Every business faces challenges, not the least of which is determining which are the most important to solve. Solution: Actionable market research fueled by curiosity to help you understand your most pressing challenges and how to solve them. Actionable market research goes beyond a survey or focus group; it uniquely expands to include a 3D approach: Desk Research, Data Analysis and Direct Dialogs.
Building a 3D Approach
- Desk Research – The most approachable type of market research for individuals at all levels of the business is desk research. This gives you the opportunity to let your curiosity roam and immerse yourself into existing topical information to understand the context and outside forces that may be affecting the business. The internet is an obvious source, but don’t overlook academic papers on relevant topics and industries. Begin with the article’s abstract and summary findings to determine whether you need to delve further. Understanding the forces at work outside your business can help identify how external factors may be affecting internal operations.
- Data Analysis – In this step, you’ll again use your curiosity to gain a thorough understanding of the existing behavioral data already available from your business’s operations and activities (e.g. sales, number of clients, growth by geography, retention rates, costs, etc.). These are hard, empirical, quantifiable ‘behavioral’ data that usually represent a far richer set of information than [we] realized at first glance. It is important to differentiate quantitative, empirical findings about what people actually do from data analysis of ‘perception’ data, which is information gathered based on people’s perceptions and perspectives (i.e. satisfaction, importance, etc.). Rather, this data analysis is comprised of examining actual transactions with the aim of identifying three important data points – trends, patterns, and outliers – that are key to revealing when something is happening. Then, it is incumbent on the business to learn why.
- Direct Dialogs – This is your avenue to a deeper understanding of ‘why’. Here, we collect qualitative research data through surveys, focus groups, and 1:1 interviews. These approaches allow you to build a total picture of perceptions from all stakeholders, including active and past clients, employees and partners, and customers whose responses you can segment into relevant categories.
A word of caution: Sometimes businesses incorrectly use perception instruments to gather behavioral data (e.g. a survey question asking, ‘how often do you visit our store?’). In such cases, the business is actually measuring a perception of behavior versus the actual, verifiable behavior itself, and there can be vast differences. In short, focus perception instruments to measure perception data.
Key Skill: Asking the Right Questions
Effectively framing questions is a cornerstone of maximizing data collection through qualitative research. Leadership Strategies, is one of the best organizations globally for facilitation services and training. Amongst many great skills they teach is the use of 8 question types:
- Direct Probe – “Why is that important?”
- Indirect Probe – “Is the reason that’s important because…?”
- Redirection – [after comment] “Okay, what does the group think?”
- Playback – “It sounds like what you are saying is….is that right?”
- Leading Question – “Are there solutions in the area of…?”
- Prompt Questions – “What else…?”
- Tag Questions – “That’s important, isn’t it?”
- Float an idea – “What about…? What are the benefits…?”
Incorporate a mix of these in your direct dialogs to gather thorough, insightful qualitative data.
While the 3Ds have been presented here in one order, the truth is, it doesn’t matter where you start. The order you choose depends on the challenge in front of you. And regardless of the starting point, the process is not sequential, rather it is iterative. As an example, sometimes we gather information during discussions with customers that we haven’t yet noticed in business data. Now armed with stakeholder insight, we can begin to investigate our data to see if it is having a substantive impact to our business. And hence, we iterate. If resources are limited, you can size the research to ensure each “D” is touched upon vs. just diving deep into only one of them.
Pulling It all Together
Your long-term business success depends on understanding your business’s challenges and how to overcome them. This starts with curiosity to raise the right questions, then resolving those questions with solutions uncovered through market research. The 3D approach to market research transforms what would otherwise be an exhaustive, overwhelming process into a targeted, actionable method of uncovering – and ultimately meeting – the strategic needs of your business.