We passed the entrance to this market research facility several times because we had automatically assumed we would come upon their roadside sign. No sign and not even a street number, just the rusted oil drums and concrete rubble you see in the photo. This got me to wondering how many of our paid study subjects would have the same trouble we did. I walked back to the street and took this picture of the entrance. If you look all the way down the driveway, you will see a dark rectangle interrupting the slanted white line of the roof. That’s their only sign.
We had scheduled small group discussions with a variety of people who bought the client’s products in area stores. To ensure the vendor would recruit a diverse group of paying customers, we built a detailed set of instructions. One was how he would deploy his team of trained and experienced interviewers with name tags and clipboards across dozens of retail establishments. We had chosen stores that were in town and out, large and small, plain and fancy, east and west, and so on. We were all confident this master plan of ours would guarantee us an excellent cross-section of buyers and we would learn a lot about what we had come here for.
Still bothered by this idea of a business with no sign or address, I asked the first group how they found us. The first said “I live next door.” I listened without comment as others said “My brother-in-law runs the business,” “I come to all the groups they have,” “It’s good money for just talking.” I excused myself for a moment and went to the back room where my associates and our clients had been watching in real time. We agreed we would terminate the groups as utterly pointless. I returned to the room, thanked our recruits for coming and told them we wouldn’t be holding this session after all. Of course, we would still pay them the honoraria they had been promised because they had done nothing wrong. They were delighted by this money for nothing.
We were shocked to learn our recruiting instructions had been completely disregarded by the vendor. It was a hard way to learn that vendors’ interests are not automatically aligned with ours. Our interests were in high-quality research – his were in cutting his costs, quality be damned and the hell with our standards and the hell with our instructions. This occurs often enough that when your company does research in faraway places, the odds are some version of this happens and no one ever tells you about it. Blatant cheating is not mentioned in reports or slide presentations and sponsors unknowingly end up with what they think is research but is anything but.
When we told the owner of this market research facility his behavior was totally unacceptable, he argued he had done nothing wrong because this is the way he always does it and no client had ever complained. You and I know the much likelier reason no clients ever complained is because no clients ever knew, and the reason they didn’t know is that most research involving travel is not attended by study sponsors. This means no one is there to guard our investment by seeing our instructions are being followed. Study sponsors end up paying money for nothing.
Some vendors will cheat, especially when no one is watching. To be unaware is to be at the mercy of those with low standards or even none at all, so always send someone from your team who knows what’s what.
And that's why no one had a problem finding the facility.