Everything is awesome (so use it all)

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Scenario: client is meeting with market research professionals. “I have this website that I think is posing issues to our visitors. I want to figure out what’s working and what isn’t. Can we do a survey? That’s what I have budget for…”

Reaction #1: Market research professional grumbles internally about lack of budgets these days and wonders what good a survey will do for the purpose of the project. “They’ve already had the budget approved, seem to know what they want, so I guess we’ll just go with it.” To the client, the market research professional says, “Sure! What questions do you want to ask?”

Reaction #2: Market research professional grumbles internally about lack of budgets these days and wonders what good a survey will do for the purpose of the project that the client mentioned. “I know you said you only have enough budget for a survey, but can we talk about what you’re looking for? A survey might not be the best method for us to get the information you need to make a good decision.”

Consulting versus order-taking

I once was in a market research role where I was just an order-taker. It was very early in my market research career, and I was just learning about this whole world of market research. Clients would come to me with their surveys pre-written, audiences pre-chosen, and I just needed to plug everything into the survey software I had handy, field it, and run the pre-programmed templated report afterwards to hand back to the client.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Except I felt like something was missing in this equation. As I learned more about the art and science of survey-writing, I realized that the surveys I was being given could be better, either because of question structure or because the questions were answering the original business question. Then I learned that the client doesn’t always have the business question ironed out. I learned to ask questions, dig deeper, reiterate what I’d heard, and put together surveys that worked better for my clients.

Hammer, meet…bolt?

Being new to the world of market research, with practically zero formal training, I suffered from the belief that a survey could answer everything. Then I took a class on market research and learned about all these other types of data-gathering that could be used: focus groups in particular.

Then I thought focus groups could answer everything! They gave such depth of insights that surveys couldn’t quite get.

Then I kept working in the field of market research and realized that just as every other field, from art to science, there is a variety of tools that, used properly, will deliver the best results.

Expand your toolkit and use the tools

Let’s face it, our clients are not (always) market research experts. That’s our role. Just as I didn’t realize early in my career that there was more to market research than surveys, I’m going to guess that many of our clients are in the same boat. Perhaps they’ve heard of telemetry but don’t exactly know what it is. Perhaps they’ve heard of user experience testing but aren’t sure what it entails. What about A/B testing?

Our role as market research professionals is to not only learn what all of the different tools are that exist, but to consult with our clients to suggest the best tool for the job. No, your client won’t always have the budget available to use the best tool. That doesn’t mean you should always use the wrong tool just because that’s the tool they can afford. Would the study be best done by interviewing 30 individuals, but time and money can only afford 10? Then what about an online community or discussion panel? Would the study be best done by conducting 20 focus groups around the world, but budgets only allow 5? What about using something like Google Hangouts to do the next-best thing and hold a virtual focus group?

This is the beauty of this age of market research. We have so much technology available to help us navigate these discussions with clients about how to answer their business questions. We are not limited to electronic surveys, phone interviews, or even in-person focus groups. We have a wealth of tools at our collective disposal.

It’d be a shame to let them all rust in the toolshed.

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