Aug
0

Will This Sloppy, Boring, Error-ridden Market Research Report Do?

market research reportWhen consumers purchase a product, they expect to get what they paid for.  This is also true when companies purchase market research; unfortunately some no longer receive the high-quality tangible product they paid for, at least according to Gill Wales (as stated in her article published on Research-Live.com titled Will This Do.)

As quoted in this article, Justin Gutmann, head of research and insight for Consumer Focus, has a laundry list of problems with many of the reports he commissioned from reputable market research firms.  While firms dazzled him with well-written proposals and promises, the promises turned empty and the end result was a poorly written market research report indicating the writer did not fully grasp, or even understand at all, the subject being researched.  As Gill Wales writes,No matter how skillful the fieldwork, if the report fails to provide a clear and reliable description of the outcome, then the client has acquired a useless product. The fieldwork may as well never have been done.”

These subpar reports can be attributed to a few issues, but as Wales notes, these issues are not difficult to fix.  Often, senior executives are involved in the planning and fieldwork portion of the market research, but delegate the actual report writing to junior analysts.  These junior analysts, while capable, are not properly trained and need more guidance from the senior executives, who are too often M.I.A. Furthermore, the author states that the economic environment today is contributing to market research firms being understaffed but afraid to turn away work, which forces them to sacrifice quality of work in order to keep up.  While this may seem smart today, in the long-run it will hurt them.  As Wales notes, the future for market research professionals lies in their ability to interpret, explain, and present the data that can now be gathered by ever-improving software.   She concludes that only properly trained professionals will be able to keep up with the changing market research environment. Not surprisingly, we at Research Rockstar agree!

Many of the comments on this article agree that the structure of market research firms, especially large ones, has lead to declining report quality.  As one commenter, Ray Poynter, notes, producing a good market research report is time consuming, and, as a result, a good report written by a senior executive costs well above what most companies will pay.  As Research Rockstar’s own Kathryn Korostoff notes, many market researchers she encounters are more than capable of producing good reports; they simply do not have the proper training to do so.  They have no processes, list of best practices, or frameworks to refer to.

Obviously we are biased, but this article raises issues we have been addressing in our market research training programs for over two years.  Good, cost-effective training can solve many of the issues seen in the market research industry today.  Unfortunately, many firms are not willing to pay the traditionally high costs of training.   We are trying to address this by offering more than twenty topics via virtual classroom training, which eliminates the cost and aggravation of travel, as well as having a lower price than in-person seminars.

 

[Want to learn more? Research Rockstar offers comprehensive market research training through a series of online classes.  These classes come at an affordable price, allowing market research firms to keep costs down while improving quality—thus avoiding the major problem of sacrificing quality for quantity that Gill Wales writes about.]

[The post was written by our fantastic new intern, Todd Haylon.  Well done, Todd!]

 

Jul
0

In-House Versus Outside-Agency Customer Interviews

market research customer interviewsIt may not be an age-old debate, but it’s one I’ve been hearing a lot lately. In market research, customer interviews (or in-depth interviews, or IDIs) are often a key part of a broader research study. If you’ve been planning a research project involving IDIs, you’ve probably asked yourself whether or not you should hire an outside market research supplier, or use in-house colleagues to conduct the interviews.

Though the obvious reason for choosing the in-house option may be financial, there are additional reasons for going with this path that are just as pertinent. Specifically, the desire to create more hands-on involvement for team members (allowing them to have direct learning experiences), as well as rapid feedback, make in-house research enticing.

When handling customer interviews in-house, you gain the benefit of fast feedback. You can easily receive updates from colleagues making the calls down the hall. Should any roadblocks arise, you and the interviewers can quickly review the screening criteria, modify the interview guide, or escalate findings.

We also see enhanced learning (more “aha!” moments) when team members are personally involved. This fact holds true regardless if it’s executives, middle managers, or other staff conducting the customer interviews. There is nothing like talking to 10, or even just five, customers one-on-one to create deep, lasting insight.

Risks of In-house In-depth Interviews

So what are the risks of doing IDIs in-house?

The ultimate risk: alienating clients. Colleagues who have not been trained to do customer interviews may have trouble asking questions and listening to responses in a purely objective way. Clients may get irritated if they feel manipulated or misunderstood by a company representative.

Another big risk: underestimating the amount of project management work involved. If you have never conducted in-house interviews before, you may not realize how much time it takes. Your tasks may include:

  • Writing a screener
  • Crafting the interview guide
  • Recruiting and scheduling the interviews
  • Coaching interviewers
  • Arranging for and then reading transcripts

Perhaps most importantly, keep in mind that you’ll need to read and synthesize the results in a way that can be shared.

