achieve the outcomes they want."

Once the questions have been formulated, they go through rigorous testing to determine if they're 100 percent clear. Before it goes into programming, you'll want lots of eyes on it.  Sometimes you write a question thinking you're incredibly clear about it, but then someone else still can misinterpret it, Rice says.

Conducting Quantitative Market Research: Doing the Legwork

These days, questionnaires can be conducted online. Doing so is increasingly inexpensive and simple, as long as your sample design is representative of a customer base that uses the Internet. A full-service research company will help you put the survey into an online program and take the analysis and turn it into a presentation.

It's possible to conduct small-scale research without the aid of a research company. Sites like Zoomerang and Constant Contact offer survey services for a fraction of the cost of an established firm. However,  experts recommend that for in-depth market analysis, it's best to hire a pro.

The sample size you seek should depend on the statistical reliability you're looking for, Flores says. For example, a political poll will survey tens of thousands of people to try and approximate an accurate picture. But for simpler research questions, such as whether or not a customer will like the new features of a mobile phone, surveys in the hundreds may be able to do the job. But it's always important to remember sample design when doing the fieldwork, that is, if you have 10 types of customers, you'll need 10 types of surveys.

Conducting Quantitative Market Research: Looking at the Results and Making a Plan

"We always go back to the objectives," says Rice. "Let's say a client wants to answer three big questions. We'll build a narrative around that. The key is not giving people lots of data in charts and tables. The key is editing and triaging the important things that answer the question. We call it storytelling."

This is also the time to find the outliers in the results, and make sure the research doesn't include someone who didn't actually read the questions, Flores says. "We try to clean out any errors. We're looking for the plus or minus 5 percent; the people that consistently answer the same way for each question or people who complete the survey in half the time."

Conducting Quantitative Market Research: Schedule and Costs

Conducting research is a continual process. As market conditions evolve, a company needs to keep its finger on the pulse of its customers. "Given how quickly digital media is moving, I'd feel like I was out of touch if I let a year go by without doing any research," Rice says. "Also, if you;re doing something kind of risky and it's going to cost you millions of dollars to launch, it's worth it to spend the extra money to see if there's any interest in the marketplace at all."

Some types of research studies can be done in 48 hours, experts say. However, this is only if the questions are general, and there's a broad audience. Studies with a quick turnaround cost anywhere between $1,000 and $1,500 per question.

But if you want to track the equity of your brand on a number of different metrics and you have customers around the world, it will be likely to take between four and six weeks, says Flores. Studies like these can range in the tens of thousands, depending how big your sample is and how robust the report must be. Other studies could go on for the duration of the year, like satisfaction studies, because it tracks customer transactions over a period of time.