Friday, May 25, 2012

The Research Nobody Hears

I just returned from Gartner's 2012 supply chain conference, one of 63 of these kinds of events they will hold this year alone. It's a three-day slog that extends to five days when I added a Sunday night meeting with the analysts (requiring me to leave Pittsburgh at 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning) and a Thursday return flight to avoid the red-eye. Highlights: I met lots of interesting executives, talked to some potential prospects and danced to the hotel band's excellent renditions of Lady Gaga and the Black-Eyed Peas.

As for the meeting content itself... I was less than impressed. I averaged about two insights per hour, which does not nearly meet my goal number. Even the session on results of the "2011 End-User Wants and Needs Survey" underwhelmed me. Come on, Gartner analysts, you have an entire study with enough sample size to do interesting cross-tabs, and all you can produce for me is four data slides? Ultimately, the lack of data, combined with the persistent "talk at me" format of which Vocollect is as guilty as Gartner, got me to thinking about market research.

I have produced many studies with great insights over my ten years in market research and five years in consulting. Sometimes, I couldn't get people together to discuss the results. Other times, I couldn't interest the key decision-makers in implementing the clear recommendations from the research even when those same decision-makers requested the study in the first place. Still other times, someone else presented the results of the research in a way that obscured some significant findings.

In each of these cases, we were almost better off having not done the research at all because market research that does not get communicated or used is essentially just empty spending. The results stay hidden, so the company ends up failing to act based on customer wants and needs as opposed to acting on instinct and experience. Keeping those failures in mind (my own and others'), I humbly offer several suggestions for getting research noticed:
  1. Schedule several times to present the research to different audiences. One research presentation is not enough. Finance wants different insight from sales who want different insight from marketing. Cut the data several different ways and show it to each audience with cross-tabs that answer their particular questions.
  2. Bring up the research at every opportunity. Schedule meetings. Send out blast e-mails. Write internal white papers. Invite yourself to meetings on the same topic as the research even when you might not be welcome. Talk about the research at staff meetings. Promise custom cuts of the data based on hallway discussions. Be unavoidable until the insights stick.
  3. Help to operationalize the findings. Although it will be more difficult to present a case study or working group format, you will see much better implementation. Turn the research into a project in your meeting (e.g., "Let's break into three groups and brainstorm changes we're planning to make based on the findings. In 20 minutes, we'll regroup and discuss which ones we can implement right away and which ones we can change over the long term.")
  4. Revisit key questions. Did the research raise additional questions you can answer through informal qualitative work? Go do it yourself, use your staff or salesforce or current customers to do so, or leverage other past research to answer these questions. This strategy has the added benefit of gaining buy-in for future spending if necessary.
  5. Pester the senior executives. The division VP missed your briefing? Schedule one with her yourself as a one-on-one. If she's game, I guarantee that 30 minutes will go further to result in operationalizing results than many of the suggestions above.
  6. Archive the work in a public place. Make the research easy to refer back to, especially by the people who will be doing the groundwork later. If you can get them to attribute the reasoning by quoting or sourcing your study, it will be even better.
Speaking of which, I think I owe our new SVP and General Manager a call. I don't think he's seen my past year of work yet.

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