In-house IDIs take significant time—for you as the market research project manager and for the colleagues doing the actual interviews. I have seen clients embark on these projects, confident that they can do them, only to have the project turn into a never-ending-nightmare. The involved staff simply could not take enough time away from their core job tasks to get things done in a time-efficient manner.

How To Conduct Customer Interviews: The Final Decision

Keep in mind the following as you make your decision about in-house versus outside-agency market research:

  • Time: Do you have it? What about those conducting customer interviews and potentially transcribing them? Remember that customer interviews would likely be a task added onto an employee’s preexisting assignments.
  • Learning potential: Would you and your colleagues learn more by conducting research in-house than by using an outside agency? Do these benefits outweigh the time and energy commitment required by in-house research?
  • Risks: Do you have the right people for the job? Interviews are not the time to alienate your customer base. If the experience goes badly for customers, the money you saved doing research in-house may be lost in a future sales.

Only you know if the in-house approach is the right one for your company, but these tips can help guide you in the right direction. Remember to be reasonable about your expectations and realistically estimate the time and skill necessary for conducting in-house research.

 

[Interested in learning more tips to manage in-house interviewers? Interested in training non-researchers conduct research interviews? Check out Research Rockstar's class: Research Interviews 101.]

[Are you leaning toward the in-house option? Even so, remember that market research policies still apply to you! Check out Research Rockstar’s helpful guide on policies.]

 

Jun
0

Customer Satisfaction Survey Results: Jumping To Conclusions

Satisfied or Not???

If you are tracking customer satisfaction at regular intervals, say quarterly or monthly, you may have found that your colleagues want explanations for every increase or decrease in scores—even minor ones. Do the latest results show slight customer satisfaction improvement? If so, they want to know why. If the latest results show a down trend, they want to know why.

In some organizations, I find that people are quick to congratulate themselves on improvements, but willing to dismiss declines as possible “blips.” In other organizations, the culture seems to predisposition people to just the opposite: caution regarding positive news, and anguish to bad.

If you are new to managing such projects, here are some ways to handle those prone to such extremes:

  • Remind them that you are tracking a trend. Especially during the first few measurement periods, we have to be cautious about drawing any hard conclusions. It may take a few measurements before you know what kind of “blip” is noise, versus a true increase or decrease.
  • Be sure you are aware of contextual phenomenon. Minor fluctuations are often found to be due to things such as awareness of recent stock price performance changes, temporary events (recent marketing campaign halo effect), competitor news, and organizational changes. In some organizations, satisfaction scores can even be seasonal!
  • Offer follow-up interviews. In-depth interviews (IDIs) with a subset of survey participants can be a great way to explore hypotheses you and your colleagues may have about certain results.

 

Customer Satisfaction Surveys That Don’t Satisfy

Ultimately, if you find it hard to manage how colleagues interpret customer satisfaction research results, it may be a clue that the survey design needs improvement. Does it include one or two open-ended questions to capture unscripted customer feedback? Does it capture specific types of customer experiences so you can see how they predict satisfaction levels? Are you capturing both satisfaction attitudes and loyalty behaviors?

We know that customer satisfaction is important, but we also know there is no one-size-fits-all approach.   Different researchers approach it differently which is appropriate—companies in different industries, with different types of client bases, do need different approaches.

 

Is That a Blip In Our Data, Or Are They Really Happy to See Us?

If you are new to measuring customer satisfaction, it is important to design the survey with an eye towards what types of data your internal audience will find most useful—and to be prepared to address the inevitable questions about upward or downward shifts. Whenever possible, do work with a market research professional experienced in measuring satisfaction in different industries—they will be able to advise you on how to design the survey and interpret the results.

 

Planning to hire a market research agency? Check out our online class on how to do it.

Nov
0

Market Segmentation: What to Look For in A Project Proposal

Planning to hire a market research agency for a market segmentation study? Then you have probably issued an RFP and are waiting for the proposals to come in.

When they do, what should you be looking for? Here are a few practical tips about what you should see in a market segmentation proposal.  If you see these things, it tells you that this proposal is from an experienced market research firm that understands how to mitigate the risks specific to segmentation projects.

The Kickoff Meeting

Do they specify a kickoff meeting?  How do they describe it?  Do they discuss things like using it as an opportunity to generate hypotheses for the segmentation model? Will they use it as an opportunity to discuss existing models, or to show you case studies of past market segmentation models that they’ve developed?

The kickoff meeting for this type of study is an important time for everybody to come together from the client side, as well as from the agency side, to put their best thinking forward.

