Market research needs to be actionable. It is done to provide companies with information that leads to actions. These actions then lead to improved sales and to making more money. In other words, market researchers must deliver information that leads to action.
When it comes to uncovering actionable information, often the best information comes from answers that the client has not predicted. While there is tremendous value in validating a known theory, it’s very useful to be surprised with a new perspective. My absolute favorite way to uncover these unpredictable nuggets are these two questions:
- “Can you tell me more about that.” This is a fantastic follow up question. It does not lead a participant in any way, it just opens up a way to hear more. Even if the top-level answer is exactly what you expect, using this as a follow-on can uncover motivations that you never expected.
- “Is there anything else?” This is the last question in any guide that I write. After you have spent time talking to people, there is often something really pressing that they’re just waiting for you to ask and you haven’t. This is a great question for gathering “top of mind” issues. And of course, always try the one-two punch of “Is there anything else?” combined with “Tell me more about that” for real hidden gems.
On the flip side, there are just some questions that don’t uncover anything actionable. People are great at describing their challenges and giving you feedback on proposed solutions, since they know their processes and organizations. But there are things people do that they aren’t really aware of. Two areas where I find direct questions don’t work very well are:
- “How much would you pay for this?” Every time I have heard that question asked there is always at least one person who says, “Frankly, it should be free” and another person who says “Millions!” People do not do a good job of assigning value to products on their own. A much better approach is to try and get historical examples of pricing. Find some “anchor reference” product – a competitor or a complementary product – and determine the price they paid and how that purchase cycle worked. Once that conversation has produced a reference price, have the participants connect the dots between the known and unknown product.
- “How should we market this product to people like you?” Unless you’re selling to marketing people (which our clients almost never are – we are technology experts) this question never results in anything actionable. People don’t think about how they absorb information. The most common answer to this is “I Google if I have a question”, but when pressed they can’t give examples of keywords or phrases they’ve used, or what they clicked on and why. In fact, I have never heard anyone admit they even look at the “Pay-per-click” ads – like the ones on the right-hand-side in Google – but clearly there are lots of people who click on those. The participants aren’t lying – they genuinely don’t understand how they absorb messages and act on them. Instead, ask if they attend any specific conferences, if they consult with Gartner before making purchases, and other more direct questions.
Your market research firm can be invaluable in guiding you to ask questions that yield actionable results. Let their experience help you make the best use of the valuable time you have with participants.