Qualtrics strikes another blow to the old school market research industry

By James Robinson , written on February 19, 2014

From The News Desk

If your company is coming up on a dozen years old and provides a service to 5,000 companies - including half of the Fortune 100 - there comes a point when you’re not just offering up something that people need, you’ve also got a bank of expertise at your fingertips by virtue of your client list.

It’s a realization that Provo, Utah-based enterprise survey company Qualtrics are looking to capitalize on. The company is gathering 1,000 of its customers together today in Salt Lake City to launch what it is calling its Innovation Exchange, a vast pool of knowledge clients can use for free about how other companies have been doing market research with Qualtrics and even call on them for help.

As Qualtrics co-founder and CEO Ryan Smith explains, for $5,000, the price of a single Qualtrics license, companies will have access to 250,000 use cases and examples of 130,000 different surveys. The exchange will also offer up existing Qualtrics clients as technology partners, to provide any spot help a company needs.

“The response so far has been phenomenal. When we told our clients about this they were like, ‘it’s about time,’” Smith says.

Smith strikes you as the sort of person who speaks about anything with a high-level of enthusiasm, but his excitement is at a peak when he says the everyday impact of Qualtrics Innovation Exchange will be something like this: a Qualtrics customer who could never afford to hire an expensive market research company logs in and can access instructional videos and articles about how large companies like IDEO and Bain Consulting used the service. Most people with a basic level of computer savvy can copy these steps and see a survey through to the point where it gets sent out, but if a company gets stuck with the more technical data analysis it can hire other Qualtrics’ customers for one-off bursts of work.

“We’re the lowering the barriers to entry for market research,” Smith says. “Some people are going to look at this and say he’s making something I’d charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for available for $5,000.”

“It’s going to be pretty disruptive, probably pretty controversial.”

The market research industry is a $30 billion market that’s still in the Stone Age, Smith thinks. To him, part of moving forward is bringing together knowledge. Openly, he says his grander goal is that he wants “all data collection from every organization in the world” to be done on Qualtrics. But practically, in the near term he wants to open up information that has been siloed in too many dark corners.

There’s a lot to be learned about how different institutions are gathering data, Smith says. Early on in its company history, Qualtrics focused on selling to academic institutions in building out a market. Smith says that today Purdue has 5,000 licenses, Stanford has 1,000 and Wharton has 1,000.

“In some ways, universities are the ultimate enterprises: different departments, community interests, research needs. Wouldn’t you want to know the cool things they’re doing with Qualtrics?”

Bain Consulting uses Qualtrics to create its widely used net promoter score, IDEO uses it to gamify surveys using smiley faces and frowning faces. The methods of doing so are now within the reach of anyone, Smith adds.

Alongside Smith’s higher-level imaginings of democratizing market research for good, on an institutional level, simply centralizing and standardizing how market research is done has practical gains. He says he sees too many companies contract out data analysis to five different companies, get the information back in different formats, which then makes it impossible to integrate into a company’s Salesforce or Adobe platforms.

“This is also critical, mission essential to what we’re trying to do here,” Smiths says.

Smith says that while he sees the Qualtrics Innovation Exchange as an important step for the market to take, it’s also a natural direction that the market is going in.

“When Qualtrics first started, we couldn’t even give this away. We’d call up companies and they’d say ‘sorry, we outsource everything,’” Smith says. “Now we have insight seekers contacting us from all levels of a company.”

Market research isn’t the sexiest industry you could imagine disrupted. But as data analysis and detailed market awareness become a precursor for successful businesses at all levels, it is hard to see a downside in making a knowledge base like this accessible.

As a free add on, Qualtrics has risked little of its current market strength with its Innovation Exchange. Its model hasn’t changed and it has added in a new recruiting tool for potential customers. The only mystery is how high up Smith’s scale of the lofty aspirations the reality of the Innovation Exchange falls: democratizing industry disrupter, practical aid, or fun toy for a few current clients.