Nichola 01Nichola Martland has been a key member of the research team at Competitive Advantage for 12 years. At the coal-face of market research, she leads the telephone interviews for the wide range of research subjects covered by Competitive Advantage. She has extensive experience in engaging with all categories working in the Construction sector, from Mr Man-in-a-Van to Clients and their representatives, making her somewhat of a professional chameleon.

Here in a series of “Secret Confessions” blogs I interview the interviewer! During which Nichola reflects on her experience and her tips for successful interviews, highlighting the vital role telephone research still plays, as an alternative or complement to on-line surveys.

In this first blog, Nichola reveals her preparation techniques and reflects on the necessary attributes for a successful telephone researcher.

Q – Once you’ve been briefed on a new research programme, how do you and your team set yourself up before making the first call for an interview?

It’s a 4-point plan. To start with, I always gather some background information on the Client and make sure I’m familiar with their product or service offering and which sectors of the industry they operate in.

I then make sure I’m familiar with the brief and the objectives of the research to enable myself to obtain the best responses I can for the Client.

Next I familiarise myself thoroughly with the questionnaire and do some practice runs.

Then most importantly, before the first and following each individual call, I make sure I know the contact name and job title of the target respondent. Making a professional impression as soon as the phone is answered is so important. It always helps to have a hot cup of tea to hand too!

Q – You have been involved in telephone research for 12 years. From your experience, what attributes does a telephone researcher need?

Firstly, I’d say you have to be highly self-motivated. If like me, you work from home, self-motivation is critical for talking to strangers on the phone and for gearing yourself up to ensure you deliver what the Client wants.

Patience is needed in abundance. It could take 20 attempted phone calls before you get to speak to somebody who is willing to participate.

You need to have self-confidence too, without being arrogant. You will be speaking to people for the first time, which isn’t always easy to do. You need to be confident in yourself and your ability to engage with the person on the other end of the phone.

Maintaining a professional manner at all times is essential. Even when you are handling a rude response you must remember that you are representing the Client! This is where the hot cup of tea helps before making the next call!

I’ve a thorough understanding of the construction industry and the terms and references used. Whomever I’m interviewing, I need to appreciate their function in the industry and their relevance to the Client. I also need to converse with them competently on their level and to understand their issues, in order to relay them meaningfully.

Where I like to think that we add value for our Clients, is that through our commercial initiative, we recognise opportunities for them. Quite often leads for the Client may arise during the research or ideas may be given that are outside the scope of the brief. It is important to recognise these opportunities and to feed them back to the Client.


Telephone research isn’t something you enter lightly. professionalism, objectiveness balanced with empathy and commercial initiative are important factors. A cup of tea and a sense of humour helps too!

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