In the first part of this two-part series we discussed the importance of timing in ensuring that market research is actionable. The moral was to time the arrival of research (e.g., win/loss reporting, NPS surveys, awareness and marketing funnel studies) with the cadence of your company’s quarterly and annual strategic goal setting process.
Research that arrives asynchronously gets read (if you’re lucky) and then forgotten. Research that arrives synchronously becomes a homework assignment for the meeting and a session on the agenda. That way, its findings are top-of-mind when you sit down to decide priorities and hammer out OKRs.
In part II, we’ll take a more strategic look at the question. Ultimately, to make market research actionable, you need to ensure five things:
- Good timing. It must show up at a time when you’re ready to absorb and action it. The subject of the first post in this series.
- High relevance. It needs to help answer your most important strategic questions.
- Action-oriented framing. Work to ask questions in a way that provides action-oriented answers. You can ask, “do you have plans to move to the cloud in the next five years?” or you can ask, “do you plan to move to the cloud in the next year, and if so, what are your top three evaluation criteria?”
- Time for consensus building. You can’t just spit out the answer from a black box. At each stage of the process, you want to have discussion and get buy in, so that when the end is reached people feel the process was valid and buy into the conclusions.
- A qualitative component. Quantitative answers what, but not why. Qualitative can lead to understanding why. Pair surveys with interviews for this reason.
Put differently, as my friends at Topline Strategy say, market research that gets turned into action is market research that was designed from the outset to be actionable.
Let’s drill into relevance and action-orientation a bit more. To ensure you’re asking relevant questions, you should do two things.
First, create what I call the hypothesis file. This is a file where you write down, over the course of the year, every time you hear an assertion or a hypothesis that you’d love to validate. Examples:
- The problem is nobody’s ever heard of us. We’re just not seeing enough deals.
- The issue is we’re not making the short list and that because we’re not seen as a leader.
- We can’t sell use-case A because we’re seen as weak on features 1, 2, and 3.
- The leakage point in our funnel is demo. We lose too many deals there and that’s because of our UI.
- We’re not speaking to the business buyer’s priorities.
- Everyone’s tired of talking about (e.g.,) data culture, we need a new message.
- If we just focused on BigCo replacements, we could do the numbers on that alone.
These are rarely offered as hypotheses. They’re usually statements, often presented as self-evident facts. You need to tune your ears to hear them and write them down. Don’t fight every one in real time. But be keenly aware that these are the foundations of your internal corporate mythology — and it’d sure be nice to know if they’re true or not.
When it’s time to do a market study, review the questions in the file and decide which ones you want answered. Picking the hottest questions will guarantee that people will be champing at the bit to see the results.
Second, to ensure high relevance, try to identify the core strategic questions you’re facing, whether they appear in the hypothesis file or not. Such as:
- In which segment are we really most successful, not just at winning deals but renewing and expanding them?
- If our market is transitioning to a platform, what are the key elements that must be included? Where do customers want us to partner so they can buy best of breed?
- How can we easily regain some product differentiation that matters to customers with our limited R&D capacity?
- Is our Microsoft partnership a key asset on which to double down or a liability to unwind?
- Will our category be entirely absorbed into a broader suite or can we sustain a moat of product differentiation to protect us?
By debating these questions, and which ones to include in the study, you again guarantee a high degree of interest in learning the answers once they are available.
To ensure you’re asking action-oriented questions, as you build the study, question-by-question you need to ask yourself, “what would I do differently based on the answer?”
- For multiple choice, what would I do differently if the majority answer were A vs. C?
- For rankings, what would I do knowing the top three ranked choices were 123? Or the bottom, 789?
- For progression questions, what would I do if I notice everyone was dropping out at stage 3 of our funnel?
Sometimes, the answer is ask more questions. So build follow-up and drill-down questions into the survey. Sometimes, the answer is you’re circling the wrong question. Think: we asked a lot of questions that will help us determine the TAM. Say we conclude it’s $20B, then what? I think we’re asking the wrong question, I don’t want to know what the TAM is, I won’t to know the velocity with which it’s coming to market. Ultimately, how many deals will be happening in the space next year and how many of those do we need to participate in to make our numbers?
Simply put, you can research how big the TAM is, or you can research how much of it is coming to market next year. The latter is a lot more actionable than the former.
So let’s wrap up. If we want to ensure that our market research is actionable, then we need to:
- Time its arrival
- Study the right questions
- Ask those questions in a way that provides action-oriented answers