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SSI Embraces DIY: Interview with Chris Fanning, CEO of SSI

An in depth interview with Chris Fanning, CEO of SSI on their new suite of products, the future of the insights industry and what lies ahead for the company as they celebrate their 40th Anniversary.

The market research industry, like many industries, is going through dramatic changes.  But the main goal remains the same – gaining insights from consumers and business professionals.  How fast those insights can be turned into money-making endeavors are what many organizations are striving for every day.

This imperative has, and continues to, disrupt the market research industry and very company in it. From CATI to online surveys and panels, to DIY and now to AI-driven automation the pace of change has only increased. Few companies have weathered that change unscathed and fewer still have thrived.

One of the exceptions is Survey Sampling International; through it all SSI has adapted and grown. They are a textbook example of how to adapt to a changing market.

Now, the venerable sample company is entering a new phase with their launch this week of a suite of do-it-yourself products that will make it a lot easier and less expensive to conduct professional research 24/7.  They join the ranks of the disruptors  that are leading the industry by breaking down the barriers in the value chain and creating an integrated platform to enable online research easier, faster, and if not better, at least good enough for the needs of much of the industry.  Their competitive set as an integrated platform is fairly limited: Research Now, Toluna, SurveyMonkey, AYTM and Google Surveys are the major examples, but SSI is carving their own path of differentiation by being smart,well funded, and opportunistic.

If you’ve been around the industry as long as me you’ll remember SSI as one of the “go to” sources for telephone sample and an early player in online sample, but they largely served the research supplier community. As the industry has shifted to make research available to a wider market, SSI has expanded its customer base to include media agencies, consulting firms and corporations.  In addition to its core market research agency customers and firms, SSI is scratching the surface of new vertical industries for additional sources of revenue, for example, financial services, health care, transportation and technology.

Since CEO Chris Fanning joined after the acquisition of the company by HGGC, a middle-market private equity firm from Providence Equity Partners and Sterling Investment Partners, he has been focused on building the business through internal investments in the team and technology, and through a series of acquisitions to expand their footprint and capabilities. Since doubling in size during the last five years, SSI’s new initiatives and product expansions put it on a path to become a billion-dollar revenue company.  It has set its sights on other panel companies, similar to the MyOpinions acquisition in 2015 that further expanded its business and made it the market leader in Australia and New Zealand.

SSI’s MRops acquisition in 2015 gave it additional technology, expertise and scale to grow SSI’s consulting customer base.  The 2016 acquisition of Instantly gave SSI additional sample it didn’t have in mobile and access to technology for the DIY part of the market.

Today, the company is one of the top 50 largest research companies in the world and close in size to the giant of DIY, SurveyMonkey. With the launch of their new suite of sample and data collection tools, I would expect them to give that darling of Silicon Valley a real run for their money.

I sat down to talk to Chris about the new offering, where the company has been, and where it’s going in the future. It’s a frank and funny talk that I think will be instructive for everyone in the industry. And if you don’t think the discussion is fun, you can at least laugh at the debut of my new “Breaking Bad” look!



Since Tom Danbury started the company in his garage in 1977, SSI has changed quite a bit; this year marks the 40th anniversary for them and I expect they are just getting started.

Below is the press release on the SSI Suite.


 SSI today announced a new way to conduct self-service market research, from authoring surveys and selecting target audiences to viewing results. The SSI Suite provides fingertip access to integrated market research tools and technology, giving the expert market researcher or novice complete control to conduct research when and where it is needed.

The SSI Suite features a number of tools including:

  • SSI Survey Builder – SSI’s free and easy-to-use survey authoring tool enables users to create their own online or mobile surveys. It allows the user to control questions asked, who answers them and how to report results. Survey Builder enables a user to create unlimited surveys, with unlimited questions, sent to unlimited respondents. This means no risk, no budget and no approvals, just quality consumer insights using a professional platform.
  •  SSI Self Serve Sample – Based on the platform in its high-touch sample service, SSI Self Serve Sample features the same powerful targeting capabilities – gender, age, marital status, education, income, job title and more – 24/7, with the click of a button. It works with Survey Builder and most major survey platforms to provide seamless integration with SSI’s global online and mobile sample providing instant access to a wide range of target audiences. In addition, the user will know price and feasibility feedback on any project, and be able to track its progress in field.
  • 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. This tool assesses elements such as question types and length of interview to spot issues related to completion rates.
  • SSI Sample API  – An automated application program interface that maximizes the benefits of the SSI Suite and allows complete control and access to SSI sample audiences using a company’s existing in-house systems.

“SSI Suite represents the natural evolution of SSI’s industry-leading technology platform and capabilities,” said Chris Fanning, SSI president and CEO. “SSI Suite provides researchers control, speed to market and the power of quality consumer insights 24/7 using a technology platform that has delivered more than 100 million surveys in recent years. The SSI Suite gives you the speed and flexibility needed to compete successfully in a data-driven world.”

For example, SSI Survey Builder creates effective and compelling surveys without needing complex coding or years of experience. It is the self-service solution for business professionals that is easy and powerful. It connects the survey to SSI’s online and mobile audiences, or, if a user maintains her own audience, SSI Survey Builder makes it easy to promote the survey by email, social network or even embedding it on the company’s website.

“Market researchers are demanding faster access to insights,” said Simon Chadwick, managing partner, Cambiar Consulting. “The SSI Suite positions SSI at the forefront of the industry movement to use technology to reach and develop insights at a moment’s notice. This suite of tools is the desired advancement for direct access to technology for market research. It provides solutions that embrace working smarter, not harder.”

SSI Self Serve Sample gives users immediate access to a target audience for customer insights. It provides a way to send any survey to SSI’s global panel of respondents 24/7 without the need for external coordination. With millions of qualified market research participants in multiple countries, your survey will be connected with one of the largest consumer panels in the industry. Its intuitive interface allows the user to further refine his audience by additional segments and assign nested quotas for a more accurate sample representation.  Each research project is traced and displayed in a dynamic dashboard, giving the user visibility into important KPIs that help evaluate the project’s performance every step of the way.

“Sample needs arise anywhere and anytime,” said Bob Fawson, SSI chief product officer. “Response times are critical to our customers’ success, and by introducing the SSI Self Serve Sample, we address a critical market need. The Self Serve Sample tool was created to give more business professionals the opportunity to access SSI’s global panel audience. It acts as the cornerstone in the SSI Suite of tools to help you better understand your target market and achieve rich customer insights.”

For additional information on the SSI Suite, please visit

Celebrating 40 years in business, SSI is the premier global provider of data solutions and technology for consumer and business-to-business survey research. SSI reaches participants in 90+ sample countries via internet, telephone, mobile/wireless and mixed-access offerings. SSI staff operates from 40 offices and remote staff in more than 20 countries, offering sample, data collection, CATI, questionnaire design consultation, programming and hosting, online custom reporting and data processing.  SSI’s employees serve more than 3,500 customers worldwide. Visit SSI at

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