It’s Not a Research Problem — It’s a Business Problem

creativity-problem-solving I find it hard to believe that any business owner wakes up and says “I think we need an awareness and perception study to understand the drivers of preference for our brand.” Rather, they probably are wondering what their customers think of their products and how they can increase sales. See the difference? The first is looking at the world from a research POV, while the other is stating a business problem–a common one at that.

But, we as researchers, can get quite hung up on being statistically accurate when we design research studies, rather than taking a step back and putting on our business hats. Case in point: I worked for a market research firm that designed a pricing study for a major software company with three (yes, count them, three!) models–including a conjoint (which everyone who knows me, knows that just the term ‘conjoint’ makes the hair stand up on my neck).

While the head of research was a super-smart, PhD-type guy, he didn’t think for a moment that the business model of selling software is on a negotiated basis through a third-party (referred to as Value-Added Resellers-VARs). So, overkill was the word of the day for that project. Had the firm stepped back and thought about the business problem of what to charge for a software package, it could have been a simple triangulation of (1) secondary research (what do competitors charge for similar products), (2) how much do VARs think the software is worth, (3) how important is this piece of software in the customers’ overall IT strategy.

So, as researchers, let’s put on our business hats first!

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Customer Connections

I went to a local small-business owners meeting last week and was so impressed by the variety of products, services, and wealth of knowledge and experience everyone brought to the ‘table’. We all shared our struggles with social media and how to incorporate the best method for staying connected to our customers into our marketing ‘toolkits’.

Not surprising, each of these super-smart business owners knew their target markets well, and the steps needed to attract and retain customers.

But, the most interesting thing to me, in my business, is that they didn’t really understand the practical applications of market research for their businesses. Fascinating that we in market research are so sure that everyone inherently understands how to leverage research…guess I was wrong.

This got me thinking about some specific research ideas for a couple of the businesses:

  1. Green Lake Kids Dentistry can have patients rate their visits–using a scale of Awesome to Icky, or for kids who can’t read :) to :(. Also having the kids offer up suggestions for improving their experience might result in some great ideas (bubble-gum flavored dental floss anyone?) that Dr. Hull could use in his practice.
  2. Satsuma Designs could have small focus groups to test out her new baby product ideas before launching into full production.
  3. Furlesse could survey beauty product distributors to gather data about pricing, level of interest in her very unique product, and what it would take for them to add it to their product portfolios.
  4. Whether Nan Brotherton Photography’s customers would highly recommend her to other families for their portrait needs could be determined in a very short on-line survey sent to her email customer list.

Small businesses can use research to effectively stay connected to their existing customers, while making smart decisions about attracting new ones.

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