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Five steps to the perfect market research programme

By Kevin Withnall, director, Vanson Bourne


In this 21st century world of online, global communications it has never been easier for businesses to get a quick customer comment. Thanks to platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, communicating has become almost effortless. But what one customer says on social media should not be seen as reflecting the market as a whole. Gaining real insight into both customers and non-customers, requires well-planned, robust and independent market research from a specialist research company.

So how does a company commissioning market research ensure that its research of the UK enterprise market, for example, will produce an effective result? It all comes down to working with the supplier to ensure that they ask the right questions, of the right people, in the right way. And then making sure you fully analyse the data you get. There are five key components to producing the perfect market research programme. Here we share the secrets of success.

1. Find your valid sample

The starting point for any enterprise research project must be to gain an understanding of the market you want to study discovering the exact number of appropriately-qualified people and organisations that you could interview to get your sample.

Official UK statistical sources, such as The Department for Business Innovation & Skills or The Office for National Statistics, will help provide some of the detail you need to be able to decide on the exact number of interviews needed to ensure statistically robust analysis within a given market or sector.

For example, to deliver a valid survey of companies with between 1,000 and 3,000 employees, it is appropriate to interview around 30 of that target group. However, as soon as you need to look within that universe and examine, for example, retail companies with that size profile, then 30 interviews of that group would be necessary in order to deliver a valid response from that sub-set. So for each additional time that you examine variations in a particular market sector, you will need a ‘cell’ (as researchers describe it) of around 30 organisations each time, not just a sub-set of a group.

Trying to give trusted opinion, particularly in the press, when only a very small sub-set of people have been interviewed is only indicative ‒ it is not statistically sound.

2. Use the right tools

The start of any successful enterprise research project is the research instrument or questionnaire that has been properly developed with appropriate questions, definitive answer lists and a running order that keeps the respondent’s interest. So, the questionnaire must cover all aspects of the topic and ensure there are response options for each, so you cannot be accused of steering the respondents and compromising the data.

Usually research must be delivered by a deadline. With this in mind, closed questions – where the respondent selects responses from a range of answers – is the best option. It covers all research possibilities and helps deliver valid market data. Allowing open questions is not good research practice when conducting quantitative research, although such a question style does have a place when the interview is more discursive in nature, (i.e. a face to face or an ‘in-depth’ interview). But for most telephone or online surveys, it will be more time-consuming for the recipient to accomplish, usually meaning it is harder to get your required number of completed questionnaires. Trying to analyse such varied answers will also prove difficult and, more importantly, time-consuming and costly. However, there are times when ‘open’ questions can and indeed should be used, such as when you’re looking at the respondents to help design the questionnaire at the early stage of testing.

3. Test and test again

Pre-launch testing is imperative if you want to ensure a trouble-free survey. It is an often neglected, but very powerful, tool in the armoury of the professional market research company.

It will help flush out any issues surrounding the topic or the actual workability of your questionnaire.

Tests usually throw up two key points: the respondents were not convinced by the answers they were offered or the test does not deliver sufficient insights into the cell or sub-set. If any problems do arise during a test, make sure you test and test again until you are sure you’ve designed a research instrument that is fit for purpose.

Crucially too, the questionnaire must go to an independent audience or again the research is not statistically robust, unless the company commissioning the research wishes to research its own customer base in which case it must be identified as such.

4. Work that data

Once you have gathered statistically valid data from the UK enterprise market, you must ensure that you make full use of it. A market research company will produce a series of findings and guide the customer to appropriate and qualified market insights.

A good research project could typically deliver three stages of analysis:

Firstly, the raw ‘Data Summary’: this is usually an Excel file detailing all the questions and responses. It is supported by a summary of findings, giving initial analysis and highlighting the key statistics.

Secondly, a data discussion with the client organisation: this can be face-to-face or via a conference call or web discussion and provides more in-depth analysis. We’ve always found that a data discussion is the best way of helping an organisation to understand its target market or audience. It’s also the springboard to other added value outcomes: market analysis, brand positioning, authoritative white papers and hard news.

Thirdly, a full-length commentary on results: this contains more detailed and multi-level analysis from the project. This level of insight has far-reaching value for the company and can be used by different functions within the client including sales, marketing, planning and PR & communications teams.

5. Engage with your market research supplier

Sitting above all of the previous points is the simple task of communication. In this digital age, it is sometimes easy to forget that actually talking to someone could be the answer to a number of questions.

As an experienced technology market researcher, I believe that face-to-face time is still the best way to identify what the organisation commissioning the research needs from a robust research project and the different ways to deliver it. Any marketing or sales team that makes time to engage with the market research supplier face-to-face to discuss their research objective, or their campaign, helps gain the best results in the most efficient and rewarding way.




Comments (1)

  1. May 16th, 2016
    Very informative thank you for sharing.

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