Best PracticesMarket Research

Oh, no! There’s a cynic in the room!

bigstockphoto_business_woman_118040It’s a Market Researcher’s nightmare.

You are presenting some new, important research results to a room of 10, 20 or maybe even more decision makers. People for whom the research was executed. The ones who are supposed to take the research and apply it to important business decisions and strategies.

You’re 5 minutes into it, and it happens: the cynic takes the stage (well, figuratively). And you know the difference between this person and someone asking a reasonable question. It’s in the attitude, the tone. A hint of superiority, or obviously feigned earnestness.

The market research cynic is a wily creature. They say things like:

“How do you really know the respondents were qualified?”
“I would never do a survey, so I don’t believe any of our valuable customers would either…these respondents must all be outliers.”
“I recently read about the blahblah methodology which is clearly superior…how come you didn’t use that?”

Even if you can objectively, credibly address these issues, the cynic has now derailed your presentation. The momentum is gone. The audience has lost interest or may just feel uncomfortable.

So what to do? I mean, without resorting to rude comebacks.

How to Handle Market Research Cynics

In my experience, here is what works:

  1. Identify and meet with likely cynics at least 2 days before the actual presentation. The truth is, they may very well have valid concerns. Addressing them in private will reduce the risk of having your presentation derailed. In fact, I have had some of my most intolerable cynics turn into some of my strongest supporters.
  2. Prepare preemptive strikes. At the presentation, be sure to make the following statements early on before anyone asks any questions:
  • How respondents were qualified (a common question)
  • Sample size and any important quotas (addresses data reliability concerns)
  • WHO in your organization participated in the decisions about sample size, screening criteria and quota requirements (helps avoid second-guessing of decisions that were obviously made long ago)
  • The exact goals the research was designed to address (this keeps people from asking questions like, “How come you didn’t ask about XYZ?”)
  • WHO in your organization participated in decisions about the research’s goals (hopefully someone who is respected and has authority)
  • A statement acknowledging that research is not perfect (it isn’t), but that it’s pretty darn good, and how they can appropriately use these results (for example, is the data suitable for extrapolation? Or is it more directional?)

In my experience, most market research cynics are simply people who have been burned in the past by bad research. It happens. So they need to be shown ample evidence that this research was done thoughtfully, with the best possible choice of sample source, methodology, and analysis techniques.

Who knows, you may find that today’s research cynics will become tomorrow’s research advocates.

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Kathryn Korostoff

Kathryn Korostoff is founder and lead instructor at Research Rockstar. Over the past 25 years, she has personally directed more than 600 primary market research projects and published over 100 bylined articles in magazines. She is also a professor at Boston University, where she teaches grad students how to analyze and report quantitative data.

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2 thoughts on “Oh, no! There’s a cynic in the room!”

  1. Wow! You captured the scene perfectly. I have very specific flashbacks of presentations that were derailed when blindsided by these exact questions.

    My experience is that suggestion #1 can be very difficult. You usually meet the cynic 5 minutes prior to the presentation. Bu then, you can spot them immediately… they are the one’s who are ticked off that they were not invited to participate in the design of the research project to begin with.

    I have found it helps work with stakeholders on identifying potential politics surrounding the project. Who stands to benefit? Who may feel threatened?

    Thanks for your suggestions on #2… a handy checklist I will be referencing frequently!

  2. Thanks for the response, Morgan! Your point on politics is great…people can feel they are a victim on a sneak attack even when our intentions are purely objective.

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