Market Research Pitfalls, Part 1: The Art of Asking Questions

In working with clients, we often encounter marketing organizations that have been snakebitten by ineffectual research to the point that they no longer see the value in conducting it at all. Why is it so hard to produce valuable research?

One reason is that many don’t understand that the most natural and effective starting point for research is with a strategic problem. They think of research as a box to check rather than as a tool that can help them optimize their performance. Or, they think of research only as a tool for certain situations—focus groups for brand work, surveys for customer satisfaction measurement etc.

To be sure, there is an art to identifying and articulating strategic problems in a way that enable research support. It is the step that lies between identifying an issue—a product or sales region not making their numbers, a marketing program not generating the projected number of leads—and a proposed solution where this art can most effectively be practiced. In reality, however, most organizations simply want to make changes and move on. They don’t bother to ask the questions which are critical to producing effective, strategically vital research. The answers to questions like the following, delivered through well-designed research, play a central role in strategic and tactical decision-making:

  • Do customers in the underperforming sales region have different attitudes than those in other regions?
  • Did customers not know about the new product or were they simply not interested?
  • Are prospects responding more strongly to competitors’ lead generation efforts and if so, why?

Conducting research is not a panacea—it won’t give you all the answers and it’s not worth the investment in all situations—but it can and should help more than it does. Organizations just need to stop and ask the right questions.