Market Research Receptivity: You can throw the ball, but will they catch it?

market research receptivityWill your internal audience be receptive to your fantastic, new, market research results? How can you maximize market research receptivity? Think about this carefully—a brief reflection on this topic can ultimately impact your project’s success.

Take a little quiz:

  • Is your company full of market research skeptics who will reject any results that conflict with their personal opinions or preconceived beliefs?
  • Is your organization full of people who will only accept good news and will shoot the messenger if there’s bad news?
  • Do you have people who are going to be cynical about the market research results no matter what—whether it’s qualitative or quantitative, even if the results are based on large numbers of participants?
  • If your research will be among your current customer base, will your salespeople object to “their” customers’ information being shared?

Scoring isn’t really necessary, is it? Even if you answered “yes” to just one or two questions, you face a challenge.

Market Research Cynicism is Healthy

A little bit of market research cynicism is fine. In fact, it’s healthy. I like it when people ask tough questions because it shows me that they’re paying attention. And let’s be honest: there is some shabby research out there; people should ask questions.

Still, excessive market research cynicism is counterproductive. To keep it from derailing the research process, it’s a good idea to assess it and determine its root cause. Be sure to understand why they are inclined to be market research skeptics:

  • Did a past research project go terribly awry? You need to find out what happened, so that preemptive steps can be taken to avoid a repeat. If relevant, those steps can be stated as project requirements in the RFP.

For example, did a past project fail because the client did not feel adequately informed of deviations from quota requirements?

  • Does your audience have unanswered questions about the research team’s or (if applicable) the agency’s qualifications? If so, it’s usually an easy fix. If you know certain credentials are required to establish credibility, take the time to inform your client accordingly.

For example, will your audience be more confident in the market research results if you take the time to introduce the research team and their educational credentials at the start of a big presentation?  A little bragging can go a long way.

  • Are the market research skeptics worried about respondent quality? This is a common, legitimate concern. We often need to give our clients reasonable and precise information about sample sources and the techniques used to qualify respondents and data check responses. Again, this is going to increase their willingness to trust the market research project’s results.

In many cases, a little forethought and preparation of a preemptive strike can go a long way toward overcoming market research cynicism and improving market research receptivity. In contrast, avoiding the issue only leads to heartache.   You can throw them a soft pitch—market research results they should definitely be able to “catch”—but they still have to be willing to do so.


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2 Questions You Must Ask Before Hiring a Market Research Agency

Planning to hire a market research agency to help with a project? Before you do, be sure to create a list of questions you will use to assess potential agencies for fit and qualifications. Some questions are obvious: experience with similar projects, years in business, company size, and so on. But here are two important questions that are often overlooked:

1. Do you belong to any professional associations? The answer should start with, “Yes, we are members of…”, and should finish with some combination of:

If they haven’t even heard of these groups, run. Run far.

2. What risks are we likely to run into with our project? All market research studies have some level of risk. An honest, clear-thinking researcher will easily be able to tell you what risks he or she foresees, and how they plan to mitigate them.  If you hear a response like, “There are no risks,” be skeptical.  At minimum, most studies have risks in terms of sample quality, data collection timeframe, and the possibility of “bad news” from the research results. All are manageable, but they exist. And an experienced market researcher will be able to tell you how they can be mitigated.

There are hundreds of market research agencies out there. Choose wisely.

[Want more tips on hiring market research agencies? Check out the book, on Amazon:  BOOK ]


What’s Your Market Research Hammer?

bigstockphoto_Five_Hammers__D_1708701Seth Godin’s blog post yesterday was about a topic I have been thinking about a lot lately. It’s inspired by the aphorism, “…to a person with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

Some of the pain that market research is going through right now is precisely because of this. In the field of market research, we have hammers we are very comfortable with:

Full-service research offerings. Bang.

Quantitative research. Wham.

Focus Groups. Smack.

In-depth interviews. Bam.

The challenge is that the nails have morphed more quickly than our hammers. Now we have an increasing base of customers who don’t necessarily need full-service offerings. Or whose “full-service” needs are very different than what they used to be. Still, they get whacked with the same hammer.

I also see an increasing number of nails…I mean, customer needs…that can be met with excellence using newer tools, but many long-time research suppliers are still stuck on conventional methods. I just met a client this week who specifically shared such an experience, and how it has resulted in an “aha” moment of, “…we need to reevaluate all of our longstanding research partners to make sure they are giving us the best options.”

So for my market research agency readers, I wonder: do you have the right hammer?

And for my friends on the client-side, the fact that we are at an inflection point in terms of market research tools and applications is exactly why I recommend using RFPs these days (boy am I going to get hate mail for this!). But truly, if you are about to engage on some important research, send an RFP to a few different agencies with a few different profiles, and see what you get back. Agencies with different sets of hammers will give you some fresh perspectives. At minimum, you will get new ideas and maybe even some education. And perhaps you will even find a proposal that truly does hit the nail on the head.


Using Customer Feedback to Inform Product Design Decisions

bigstockphoto_Choise_Concept_5652119So you’re planning to develop a new product, and want to know which features will be most important to potential buyers. And maybe which features could be nice-to-have, but not critical. Or maybe you want to estimate how adding a specific attribute could change potential market adoption.

These are obviously important questions. So, how to get the answers?

