The Next Generation Wants to Ask You…
I rarely miss the world of academia after having jumped ship twelve years ago, but one thing I always appreciated was that teaching involved distilling ideas down to their simplest and most essential form. Students often led the way for me, asking questions that forced me to clarify, deepen, and condense. So it was again in Professor Alan Malter’s market research class for MBA students last month at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
My annual task is to offer a business-side view of market research. But this year I asked students to imagine that you, dear readers—Versta Research’s valued clients—were standing in front of them instead of me. What would they want to ask you about your work and about client-side research?
I was struck by how good their questions were. None of them were naïve. Many were questions that we ask ourselves and our clients all the time—questions that need continual probing to make research succeed. Fundamental questions like: Why are you doing research? What are you trying to solve? Are you sure you need research? How will you and your internal clients know if the answers are right? And so on.
Here is the full list:
- What are the nuts and bolts—the everyday process—of how you support your company with research?
- What specific problems are you trying to solve? How important are those problems?
- Do you think you need market research to solve those problems?
- How important is market research to your company?
- Is it really possible to calculate the ROI of a specific research effort?
- Where do you focus most of your research: new markets or current relationships?
- How do you measure the un-measurable, like what’s inside people’s minds?
- With so much secondary data now available, why do you collect primary data?
- Is research a continual investment, or is it something you do just when there is a specific problem?
- How are budgets for research determined—as needed vs. fixed vs. percentage of marketing budget?
- Do you think a separate market research function will exist in your company in ten years?
- How do you identify what your internal clients want and need?
- Is everything you do filled with numbers and statistics?
- Do your internal clients really believe the statistics you present?
- What qualities do you look for when hiring internal market research professionals?
- Is it better to have an internal market research person, versus relying entirely on outside companies?
- What is the most difficult part about communicating with outside research companies?
- Which problems do you outsource to research companies, and which do you keep in house?
- Does using a third party research company add to (or diminish) the credibility of your work?
- What kinds of expertise or credentials do you look for in research companies?
- When you get research back from a vendor, how do you know if it is good?
This exercise reminded me that, fundamentally, research is not about methods and numbers and stories and data, but about formulating questions—the right questions—and then finding useful answers by whatever means and methods we have available.
For next year’s talk, I am thinking it would be excellent to share with the students a joint talk by Versta Research and one or two of its client-side research partners. Any volunteers?