The Challenges and Rewards of Qualitative Research: An Interview with Alex Malhiot

As part of our new Research Happy Hour series we had the opportunity to sit down with Alex Malhiot, Director of Market Research Operations at C+R Research. From managing participant recruitment to developing new methodologies, Alex shared both the challenges and rewards he’s experienced working in the qualitative research space.

An Operations Director

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Alex: I have been working in the Market research industry at my current job for going on eight years. And I've been working in research and insights for a little over 12 now (which is scary to say out loud). I used to work in health research and consumer patient satisfaction research, but most recently I work in more traditional consumer research at C+R and I'm currently the director of Operations for our online qualitative work. I also work with my team on building our custom long-term communities and panels for many different industries. Primarily we work with CPG clients, but we also have some clients in healthcare, insurance and some niche ones that can be challenging, but fun none-the-less.

What do you find most challenging in your day-to-day working in qualitative research?

Alex: I think that budget and timelines are the main challenge for most people in the research industry. We work with clients who have all different kinds of budgets and sometimes it's “we can spend what we need to spend on this research” and that's fine. And then sometimes it's “I have X amount of dollars and I need as much as I can possibly get to go to, my VP or my CMO or whoever it might be.”

How does your team address this challenge?

Alex: First and foremost we really try to understand - what are the needs and what are the main priorities that we really need to get done with the time and budget we have to work with. And then, my team's job essentially is to go and figure out how we make that happen.

What does ‘making it happen’ entail?

Alex: We figure out how are we going to find the participants that our clients need to talk to and make sure that they're engaged in all of the specific consumer behaviors that our client is looking for. We also need to ensure they are engaged and authentic. That they’re not just faking it to try and get through the elusive ‘professional respondents”. We always end up successful, but whether or not we can maintain the full calm, sometimes it's a rush and we just gotta get it done right.

Facing Challenges With Rewarding Opportunities

While encountering challenges is part of the job, Alex also finds immense reward in his role. One of the greatest successes he shared, lies in finding new solutions for the ever-changing needs of C+R's clients. Understanding that budgets and timelines fluctuate, Alex's team has helped to develop unique mixed methodologies that allows for a more comprehensive understanding of consumer insights while still fitting the needs of their clients.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your role in the market research industry?

Alex:  I feel the biggest success at the organization that I work in now, is that we can develop new methodologies or new approaches as our clients needs are always changing. And like I said, those timelines and those budgets are always changing.

"One year, a client might have a ton of money, in the next year they don't. So really developing methodologies that we can use to meet those needs is something that I find fulfilling personally."

Alex: So, we look at different platforms, different technologies and different recruiting sources.

And we figure out, how can we make certain things fit for our clients? And one of the things that we've been doing a lot of recently is very hybridized methodologies where we're pulling in quant.  We're mixing in live qual, traditional qual, as well as online qualitative methodologies. Alot of our clients are really looking for that kind of bigger bang for their buck so creating methodologies where we can pull in all of those broader insights from the quantitative data, but then you can get those really in depth one-on-one insights from qualitative methods has been a huge focus of ours.

We've been trying to experiment with different ways to really couple those things together but also make it fast. So that's one of the things that we’ve developed a whole methodology for.  Collecting quantitative work and then following it up immediately with some live qualitative focus groups.

Was it challenging to build this new approach?

Alex: It was a big effort. We had to have people on the operations side, myself, and some other folks from my team who can really figure out, okay, how are we going to actually make this sort of a thing happen live. We had to make sure that hundreds of participants show up all at the same time for a live quant survey. It's not the easiest coordination effort. But then also working with our analytical staff and having them really understand how to use Recollective to showcase these specific insights live as they come in to our clients.

It was a lot and took a lot of practice on our side to make sure that we had it right before we actually went live with the client. Now we now we know that we can really lock these down and share the same success with other clients based on the incredible insights we gathered from this approach.

Other than this incredibly rewarding aspect of being apart of the development of these new methodologies, is there anything else that you absolutely love about working in market research?

Alex:  I, first and foremost, I think that just working with my team and working at a company that I really love and believe in is most important for me. C+R is a pretty small company and so working at a place where you really can know everybody and you can get an opportunity to work with everybody is really cool.

"I'm a problem solver, so when I get approached with something that like seems impossible my number one thing is I want to figure out a way to make sure that we can actually do it."

And my team is a little bit unique in that we get to work with not every department within our company, but most of them and my team gets to work with a lot of different people. I think, for me and for my team, it's that constant ability to really learn new thing. We're a team that is dedicated to figuring out the best way to execute projects. I'm a problem solver, so when I get approached with something that like seems impossible my number one thing is I want to figure out a way to make sure that we can actually do it.

Conclusion

As all insight professionals experience, there will always be challenges in this industry. However as our discussion with Alex revealed, it’s really about how to take these challenges and turn them into opportunities. Whether its working to build the right methodologies for a tight client budget, or searching for the perfect niche participant, finding the solutions to what may feel like the most impossible, is what is truly the most fulfilling aspect of working in the qualitative research space. Thank you Alex for sharing this incredible perspective!

Interested in learning more about Alex’s Market Research career journey? Give him a follow and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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