When You Need Research to Be in the Know – and How to Do It
Many organizations believe that social listening is a good substitute for traditional market and customer research. Certainly, social listening has its merits and can provide powerful and relevant insights when combined with traditional research. But it is an adjunct to, not a replacement for, traditional market research
Social listening provides an excellent way to monitor your brand’s social media channels for any customer feedback and direct mentions. It also provides data regarding specific keywords, topics, competitors, or industries. Social listening isn’t, however, a method for discovering and testing facts and theories. This falls in the realm of traditional research, using what is referred to as the “scientific method.” Traditional research is designed to test your hypothesis, your idea, and your assumptions – for example, assumptions about new product requirements, service priorities, buying and supplier preferences, and so on. It takes research to gain insight into these types of questions.
Research in its most basic form is to inquire, to examine. It allows you to ask the question you want to ask. It begins with a question that helps you formulate your approach or methodology. Traditional research is ideal when you have customer-related questions to answer: why a customer buys, how they buy, what they need to make a purchase decision, why they stay, why they leave, what they might need in the future.
Gain Corner Office Buy-In for Your Research
Gaining corner office buy-in can be tough, especially since measuring research ROI can be difficult. The best way to secure buy-in is to tie your market and customer research to an organizational priority and relevant quantifiable business outcomes .This might include research to define new products and establish a product adoption rate or identify ways to improve customer service tied to increasing share of wallet , reduce costs to serve or reduce costs to acquire by improving referral rates, and so on.
We recommend these four steps to help you determine what and when to invest in research that will pave the way to easier and faster budget approval.
- Focus on ‘Why’ First: Good research begins with objectives tied to business decisions. Your leadership team needs to understand WHY you want to conduct the research. Begin with these three statements:
- “As a result of this research we will know…”
- “By knowing this information we will be able to make the following business decision(s)…”
- “This value of this business decision to our company is…”
Don’t start research until you can complete these statements and it’s clear how the research results will facilitate an important business decision.
Let’s look at an example to illustrate this idea. For Motion Computing who produced advanced mobile-enabled technologies to adapt productivity solutions to the way people work, focused on driving innovation based on the market and customer’s needs. They felt direct market input was vital to the company’s understanding of feature sets and functionality priorities. There are always tradeoffs when making feature and functionality decisions. Each decision has product adoption implications: the wrong mix and a product fails. Therefore, it’s important to only conduct research that will help your organization acquire “need to know” information that answers specific questions.
- Stay within Scope: Because it can be hard to secure buy-in for research, it’s not uncommon for marketers to try and pack everything they want to learn into what may be the only study they will deploy all year. When a research opportunity presents itself, it is understandable that you want to ask a lot of questions. However, while it may seem more cost-effective to conduct one very large study covering a host of questions, this approach can actually reduce the effectiveness of your research, while increasing costs.
Our work with Textronix, a worldwide leader in the test, measurement and monitoring industry, illustrates the value of scope. The company relied on two key customer metrics as part of their continuous improvement and growth efforts: share of wallet and advocacy. The focus of the study was to better understand current and potential share of wallet among their customers, create a baseline advocacy score, and benchmark this score against its competitors. It would have been easy to over-expand the scope of this study. But they understood that greater success comes with smaller studies targeting specific issues. Remember, if the research pays off, management will be more receptive to additional research efforts.
- Make the Research Count. Good market research should boost the bottom line. Voice of Customer (VoC) is a popular research initiative for many organizations today. VoC research helps you understand customers’ wants and needs and prioritize these in terms of importance and satisfaction in order to enhance the customer experience. From the start, be clear how you will quantify the value of customer experience. Can it be done? Definitely! A 2014 study by Peter Kriss in the Harvard Business Review found “not only it is possible to quantify the impact of customer experience — but the effects are huge.” Research by Forrester shows that a better customer experience drives improvement for three types of customer loyalty: willingness to purchase again, likelihood to switch to a competitor, and likelihood to recommend to a friend or colleague. Improvements in these areas directly affect a company’s bottom line with incremental purchases from existing customers, lower churn, and new sales from referrals.
- Research Without Action is a Waste: Companies often baffle us by investing the time and money to conduct research and then ignoring the results. It’s important to reconcile what you believe with what you learn from your research. Avoid the temptation to set results aside merely because they don’t sync up with the company’s assumptions and instincts. Uncovering issues and identifying unmet needs is a core component of marketing. Conducting research enables us to confidently make recommendations rather than rubber-stamping what we already think we know. For example, in the Motion project, the company held an opinion regarding battery location. In one model, one battery location was aesthetically more pleasing than another, but the research participants provided insight into why the alternative approach would be more suitable.
3 Ways to Stretch Your Research Dollars
Research takes time and money – and money is often in short supply. Here are three ways to stretch your research dollars.
- Leverage secondary research. Sometimes research published by industry associations, government agencies, and consumer organizations is close enough that the results are suitable for your own purposes.
- Tap your current customers and contacts within easy reach. For example, engage your customer advisory board. Another simple and fast way to conduct cost-effective research is to develop a few questions you can train your outward-facing employees to ask every time they connect with prospects, customers, and suppliers. The questions should be asked the same way each time, and the answers should be recorded in a common database. Here are four questions to consider asking:
- What’s the biggest problem that keeps you awake at night?
- What one change might help make this problem go away?
- Other than price, if you could change one aspect of our products or services what would it be?
- Other than price, if you could change one aspect of any of our competitors’ products or services what would it be?
While there may be some biases and other issues associated with the results, if you capture enough data you should be able to see trends and patterns.
- Join forces with another company in a comparable market. Not a competitor but someone with a complementary product who would benefit from the same research within the same target market. Once you find a company who is willing to do a joint study, decide what information would be beneficial to the both of you and hire someone to conduct the study.
Remember this: Listening has its merits, but it doesn’t replace solid research. And you can’t do it haphazardly. When done well, good research helps you make informed decisions and avoid costly mistakes. For example, developing a new product or service and bringing it to market is generally one of the largest investments an organization makes. Research conducted by Booz Allen Hamilton and others suggests that for every 7 new product ideas, about 4 enter development, 1.5 are launched, and only 1 succeeds. Solid upfront homework boosts new product success rates by 43.2%. Yet in a survey of companies by Cooper and Kleinschmidt, only 7% of company funds and 16% of the work effort goes into this step.
Other big investments include major changes to tech support or customer service processes. Mistakes in these areas are costly and can result in major setbacks if you find out the decisions weren’t the right ones. Research is a good way to gather insight before making any extensive investment. This article should put you on the path to first-rate research – send us an email if you want to find out how to go further.
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