In many product categories, the best choice is to conduct primary market research, to get direct feedback from people in your target market. In some cases, qualitative feedback is fine—depending on your budget, analysis needs, and so on. But more commonly, in order to make firm decisions about product design, quantitative research is the best choice. If you want reliable conclusions about the priority ranking, for example, of 10 potential product features, you will want hard data.

[Do exceptions exist? Yes. There are some product categories and contexts in which primary market research is unlikely to yield reliable results. If you are wondering if you might be in that kind of situation, call me and I’ll be happy to discuss it with you.]

If you are thinking about using market research to inform product design decisions, you may be sending out an RFP to some market research agencies. And when their proposals come back to you, you will likely start hearing about data analysis techniques such as conjoint analysis (or discrete choice, which is a type of conjoint) and MaxDiff. You may get different recommendations from different market research agencies about which will be best—and that can get confusing.

In fact, one question I have heard many times from people in these situations is, “what is the difference between MaxDiff and Conjoint?” I was speaking recently with Brett Jarvis, a real expert on this topic from Sawtooth Technologies Consulting group, and he offered to write an article on the topic. Don’t panic: it’s not an article for stats geeks. It’s very friendly and includes great examples. The full article is being released in the September Research Rockstar newsletter, which will be sent out Monday September 21. So if you are not currently a newsletter subscriber, please sign up for free at [SIGN UP] to make sure you get this important article.

In the mean time, here is an excerpt from Brett’s piece:

“The reasons some people might get confused between conjoint and MaxDiff are two-fold. The first reason is that they both involve trade-offs to some extent. The respondent is effectively told that they can’t have everything and is forced to make choices. However, in a MaxDiff study the respondent evaluates a single list of items, whereas in conjoint the respondent evaluates complete products made up of various features. This brings us to the second reason. Both techniques can tell you how customers value different features. However, if you are focusing on a single list of items only, conjoint is likely more complex than is needed, whereas if you want to understand customer preferences across features, conjoint is essential.”

After you read this article, you will feel a lot more comfortable reading proposals from market research agencies that recommend these techniques.

And remember, no matter what techniques you are considering, always keep your research participants in mind. Some research designs can lead to longer, more cognitively challenging questionnaire designs—will your target audience be ok with that? Or will they balk at any surveys that take over 10 minutes? Sometimes a research design can be ideal from an analysis point of view, but if your survey takers won’t comply, a simpler approach will be a better choice.

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Q&A: How to Hire & Manage Market Research Agencies

front-cover-of-book1[Questions from readers of, “How to Hire & Manage Market Research Agencies.”]

Q:   Can I share data collected from a previous project with a new agency?

A: Check the contract from your previous supplier, but the answer is usually, “yes.” When you hire a market research agency to do custom research for you, you typically own the data. That said, I have seen a few exceptions. Exceptions are most likely to exist if your data collection was part of an omnibus program or pre-existing data set. BTW, it’s always a good idea in your contracts to have the raw database listed as one of the required deliverables.

Q: Sometimes I get a little intimidated by the proposals I get. Some agencies send very technical details that I am not qualified to judge. What should I do?

A: First, this says more about their style, than about your competence. If this is an agency that is really into technical details, and does not appear interested in making them accessible to a non-technical client—will you really enjoy working with them? Sure, they may have great qualifications, but there is a lot to be said for style.   A great agency has the technical qualifications and the ability to communicate effectively.  Second, if you find yourself really needing to sanity-check a technical proposal, you can hire an expert do read the proposal and give an opinion. Where to find such experts? Email me with the specific nature of the proposal, and I will recommend a qualified consultant.

Q: Every time we hire a new market research agency, it starts great. But then things seem to fall apart. Status updates become infrequent, phone calls go unreturned, details slip through cracks. How do I keep the initial momentum going?

A: Most of my tips on this topic are in Chapter 8 of the book. Not enough? Here are 2 more suggestions: write up some milestone requirements in the contract.  This might include a minimum number of written status memos, participation in status calls by senior project mangers, or even completion of on-site milestone meetings. You might also consider a creative exit clause; in the contract, an exit clause is a condition under which both parties agree to end the relationship.

Another option is to become the squeaky wheel. Market research agencies are consultancies; they have multiple clients they are juggling. So if they are under-staffed at a given moment, they will have a hard time keeping up. Being a friendly but loud squeaky wheel can help you get attention. Don’t over-rely on email-it’s too easy to ignore. Phone calls work best. And if they are local, invite your project manager to lunch or breakfast meetings. Keep the tone friendly as long as possible. If your agency contact becomes inadequately responsive, escalate it. Seek out a Senior Manager or VP. A polite but firm conversation will go a long way.

Q: We have never done a large study before, but are planning one. When I hire a market research agency, what kind of invoicing should I expect?

A: Let’s say it’s a $100,000 project. The most common scenario is that it would be billed in 3 equal payments; at kick-off, at start of data collection, upon completion. Terms are usually net 30 but lots of agencies have clients that require net 45. Long projects, ones stretching to 5 months or longer, may be spread across 4 payments, again based on some milestones.  If budget planning is an issue for you, you can negotiate to have invoicing align with your quarterly budget; most agencies are flexible about that sort of thing.

More questions? Email them in or call the Blog Requests Line at 508.691.6004. Thanks!