February 2, 2016

4 keys to getting the most from your market research investment

By Anjuli Skirvin, Entira Associate

Imagine you’re a major league baseball coach putting together your starting lineup for the game that could clinch your spot in the playoffs. Are you pulling in your all-stars, or leaving them on the bench?
That seems like a preposterous question, because why would you bench your best players—especially when the stakes are so high?

In the business world, every day is the playoffs, and there’s one critical player that should always have a prominent spot on your team: your market research. Everyone knows good market research provides valuable insight into customer needs and behaviors, and it can help you design a winning strategy. And, many companies are good about conducting market research projects, whether they’re segmentation strategies, product differentiation, pricing studies, customer perception studies, or others. But you’d be surprised at how often these projects are put on the bench once they’re completed and never actually make it into the game.

Put Me In, Coach

Baseball teams rely on their catchers to be the “all-knowing” master of the field. The catcher knows the strengths and weaknesses of every batter, guides pitching decisions, keeps track of balls and strikes at the plate, and triggers the pitcher and infielders when base runners are taking huge leads.

Just like you want a skilled and scrappy catcher behind home plate, when it comes to driving your business strategy you always want market research at your side because that’s what will help you make informed and effective strategic decisions. But, that research is worthless to you if you don’t put it to work.

There are a hundred reasons why companies neglect to implement results after a comprehensive market research endeavor. Here are some of the more common road blocks we see:
• Staff turnover—people leave the company and roles change, often causing the research to get lost in the shuffle.
• Other initiatives are constantly competing for time and resources.
• The project feels “closed” at the conclusion of the research phase, so at that point many companies move on to the next project demanding their attention.
• They disagree with the research findings, or maybe the results are more earth shattering than what they can stomach; so it goes to the back burner.
• The consultant hands over the results and leaves the client to determine what to do next.

It is these and many other reasons that so many companies sideline market research just when it’s time for it to do its job. There are ways to avoid this pitfall; and we have a few rules of thumb for putting your research into play and getting the most from your investment:

1. Plan with the end in mind.

The Entira approach to market research includes designing all research projects with the same thing in mind: the end game. Our experience shows that those who invest extra time upfront planning the research strategy are the ones who lay the groundwork for an implementation plan that is more likely to succeed. You gain nothing from your investment unless the results give you something you can really act on. We believe the focus at the start of the project should be on what you intend to do with the results once you have them. Take a step back and ask yourself, what are we really trying to understand? What decisions are we wanting to make based on the insights gleaned from the research? And craft your questions accordingly. This solves the problem of making sure the research is designed to be actionable, rather than a fishing expedition that results in wasted resources on data that has no use to you.

2. Share it.

Being transparent and sharing your findings with others inside your company is a critical step that is often skipped or overlooked. Data is meant to be shared! It has far less value if you don’t make it known to others; plus, keeping it contained within your own silo can lead to duplication of efforts. By increasing visibility of all the research projects occurring in the company, you could uncover trends and complementary patterns that are immensely valuable. Data can be very powerful when integrated with other data and learnings from another area. Sharing your findings also can help ensure your research project survives staff changes or shifting priorities, because more people are aware that it exists.

3. Don’t let it expire.

Research does have an expiration date, and while it’s hard to put a number on that—the shelf life depends largely on your industry segment, the type of research you’re doing, and its intended purpose—it’s important to act on it quickly so it doesn’t get stale. Markets change so rapidly, and if you wait 18 months, or even 12 months, you could be in a whole new ballgame. Obviously, past learnings are important, too, and measuring against benchmarks—followed by acting on the findings while they’re still fresh—will keep momentum going.

4. Be open minded and willing to make hard choices.

When market research results are unexpected (or unsavory), it’s tempting to toss them aside and just stick with the status quo. Implementing market research requires discipline. We can’t disregard what the research shows—its whole purpose is to inform higher-level decision making. For it to be a worthwhile investment, you have to have the gumption to implement the changes suggested by the findings, despite how different they are from your pre-held beliefs and no matter how far out of your comfort zone. Sometimes that requires making hard choices. You have to be ready and willing to throw out everything you previously knew about your customers and look at them in a new way.

Market Research at Work

Your market research data is a gold mine of information that can give direction to your overall business strategy, pricing structure, sales plans, branding efforts, and so much more. But, don’t do it just to check the box. It makes sense to invest in market research only when you’re prepared to do something meaningful with the results.

Deciphering and taking action on data can be overwhelming. What Entira does differently than most is that we stick around to help incorporate the findings into a concrete action plan. We believe every research endeavor should include a roadmap for implementing the findings into improvements to your sales, marketing and business structure. We won’t claim victory with a solution until it actually solves the problem. If you’d like to learn more about our approach to actionable market research, contact us at info@entira.net.