Tom Webster, writing and speaking

Extending The Organizational Life Of Market Research

Added on by Tom Webster.

Bit of a research wonk's post here, but something I've been working to improve upon these days is extending the "organizational life" of research projects we've conducted for clients. My day job involves mainly custom research - bespoke projects to achieve specific business objectives or obtain some kind of decision support unobtainable from secondary sources. Obviously, these projects are more expensive than buying syndicated research, and they should be - they are a lot of work and we apply considerable intellectual capital towards their successful completion. The temptation, after weeks of fieldwork, analysis and report writing, is to treat the presentation of results as "the finish line." Sure, there will continue to be follow-up calls, requests for additional info, a clarification or two - but when I as a research consultant make that final presentation to a client, there is no question that I can feel my chest snapping the invisible tape at the end of the race. I'm sure you have felt that way, too.

From the researcher's perspective, the project is over, and it's time to gear up for the next one - a new study, and perhaps a new client. However, it's vital to look at this from the client's perspective as well - even if you are working for an internal client. In their minds, they just bought something that is potentially quite expensive: custom research, depending on scope, can range from the low 5 figures to well into six figures, which means they just bought a car from you - maybe a very nice car. While your view of the project reflects the weeks and months you put into the research, the end client sees very little of that (nor should they). Instead, they get "the big day," which has immense value, but is quickly over.

Finding ways to extend the life of a given study beyond the "big presentation" and even the immediate decision-making that follows isn't just about demonstrating your value, it's about demonstrating the value of the market research function, period. So, for my brethren in research, here are a few ways to eliminate that "drive-by survey" feeling, go the extra mile, and show the true power of what we do. And if you are a client/consumer of research rather than a researcher, these tips will also help you get more out of your relationship with a market research provider (internal or external) AND get more miles out of that car you just bought:

1. Revisit the data for "spicy meatballs."

A pro researcher distills the final report and presentation down to the principal findings - what the executive team needs to know to move forward with a decision. If you are like me, though, you find some fascinating nuggets in every study that may not be salient to the primary focus of the research but are still worth passing on to the right people. Some of these interesting but secondary data points might best be passed on a few weeks later - after the initial crush of research-related decision making is over - when your client can properly reflect and ruminate upon some of these secondary and tertiary findings.

2. Seek permission to pass relevant data on to other departments.

If you've conducted a project for a marketing department, you're likely deep enough within that silo that other departments or functions don't even know you exist. I've rarely done a survey for a marketing team, however, that didn't have a few interesting, useful or even simply entertaining nuggets for product managers, people in operations, customer service or sales. I will often distill the 2-3 things that pertain to those functions and (after clearing it with my client) make short re-presentations of those subsets of data to other departments within my client's organization. In practice, this means I often create two presentations - a comprehensive report for my marketing client, and a subset of that report for the sales department. In any case, poking your head into other departments, even if only briefly, is again another way to not only demonstrate your individual value but also justify the marketing department's expenditure to other functions within the enterprise.

3. Keep your eyes peeled for relevant secondary research

If you've properly designed, sampled and weighted your research, it shouldn't surprise you to encounter other, credible secondary research studies in the months after the project that neatly reinforce, dovetail into or even present an interesting counter to your custom research findings. Forwarding these to your client, along with a brief note about how they fit into your findings, is the modern researcher's equivalent of the time-tested newspaper-clipping-with-Post-it-note communication.

4. Read your client's press pages

Part of the deep, abiding love I like to show my clients is keeping up with their other initiatives, product launches or other relevant news, and then reaching out to them with a quick snapshot of their data that might touch on that space. Chances are, you're just reminding them of something they already knew, but you also might have given them a valuable graph or two for their press kit that they might not have even thought to ask you for.

5. Tie your findings to action steps, and then follow-up on those action steps

This is probably the most important point. What transforms a market research study from academic exercise to a truly valuable "force multiplier" for an organization is the extent to which it catalyzed action. Often at client presentations, as the client team discusses the findings, I'll volunteer to be the "secretary" after the presentation, recording the action steps agreed to as a result of the research. Realistically you aren't going to "own" this document over the long haul, but it's a useful thing to revert to in future client communications as a subtle reinforcement of why they did the study in the first place.

My ultimate goal as a custom research partner is not to sell another study. It's for the results of my last study to be implemented, and for my clients to be wildly successful as a result. If they remember the value they derived from our research not just on presentation day, but over the weeks and months following the reporting, then helping their business helps my business. You can't have the latter without the former.

What's your take? How do you extend the life and value of market research in your organization? What are the right ways - and the wrong ways - to provide killer service after the sale, and transform market research projects from one-day data dumps to lasting repositories of knowledge, to be revisited again and again throughout the enterprise? Comments, please!