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Market research is an essential an ongoing task for any procurement professional.  But so are many other aspects of procurement; contracting, negotiations, supplier reviews—you name it.  We all know we should be keeping on top of market and pricing trends, but when you’re tasked with buying multiple commodities the task can be challenging.  And when you’re tasked with tendering something new or new-to-you it can be downright daunting.  The reality is that, at the end of the day, market research often gets pushed to the side in favour of more ‘’urgent’’ tasks.

One solution is to outsource your market research, and indeed an entire industry has been built around this concept.  Gartner and Forrester are the best-known, but there are dozens if not hundreds of similar companies.  While generally considered to be thorough and objective, their cost can be hard to justify to most budget holders, public or private.  And if you want to actually talk to an expert and not just receive a standard report, the expense would be out of line with all but the biggest procurement categories.

So, how can you get quality market research, in the shortest amount of time possible and within budget?  Crowdsourcing is the answer.  Here are some tips on how to use crowdsourcing as a shortcut in market research.

Ask your suppliers

This may seem obvious, but it is often overlooked.  Suppliers love to tell you about all the innovative things they are working on.  But as procurement professionals we don’t always love to hear about it, because we’re too busy trying to solve day-to-day issues.  One suggestion is to set informal quarterly (or even annual, depending on the industry) ‘’state of the industry’’ meetings, where you don’t talk about running or future contracts, but instead keep the discussion to strategic, big-picture topics.  That way you can find out what trends and new developments are on the horizon.  It goes without saying that you should look at their suggestions objectively, they will be pushing their agenda after all.

Ask your professional network

The blessing (and sometimes curse) of social networks is that nobody from your past needs to stay in your past.  Use this to your advantage!  If one of your roommates from university works for a (potential) supplier, there’s no harm in catching up with him and learning a bit more about the industry.  This can be especially helpful if you’re tasked with procurement of a commodity you don’t have any experience in or knowledge about.  It’s also worth remembering that people switch jobs more frequently nowadays, and sometimes the most interesting perspectives come from people who recently switched industries or employees.

Ask a platform

When it comes to crowdsourcing platforms everyone is familiar with Uber and Airbnb, where requests from customers are split among a large group of users.  Other platforms, for example Upwork, let employers post freelance jobs and have users submit their pitches.  But did you know that there was recently a platform launched that is focused on Procurement? Solutiam will match you up with a procurement expert who can give you the market information you need in the form of either a Benchmark or a Market Consultation.  The reports are available for a low, fixed fee, and while you can’t see all the contact details of the experts, each one is an independent freelancer vetted by the Solutiam team.   It’s a novel way to get market information quickly and cheaply, and currently there are over 1,000 experts in 400 categories, so chances are you can find someone with exactly the information you are looking for.

Market research is essential to procurement and can be expensive and time-consuming. But finding objective information about the current state of the market and the direction it is headed can be quick and painless with a little ingenuity and a bit of help from your friends in the crowd!

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