The field of market research may have expanded well beyond the phone calls and door-to-door surveys of yesteryear, but Shelton’s Survey Sampling International has kept abreast of developments over its 40 years of operation — and continues to seek to stay ahead, according to company President and CEO Chris Fanning.
“We’ve been in the right place at the right time,” Fanning said at his office at the company’s global headquarters. “But we’re always looking to expand.”
The company, which goes by the trade name SSI, has some 1,200 full-time employees in 40 offices, including 250 on the company’s two floors at 6 Research Drive, and remote staff in more than 20 countries.
Serving more than 3,500 customers worldwide, including giants like the Nielsen Corp., the Boston Consulting Group and Volvo, SSI has a 98 percent customer retention rate on a year-to-year basis,
“It’s very rare that somebody chooses not to use us anymore,” he said. “And we do our research to learn about those who
Fanning, who joined the firm in 2012 as chief operating officer, said SSI has more than doubled its annual revenue over the past five years to more than $300 million.
It has been quite a journey for the company, which was founded in 1977 in the garage of Tom Danbury, who with Beverly Weiman created what was the first commercial market research sampling company.
Danbury, who died in 2007, conceived the use of a database to offer telephone sampling service for survey researchers as a product. Previously, clerks had compiled samples by manually compiling them from telephone books.
Danbury had retired from SSI in the mid-’90s, followed by Weiman in 2007.
The company’s growth has been driven by mergers and acquisitions.
Having merged in 2011 with Utah-based Opinionology, SSI in 2015 purchased the majority of assets of MRops, a provider of end-to-end market research operations services to management consulting firms and market research agencies. Last year it acquired Instantly Inc., a provider of online and mobile audiences and insights technology tools. SSI’s majority owner is private equity firm HGGC, based in Palo Alto, California.
While the internet drove the market research business away from phone and in-person interviewing, Fanning said SSI still does a fair amount of such work overseas. “People in the States are increasingly using their landlines less and less, but that’s not the case in some of the territories we serve,” he said.
At the same time, mobile has become a growing field in the more developed parts of the world, he said.
SSI builds panels of respondents on a global basis, collecting and merging data so that reports specific to a given demographic or geographical area can be compiled “within a few hours, if not minutes,” Fanning said. Respondent information is kept on file for six months; participants are usually given rewards, such as an iTunes credit, for taking part in a given survey.
The company also requests and often receives permission to track respondents’ behavior. If a participant makes regular trips to an airport that last longer than it would take to just drop someone off, for example, he is profiled as a frequent traveler.
“You’ve been talking to my parents,” he joked when asked about privacy concerns. “The mobile generation doesn’t care about that. They take the position that the more information, the better.”
The latest addition to the firm’s offerings is the SSI Suite, which affords everyone from expert market researchers to novices the ability to conduct research on an
Among its features:
• SSI Survey Builder, a free survey-authoring tool that enables users to create their
own unlimited online or mobile surveys.
• SSI Self Serve Sample, which allows targeting capabilities based on such qualifications as gender, age, marital and status.
• SSI Survey Score, a free survey diagnostic tool that tests questionnaires before they go into the field to detect problems that may affect survey outcome and success.
• SSI Sample API, an automated application program interface that allows complete control and access to SSI sample audiences using a company’s existing in-house systems.
“The idea is to get as local or as global as you want,” Fanning said. “And we feel we’re very well-positioned to provide that, now and into the future.”