Relationships Between Providers and Users of Market Research: The Role of Personal Trust

Christine Moorman, Rohit Deshpande, and Gerald Zaltman, 1993, 93-111

As information technologies improve, research data relevant to a broad spectrum of marketing decisions is becoming available to any firm that desires it and has the ability to pay for it. Now and in the years to come, sustainable competitive advantage will depend less on having information and more on effectively using information. Research by Deshpande and Zaltman (1982, 1984, 1987) has shown that two sets of factors strongly influence how market research information is applied to decision making: organizational dimensions and the interactions between researchers and managers. While organizational dimensions have been studied in detail, we know little about the interactions between researchers and managers. Through a series of interviews with market research users and providers, however, Zaltman and Moorman (1988) uncovered a significant factor affecting such interactions: personal trust.

Users' trust in their market research providers reduces the uncertainty associated with using market information in increasingly complex competitive environments. Moreover, management decisions are only as good as the knowledge on which they are based. A strong, trusting relationship between research users and providers can help ensure that the knowledge underlying marketing decisions will be valid and reliable.

Despite the importance of trust, there has been little study of (a) the factors that most strongly enhance the building and maintenance of a trusting relationship between researchers and users, (b) the role of trust in enhancing the use of market research information, and (c) how trust affects the interactions between market research users and providers. By having a sample of market research users in major firms respond to survey questions dealing with their relationships with different categories of market research providers, the authors of this report sought to gain insights into these issues. They identified five sets of factors affecting trust and explored the direct and indirect relationships among these factors: characteristics of the user, interpersonal characteristics of the researcher, characteristics of the user organization, interorganizational and interdepartmental characteristics, and characteristics of the market research project.

Study results showed that the most important factor enhancing the users' trust in researchers is the integrity of the researcher. Four other personal characteristics of researchers enhanced trust: confidentiality, sincerity, tactfulness, and timeliness. Two characteristics of researchers' abilities also affected trust: their expertise and their willingness to reduce uncertainty. The characteristics of the user firm and the characteristics of the research project appear to be less critical.

In addition, the authors learned that trust strongly but indirectly affects the use of market research. That is, trust between users and providers influences the perceived quality of their interactions. In turn, it is the quality of the interaction that drives the use of research information. From the users' perspective, the quality of the interaction depends on how well researchers handle disagreements with users, how insightful they are about research findings, how much strategic understanding of the users' business they display, how customer-oriented they appear to be, and how productive they make their interactions with users.

Research Implications
These findings raise a number of new research questions that can help users and providers build and maintain stronger working relationships. For example, future research could assess the importance of individual and organizational factors to integrity. Discovering the types of organizational cultures, structures, and reward systems that foster integrity would help internal market research departments and commercial research firms manage their researchers and their environments. Identifying the researcher qualities that facilitate the reduction of uncertainty would be useful to firms attempting to recruit such individuals. Understanding the cues that increase or decrease perceptions of confidentiality and researcher power would help market researchers build credibility with their clients over the course of their relationships.

Future research could also expand on the concept of interaction quality. While the authors suggest a number of measures for assessing this concept, a richer picture of the content of user-researcher interactions can come from actual observation of such interactions in practice.

Finally, while this research offers insights into the importance of different factors on trust, we need to know more about how trust develops over time and whether the factors that develop trust at the outset of a relationship are the same as those that maintain it in later stages.

Christine Moorman is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Graduate School of Business, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Rohit Deshpandd is E. B. Osborn Professor of Marketing, Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, Dartmouth College. Gerald Zaltman is Joseph C. Wilson Professor of Marketing, Graduate School of Business Administration, Harvard University.

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