The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. Vol 6 Issue 1   February 2010


As market research budgets begin to loosen up, the question now becomes, “What’s the smartest way to get back in the research game?” This month’s edition of Research with a Twist offers three concrete suggestions for getting back on track.

Best wishes,

Julie Brown

Mark Palmerino
Executive Vice President

Getting Your Research Back on Track
I’m sure I speak for many people when I say that 2009 was a year that will not be missed. Happily, and although we’re only a month or so into it, there have been encouraging signs for a better 2010.

Consider, for example, several phone calls received here at CSR in just the past week. Many from large company market researchers; some wondering how best to “turn our research back on.”

That’s good news. With business anything but “as usual” these past several quarters, a loosening up of research budgets — however small — is more than welcome.

But it raises some interesting questions. Where should you spend your money? Which type(s) of research and/or projects will yield the most useful results? How do changes in customer attrition, traditional advertising, economic trends, and a host of other factors affect what you do in 2010?

If, like our callers, you also find yourself poised to turn up the market research engines that have been idling for over a year, we offer three suggestions for intelligently getting back in the game:
  1. Focus on the “Whys” not the “Whats”

    Let’s say, for example, that when a study was last done, your company was ranked third in the market for a given product or service. Now that you’ve got a few more research dollars available, it’s tempting to put these towards getting an update — to find out where you now stand.

    But these kinds of market assessment studies are “Whats.” They give you a scorecard, but they don’t give you an understanding of the levers — the actions required — to change your market position. Spending your dollars here is like investing in a more precise thermometer without first taking steps to figure out what’s wrong with your heating system.

    “Whys,” on the other hand, don’t just tell you how good your “service” is. For example, they point specifically to your claims processing or your phone staff or to something else specifically fixable within your business. As such, they tend to be granular and customized to your organization.

    A good example of “Why research” is a “Win/Loss” survey. The idea here is to seek out and speak with two groups of prospects: those whom you’ve been successful in bringing on board as clients and those whom you haven’t. You already know what happened (some hired you; some didn’t). What you’re trying to understand are the reasons behind the results, so that you can improve on the positive and mitigate the negative… actionable information.
  1. Take small bites

    As market researchers, we sometimes have a bias towards the mega-surveys: Lots of people in many different segments, all of which are large and varied enough to be statistically significant. The problem with this “big bang” approach is that it takes a lot of time and money — and if you’re off base, you’ll run the risk of wasting much of it.

    If you’ve been out of the custom research game for a year or two, as you start up again you may need to spend as much time framing the questions as researching the answers. Rolling out a large-scale study effectively assumes that you already know enough to point your big guns in the right direction.

    A better approach under these circumstances — one that is less costly and more flexible — is a staged study. Here you speak with smaller numbers of people over time, learning as you go, and reframing the questions and focus as you come to understand more.

    Maybe, for example, you’ve got a new product offering that you’re preparing to roll out to the market. You might want to begin by seeing how a smaller number of your core customers — 50, 100, depending on your market and methods — relate to it. If they love it, great, move forward gathering more information. But if it’s way off base, do you really need statistical reliability in 16 different cells to know that something’s amiss?
  1. Rethink how you spend your money

    Many companies have relied on secondary research these past few years. That’s fine, but as mentioned above, limiting in its ability to guide action.

    But maybe you don’t need to renew all these subscriptions on an annual basis. Ask yourself whether you could manage (and therefore free up dollars) by subscribing every second or third year to those measures that remain relatively stable. Then use this money for other, more customized projects.

    Another consideration related to spending research money is to spend considerably more during tight times. As James Surowiecki pointed out in a New Yorker column (“Hanging Tough“), “…[N]umerous studies have shown that companies that keep spending on acquisition, advertising, and R. & D. during recessions do significantly better than those which make big cuts.”

    From Rice Krispies in the last century to the iPod in this one, stepping on the gas when your competitors are pulling back can have a magnifying effect on your efforts.

Keep these three guidelines in mind as you begin to turn up the volume on your market research projects. With any luck, we’ll all be enjoying more freedom over the coming months to further expand our work.

— Mark

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As mentioned earlier, Win/Loss research is an extremely useful tool in getting to the heart of what’s working and what isn’t in your sales process. Here’s how we prefer to do it:

  • In-depth and open-ended. You could certainly perform a web-based or similarly large-scale win/loss survey. We prefer, however, to dig deep with a more targeted audience, giving participants the freedom and space to elaborate on their experiences.

    There are often quite a few subtleties underlying sales success and the in-depth / open-ended orientation serves us well in uncovering these.
  • Telephone-based. While there certainly may be circumstances that warrant in-person interviews (e.g., companies which make a very few, large-ticket sales each year), telephone interviews almost always do the job just fine. Not only are they much less expensive than face-to-face research, the anonymity inherent in these can be less threatening to participants, a factor which leads to more candid conversations.
  • Third party interviews. We know, this is self-serving, but we’d be remiss to leave this important factor out. Team members can get defensive when interviewing and being told what they did wrong by a prospect, and survey participants have a tendency to sugarcoat their true feelings. Even when the information is provided frankly, there’s a tendency for those listening to filter in the positive and filter out the negative.

    For these reasons, an unbiased third party receives and captures better information.
  • Win and Loss research. Lots of people just want to interview the losses. You learn all you need to know this way, right?

    Maybe not. Speaking with at least a control group’s worth of wins gives you a baseline against which to compare the loss data, helping to distinguish between what’s a factor and what’s a deciding factor.

    Suppose, for example, that the losses all mention how poorly your presentation materials stacked up vs. the competition. You might be tempted to conclude that you’ve uncovered something significant. If, however, your wins also mention your poor materials, you’ll know that this alone is not what’s tipping the scale.


Getting Your Research Back on Track

Mixology (Putting research into practice)

Twist and Shout

About Us

During the last three years, we have announced in this space that Prudential Financial has retained CSR to conduct its annual Thought Leadership study: Benefits and Beyond: Insight into the Next Generation of Employee Benefits: A Prudential Financial National Research Study.

This is an annual study involving online surveys and telephone interviews of benefits plan sponsors and participants, exploring current and future employee needs and how employers plan to respond to those needs. The study was expanded in 2009 to include brokers, and so have the reports and information available from the study. To access the main or any of the companion reports, please click here.

We are pleased to announce that CSR has been retained to conduct the 2010 study.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

— Albert Einstein

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The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. The “Twist” to what we offer is this: We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data. As a result, our clients gain more actionable and valuable insights from their research efforts.

Understanding What People Really Think

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