Best PracticesMarket Research

Why Internal Clients Ignore Market Research Results

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You’ve just spent weeks, maybe months, conducting some primary market research for your internal colleagues. Your happily deliver the end results. And instead of accolades and applause you get…deafening silence.

Anyone who manages market research projects has had this experience. It is painfully common.

But why does it happen? If we understand why it happens, perhaps we can do a better job of prevention. So in reflecting on my own experience, and from discussing this phenomenon with many clients, I find there are five common root causes of audience apathy:

  1. Negative past experience. It happens. For example, I have one client who got terribly burned in a past project in which the agency did not keep him informed of deviations from quota requirements. The project was perceived as a huge waste of time because of this, and the overall perception of market research by his colleagues was understandably damaged. Lots of things can go wrong in market research, and if not properly managed, can leave you with a group of hard-core research cynics.
  2. Perceived credibility of research partners. Does your audience have unanswered questions about your chosen research agency’s qualifications? Or do they have criteria for choosing an agency that should be weighed heavily in the selection process? For example, will your audience only be open to research results from a partner that has proven experience doing data collection in China? If so, by all means, find one!
  3. Unclear, or questionable, respondent qualifications. Are your colleagues skeptical about respondent authenticity? Distrustful of the screening process? This is a common, legitimate concern, especially in B2B research. A little information about sample sources and screening processes can go a long way.
  4. Resistance to bad news. Delivering bad news is, alas, sometimes part of a researcher’s job. So is preparing our audience for it.
  5. Proximity to data. I am stealing this phrase from a conversation I had recently with Jon Last, president of Sports and Leisure Research Group. We were discussing this phenomenon, and when he used the word “proximity,” it really captured the essence that I was having trouble articulating. The issue? Sometimes if the people who need to use the research are too far removed from the process, they simply don’t believe it. This is why, in some cases, clients can be better off doing market research in-house—or otherwise getting colleagues directly involved in the process.

So, which of the above issues might arise with your audience? In many cases, a little forethought and preparation of preemptive strikes can go a long way towards overcoming audience apathy. In contrast, avoiding the root causes only leads to heartache.

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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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3 thoughts on “Why Internal Clients Ignore Market Research Results”

  1. The item #4 and #5 I have most commonly experienced even when the research was done in house. There is also a reaction that is expressed in a dismissive quote “I knew that”, which can be loosely translated that the findings have no or little value to a sponsor/client. When the findings are perceived to be “negative”, some more aggressive customers may start to question methodology used in hopes to discredit the findings. Your suggestion to “socialize” the process (methodology) early and often, is very constructive and important. Thank you.

  2. I’d add:

    6. Preconceptions. The internal client expected your results to corroborate their preconceived ideas and are shocked when reality differs from their expectations. This leads the client to try to invalidate the methodology, to raise other data that may or may not have been included, and to even disparage the researcher.

  3. Thanks for documenting these – very helpful in project planning. I would add two more causes of apathy. One reason is not following-up on how results are being used. It always seems like a shame when results are presented in a binder that then just sits on a manager’s shelf. It’s always a good idea to revisit the results with the internal client several weeks after the project concludes to assess how they are being utilized.

    Second is not agreeing at the outset on the specific research objective and exactly how the results will be used, complete with hypothetical scenarios when possible. This information should always be written on a document and revisited when results are presented. It’s easy to lose sight of the objective, particularly when the project spans a greater timeframe than 6-8 weeks, and key recommendations can be overlooked without a solid understanding of the client’s intended use of results.

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