When doing research, understanding if participants are really experts in their field is important. You have to know if their feedback is coming from a place of knowledge, one of assumption, or perhaps even ignorance.
This can be tricky. There is a type of person who is incredibly good at sounding knowledgeable. They can drop clever sound bites or smiling knowingly to give the impression of deep knowledge, even if they don’t have any.
This is particularly important in our field of IT and business technology market research where many of the concepts are very complex. Even qualified participants who have achieved amazing career success may not know what they’re talking about once you get into lower-level details. This is especially difficult with senior participants who are removed from the actual day-to-day activities, but are hesitant to use those important words “I don’t know”.
Research projects must include perspectives from all kinds of buyers who influence purchasing decisions – which usually includes both “smart” and “not smart” participants. The challenge is two-fold:
- Getting a mix of participants that represent the knowledge in your market
- Knowing which is which when you present your analysis
Because, here’s the thing. Taking “sounding smart” input and presenting it as “smart” input will not drive business results.
Here’s a few tips for managing this dynamic in research projects:
- Be “smart” yourself. You have to have some depth of experience with your topic to know when you’re talking to someone who isn’t an expert. Do your homework prior to any research conversation.
- Give participants permission to say they don’t know. Do this directly. Say something like “This is market research – you are not being tested. It’s us who are being tested. If people like you aren’t aware of a concept that is actually the most important thing for us to learn from this project. Feel free to say you don’t know. That’s a great answer.” Then praise them when they say they don’t know.
- Add a “testing” question. It may not be the goal of the project, but adding at least one question that’s a bit “in the weeds” and seeing how that is answered will allow you to rate the participant. You should frame it as that though “not to get into the weeds since this isn’t the goal of this project, but I am curious what you think about…”