Anybody who forgets to mention a kickoff meeting or only mentions it in the most cursory manner is overlooking one of the most important parts of making sure that the market segmentation study goes smoothly. A kickoff meeting is a good best practice for any market research project process—and is especially critical for complex ones, such as segmentation.

Model Development

How does the proposal describe the process of developing a market segmentation model?  And how will it be delivered?  Will the agency come to you with a model at the end of the project and say, “Voila!  Here is your market segmentation model”? That approach usually does not work well.

Market segmentation is not an absolute science.  Usually by the time you’ve done an exhaustive analysis, you’ve found at least two or three viable models that are then evaluated for final selection, using some agreed upon criteria (such as fit with sales strategy, suitability for informing product roadmaps, etc.).

My preference is to have the client involved in that process. And the proposal should set that expectation by offering to involve the client, and stating that at the end of the analysis phase the agency will share the best model options and candidly discuss their relative merits and weaknesses. No model is perfect.

Any agency that just says, “We will find the best model and that’s the model we will present,” well frankly, that’s just too simplistic.

Now, is it possible that after exhaustive analysis one really attractive model does come about? Sure, but that’s never been my experience. In fact, I’ve done projects where we’ve had four or five reasonable models to choose between.

Actionability

Do they say anything in the proposal about what will make the market segmentation actionable?  For example, do they talk about how they will be sure to find customer groups that will be feasible for you to actually reach or identify? Do they lay out a framework for how their segmentation analysis will be designed to support the tactical or strategic decisions that you’re going to want to inform by using the model?

Timeline

Segmentation takes time.  It is an iterative process. If they claim that they’re going to be doing the analysis part of the project in 7 business days or less, be skeptical.

Visual Display Examples

It’s always important to get a sense of how well a company can communicate research results through visual displays.  If their proposal includes visual display examples that you find intuitive and logical, then that gives you a good idea that they’ll be able to do the same for your project. Given a choice, avoid market research firms that can’t communicate their research results clearly.  After all, when you select your segmentation model you will need to share it within your organization—an experienced agency knows that and will know how to help you successfully communicate the model to your audience.

Bottom line

Selecting an agency for a market segmentation project is a big decision. Compared to many other types of research studies, segmentation is more complex and therefore riskier.   Evaluate the proposals you’ve received carefully to weed out agencies that clearly are not experienced or are offering a too-simple-to-be-true solution.

[Any questions about hiring a market research agency for your next market segmentation study? Check out our online class here, or email your question to KKorostoff@ResearchRockstar.com or use this form to request more information: InfoRequest].

Oct
1

Market Research Budget Planning Tip 1: Getting Lower Fees from Your Research Suppliers

[First in a series for market researchers planning their 2011 market research budgets]

Do you have existing research suppliers? Agencies that help you with survey projects, focus groups, community management or other needs?

If so, chances are you spend $100,000 or more per year, perhaps much more, with them.

These days, it’s also likely that your annual research budget has been lowered. Or that you are expected to do more with the same budget. In either case, the name of the game is budget efficiency.

One of the easiest ways to improve budget efficiency is to simply ask your research suppliers: “What options can you offer to reduce our research costs?” Let them know you are open to creative ideas.

A true partner will be open to getting creative on your behalf. Simply by asking them, you are also signaling to them that you are open to change—perhaps new tools or processes that they may have been reluctant to offer up proactively. After all, some of their clients are resistant to change, and they may have assumed this applies as well to you.

What can you expect after you ask for options? Here are a few examples of things you will likely hear:

Reduce data collection costs by building an in-house panel (as opposed to using a 3rd party panel). If you have not done so already, and depending on your market, an in-house panel can reduce data collection costs. Yes, there is an up-front investment to create it, but depending on your population parameters and research frequency, it can pay for itself within a year.

Reduce reporting costs by eschewing slide decks. Market research agencies put a lot of time into creating slide decks (whether though PowerPoint, Keynote or other programs). Online reporting options and chart automation tools can reduce operating costs, though there can be trade-off’s in formatting and customization.

Reduce project management fees by changing to a retainer versus per-project fee structure. Market research suppliers are, after all, consultancies. The more predictable the revenue stream, the more efficiently they operate. Some agencies will offer lower fees if they have a guarantee of consistent work or more of a consultative relationship.

Of course, with change comes risk.  Your provider will likely advise you of the risks associated with the options they offer.

But, hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask, right?  Give your market research suppliers a chance to be creative on your behalf. You just may be pleasantly surprised.

[To learn more about on-site workshops and consulting from Research Rockstar, click here: Info]