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One (market research) battle at a time

A not uncommon and rather unfortunate situation encountered by market researchers is when the list of detailed research questions swells uncontrollably, while all the research objectives might look reasonable when taken separately.

There are different causes to situations like these, such as:

  • Too many and/or varied research objectives from the start and the client is adamant to address them in one survey;

  • Surveys designed initially for answering a specific operational business area, which in time are pressured to cover more and more (too many) other areas and/or answer high-level business questions, for which another perspective is required;

  • High-level surveys (for example, a satisfaction tracker designed to provide an image about the overall company’s performance, with some diagnostics about main areas of interests – products, pricing, customers experience), which somehow later are expected to provide detailed information for specific operational actions.


Expectations creeping up to unrealistic levels lead to overblown surveys, difficult for everyone involved:


Bloated, complicated questionnaires:

  • Hard, if not impossible, for researchers to make palatable;

  • Hard for client to give feedback on;

  • Hard on the respondents, thus lowering the chances to obtain quality answers.


  • Speaking of feedback, the design process in general will be convoluted and time consuming– with a lot of back-and-forth talking between researchers, client and client’s internal stakeholders;


Lots and lots of data, which could be a curse, not just a blessing as many expect:

  • Hard to process into a meaningful report, without drowning inn data;

  • Hard to answers all the expectations and questions of all stakeholders, big or small, from the client ‘s side;

  • Hard to digest by the client – results and conclusions from large and complex report, with many information, are harder to internalize and to act upon.


Taking a step further back, the root causes are lack of resources dedicated to research on the client side:

  • Budgetary constraints;

  • Lack of time;

  • Lack of personnel.

Simply put, often businesses have limited research budgets, taking into account all the questions they think they need answers for. Naturally, when money become available for a survey addressing some particular business questions, there’s the tendency to fill the bucket with various other business questions which otherwise might not catch the research train. Not to mention getting as much data for as little money as possible looks like a good Return on Investment, keeping the finance people happy.

There have to be some people on a client’s side who have to be involved in the research process from start to finish.


Lack of time and personnel are going usually hand in hand – there are few people available for this task and / or they feel they don’t have enough time for research in general. Very often, these people have a lot to do as part of their main job, so their reluctance to be involved in a lot of smaller research projects instead of a few large ones is perfectly understandable.


I will argue the perceived gains on ROI on all these resources – money, people and time – are only apparent.

Large and complex surveys are very time and energy consuming for all involved, as I have already hinted before.

Results dissemination within the client’s organization are also quite difficult, requiring a lot of meeting and discussions with internal stakeholders. Also, when there are many research questions, they usually touch on the activity of more departments within the organization and when the time for taking action comes, there’s often a lot of often sterile debate on who should do what.


There are several ways such situations can be prevented, such as:


1. Avoiding redundancies – keep track of all business questions needed to be addressed in research. Sometimes different departments raise identical or related questions; if you run research separately for each department, there’s a high chance of wasting resources. When you have the overall picture, identical questions can be asked only once and similar questions can be bundled together and eliminate overlapping, thus avoiding effort duplication.


2. Prioritization – choose the most important questions for the business, for which you are sure you have the resources to address. Leave the less important ones for later, if you still have resources left.


3. Increase focus – if the big issues are hard to grasp, split into smaller, easier to define questions and easier to address.


4. Get all stakeholders involved – if the business area addressed in research is impacted by more departments, bring everybody on board from the start. For example, if the business area is impacted by Product, Marketing, Sales and Customer Service departments, don’t let just Marketing and Product to be involved into research process from the start and notify Sales and Customer Service just when the results are ready – this is guaranteed to lead to a lot of frustration and infighting.


5. Compartmentalization – also, for each business question and the related research objectives, try do define from the start which departments are responsible for each objective. Thus, when the results are in, everybody will know which part to focus on, rather than sharing a collective and fuzzy responsibility trying to pass the burden on others (especially when the results are painful). Also don’t force mixing high-level business questions from top management with low-level, operational ones, when it’s not the case.


The client might even end paying a bit more for more smaller and focused surveys than for a couple of complex surveys, but the gains will still be his.


Rather than letting all the business issues clump together into a huge and blurry monster which will force you to wage an exhausting battle, I say it’s wiser to focus on smaller clusters of business issues which are easy to understand, to define, to address in research and to act upon.


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