How to Conduct Secondary Market Research for your Business

How to Conduct Secondary Market Research for your Business

Last Modified – September 13, 2021

In a previous post, we looked at conducting primary market research and now we look at secondary market research. While primary market research involves interacting directly with the target audience of a business, secondary research involves accessing data published by others about the market.

Both are part of market research, an exercise that might have different objectives such as:

  • Understand the market
  • Understand customers
  • Discover business opportunities
  • Improve your offers
  • Position yourself better in the market.

Market research is particularly important when you are planning to raise funds from external investors.

These investors would expect to see authentic data about:

  • Size of the market, including both numbers of customers and potential sales volumes
  • Competitors in the market and their competitive strategies
  • Share of the market you can get with your marketing efforts

Providing relevant answers will be possible only through a proper market research exercise. Secondary market research is the best starting point as it will give you an overview of the market quickly at a much lower cost.

With an overview thus gained, you will be able to come up with the most appropriate questions that need to be answered by the primary research.

So, how exactly do you conduct the secondary market research for your business?

Secondary Market Research Methodology

Decide on the topic and approach

Secondary research is often an exploratory research. You try to get an idea about such things as size of the market, customer expectations, and the competitive environment. With ideas about these, you can plan your primary research to provide answers to specific questions relevant to your business objective.

For example, you might decide to focus on finding out any customer dissatisfaction with competitor offers.

Decide on the broad questions to be answered by the initial secondary research. Create a preliminary list of data to be collected. This list can expand during the research as you become aware of the issues involved. However, avoid getting distracted and collecting data that is irrelevant to your business objective.

Next, you can work on finding the sources for the data. We look at different data source categories in later sections. Under each category, there would be many specific resources. Review these and decide which ones would provide authentic data.

Speaking of authenticity, it is best to check data from one resource with that available at other resources. You might have to make the data comparable to do this. Different resources might provide data in different ways – periods, units, etc.

Analyze and interpret the data, and examine your findings. Do you need more data? Can these be obtained through further secondary research? If yes, continue the secondary research.


When you are collecting data from diverse sources, it is important to note down which piece of data came from where. You should make it a practice to link each piece of collected data to its source. A standard format of maintaining such references would help you in substantiating all your findings.

There are different styles of referencing. All of these aim at giving credit to the original source of the data and helping your reader to access that source. Here is a guide on the MIT practice of referencing.

Remember that in the case of websites, the content of pages can change from time to time. To accommodate this possibility, it is best to save the page you are referencing and keep it with your data references.


A suggested format for documenting the secondary research exercise:

  • An outline plan for secondary research. It would specify the overall market research goals, the data needed to achieve the goals, and a broad list of data to be collected during the secondary research.
  • A literature review document summarising your findings by each resource you reviewed. Each summary will have a reference to the source of the information, a summary sentence followed by a brief but accurate presentation of the findings, and relevant comments to put the findings in a proper context.
  • A bibliography of the references to sources, with identifying numbers. These numbers are used in the literature review above to indicate which source is being referenced.
  • Your report, describing the analysis and interpretation and presenting a summary of your findings and conclusions.
  • A list of questions to be answered further.

External Sources for Secondary Market Research Data

As we have already mentioned, secondary market research is done by referring to data published by others. Where can you find useful data?

Major data source categories are:

  • Government Publications: A great deal of data (of value to businesses) are published by different departments of most governments. For example:
    • Census data provide details of population and its breakdown by parameters such as male/female, age, etc. 
    • Industry data would be available from publications of the industry development ministry and agencies. 
    • Trade data such as imports and exports will be available from publications of the ministry of commerce. 

In the USA, for example, you can access an overwhelming amount of data online from the websites of the Census Department, the government as a whole, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and Department of Commerce, for example.

  • Commercial Publications: Private agencies carry out market research and publish data about specific industries and about business and the economy in general. In the USA, for example, you have 
    • Thomas Net that connects industrial buyers and sellers, 
    • Harris Info that lists directories of industries and manufacturers, 
    • Dun & Bradstreet that provides data services and 
    • Market research companies that provides reports into different industries.
  • Associations: The websites and publications of industry and trade associations is a good resource for information about specific industries or trades. Resources like Directory Library can help you locate the specific association of interest to you.
  • Local Institutions: By contacting your local chamber of commerce, you should be able to get information about local conditions, and also obtain contact details of experienced persons in your industry. You can talk to them to gather information of value. You can also contact local industry development offices, such as SBA centers in the USA for help and information.
  • Colleges and Universities: The students and faculty of these institutions often carry out research and their research reports could provide information that is relevant to your research.
  • The Internet: You would most likely be tapping all the above resources over the Internet. Additionally, your competitor websites are a great resource to understand the offers and marketing approaches of your competitors. There would be many other resources of value to your research on the Net, such as websites discussing specific businesses.
  • Newspapers and Magazines: Print publications would also contain high value data about different aspects, such as trends, trade statistics, and insightful articles.

Internal Records are also a Source for Secondary Market Research

If you are an existing company that has been in the business for some time, you would have accumulated a lot of internal data. These could provide information about customers, their buying patterns, selling prices, cost of operations and response rates to ad campaigns, to cite a few examples.

A careful review can indicate which of these can be of value to your current research. In such cases, this could be one of the easiest sources to tap.

Limitations of Secondary Market Research

Secondary market research have certain limitations:

  • You might not get data and answers that meet your specific purpose. The original research might have been done for a different purpose.
  • The data you get might not be current. Things could have changed since the date of publishing that data.
  • The data might not be accurate. It is often difficult to check the authenticity of published data.
  • Data from different sources on the same thing might be conflicting. Together with the difficulty of checking authenticity, you might not know which data to accept.
  • The data might be biased, either through deliberate intent or through the ignorance of the original researcher about biases.


Secondary market research involves gathering data that is already available at different places (as distinct from primary research where you gather original data by interacting with members of your audience). It is great to obtain an overview of the market and learn about your competitors. You would be better able to formulate the specific questions for a primary research with the insights from such an overview.

There are innumerable sources for doing secondary research. These include government, commercial and institutional sources. You might even be able to access these resources free of cost.

For example, you can access even priced publications by going to a library. And many resources on the web are free.

Secondary market research has certain limitations and unless you are careful to minimize the impact of these, you might end up with data that is far from correct. Done in a planned manner and observing certain precautions, however, you can arrive at high value findings.

You should take particular care to document your research exercise. Proper documentation can lead to a better research exercise and help overcome some of the limitations. It will also help you support your findings during a presentation.

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