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Research Methods

With prospects and customers convened in a central location, conducting research at such conferences reduces normal recruitment, facility rental, and transportation costs typically associated with a focus group study. However, to keep costs down and also maximize the success of the on-site focus group, we always advise clients up-front that it’s important they commit internal resources to support some of the planning and execution.

As Market Connections recruits participants, develops the discussion guide, and manages other research-specific tasks, we guide our clients on the execution of:

  • Scheduling options for maximizing attendance
  • Room location and seating configuration
  • Wording and timing of announcements and reminders prior to and during the event
  • Arrangements for recording the sessions
  • Signage/directions to the room
  • Refreshments for participants

Active assistance by clients is critical to ensuring participants perceive the focus group as a primary conference goal of the organization rather than an after-thought. In fact, we even encourage clients to schedule representatives to direct participants to the focus group room.

After providing the man power and time to help execute the focus group, clients are very eager to observe the actual session. However, this is not a good idea. In order for participants to feel free to speak openly and honestly, it’s important the sponsor of the research not be present. Of course, at a professional research facility, the client representatives can observe behind the one-way mirror. But, such a set up is often not available at conference facilities. Unfortunately, that’s the compromise clients must make when opting to leverage the cost savings of holding focus groups at conference events. However, clients benefit from a more open and productive discussion free of the bias than may result if the sponsor is present in the room.

Sharing the Cost of Research

Depending on the size of your organization, there may be other departments that need information similar to what you plan to gather. Similarly, you may have strategic partners or resellers who would be interested in sharing the research cost and results.

For example, we recently concluded a research study for a large IT company that was funded by four independent divisions. The study met each division’s information objectives at a more affordable price for each. Equally important, the collaborative process of developing the survey and reviewing the findings facilitated a broader understanding of each division’s market circumstances and sparked ideas for synergistic marketing programs between them.

Market Connections has also worked with a number of companies that have partnered with non-competing partners or VARs on co-branded research studies. This has enabled each participant to conduct a large quantitative study at a lower investment level.

Marketing the Research Results

Many companies leverage research studies to position themselves as thought leaders in the market. They utilize key findings to secure press coverage as well as build content for white papers, webinars, road shows, and web sites. You could do the same. But remember, the primary objective of your research should be business intelligence, not marketing fuel. Avoid filtering or twisting the results to support a particular position or selling point, as that will be transparent and you’ll quickly lose credibility. Equally important, using a professional research firm to conduct the study helps assure the audience that the results are valid and unbiased.

Planning Ahead for Success

Careful upfront planning of the research project is required when conducting it with other entities or when you intend to use the results in marketing programs. Your research firm will help you structure the study to explore areas in which your audience would be particularly interested. They’ll also help you determine in the analysis what information should be held close to the chest versus what can be repackaged for marketing and PR. With joint research projects, the experts will structure the study to ensure the primary focus is germane to all parties, while customizing some questions or section to address the needs of each. Again – leave this to the experts, or you’ll be at high risk of creating a survey instrument that is too long and confusing for the respondents to answer.

To secure participation and to elicit candid answers, it’s important for market researchers to assure respondents upfront that both their anonymity and confidentiality will be protected in the survey analysis and reporting. And, if respondents aren’t clear on the difference between anonymity and confidentiality, researchers should clearly explain it. Furthermore, when professional researchers conduct online surveys, many use software packages with features that protect anonymity as responses are downloaded for the analysis phase. This too should be communicated upfront when recruiting participants.

Even when anonymity and confidentiality are conveyed upfront, some people may still decline participation altogether, or refuse to answer certain questions. For example, employees may fear that their identities can be determined by the way they answer certain demographic questions, such as the department in which they work. Unquestionably, using a third-party professional research firm to administer the survey provides stronger assurance that anonymity and confidentiality will be respected and protected.

In some cases, such as certain satisfaction surveys, it may be necessary for respondents’ identities to be linked to their responses. For example, when a federal systems integrator conducts a contract satisfaction survey, senior management will likely want to know specific customer identities in order to more effectively implement needed corrective actions. In these cases, it’s critical that researchers state this upfront and give respondents the opportunity to opt out of participation.

Following these practices helps to build the trust and respect of research respondents, resulting in higher completion rates, better data quality, and the increased likelihood that they’ll participate in future surveys.

However, fielding phone surveys and analyzing the results typically takes more time than others methods, and that typically results in a higher project cost and a longer completion schedule.

Conversely, in many markets, online surveys offer a significantly faster turnaround, which usually translates to a significantly lower cost. However, even with access to respondent panels, it’s much more difficult to achieve a truly random sample. For example, it is significantly more difficult to gather sufficient email addresses for a truly random sample of government employees than it is for consumers or commercial-sector employees. Furthermore, respondents may have a stronger tendency to rush through the survey in order to get the incentive, which means they may not carefully read and understand some questions or give careful thought to their answers. Both issues can raise concerns about the accuracy and quality of the data.

When helping clients decide between the two approaches, we assess numerous factors, including how long they can wait for the results, the research objectives, the complexity and nature of the desired data, the target audience, availability of appropriate panels or email address lists, budget considerations, and so forth. With further study, we can also help them assess the potential response and accuracy rates of both approaches. In fact, in some circumstances, we recommend a hybrid approach that incorporates both the phone and online methods in order to achieve the response rate that’s high enough to represent the market as a whole.

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to research. Therefore, the best way to determine how to collect the market intelligence you need is to engage an experienced market research provider who will work with you to build the most appropriate methodology based on your target audience, research objectives, budget, and timeline.