It is dangerous to think that market research is all about formal techniques and their co-ordination. For all levels of management, much market research is very informal. The listening analogy we developed in previous blog articles applies to formal focus groups, observations and questionnaires and to informal discussions, keeping your eyes and ears open and the informal questioning of customers.
As we said at the end of the last article, market research by walking around is shorthand for making the effort to keep yourself informed of all the different aspects of the service you provide, particularly its interface with your customers and their needs.
In practice, most managers will engage with, or be connected with, a variety of methods of formal and informal research. These can be: organisation-wide and service-specific; measuring current performance data and exploring future needs; quantitative and qualitative; formal and less formal; specialist-dependent research and tasks involving front-line staff.
All managers need to be in a ‘market research’ mode at all times, even if the intensity and range of what they do to listen to their customers will inevitably vary over time.
The process of listening to your customers is central to providing services they value. Over the past few articles we have distinguished between data and information and then looked at secondary and primary data. We have considered the main qualitative and quantitative methods of generating information and the manager’s role in market research.
You should now be able to identify the gaps in your knowledge about your customers, and what they value, that could be filled by market research. You should be able to assess which methods would be appropriate to generate the required information and to participate in the research and any briefing of specialists undertaking it. You should also be able to understand and assess the information that such specialists might generate.
- Market research is about listening to customers in order to provide what they value.
- Data, once gathered, is processed into information which influences decision making.
- Data can be: secondary, i.e. already existing primary, which is generated for specific requirements.
- Secondary data can be internal to your organisation, for instance data from performance and turnover records.
- It can also be external to your organisation:
- government agencies
- syndicated services
- the media.
- Primary data can be obtained:
- by buying 'space' in syndicated research programmes
- from the actions of panels of customers
- by commissioning specialist market research companies.
- Qualitative market research methods are used to explore the attitudes and behaviour of customers; quantitative methods apply numerical values to measure aspects of customers’ behaviour and attitudes.
- Qualitative methods include:
- focus groups: moderated small representative groups of customers
- in-depth interviews: one-to-one probing of motivations, attitudes and needs
- observation of actual customer behaviour.
- The principal quantitative method is the survey of statistically significant samples of customers.
- Surveys conducted by post, phone, in person and over the Internet each have their advantages and disadvantages.
- The questions in a survey must be clear if customers are to complete it, and if an analysis of its findings is to be useful.
- Questionnaires can feature open and closed questions; response scales are commonly used to capture differences. Managers’ engagement with market research can feature:
- the use of the control loop to manage its application
- informal listening and observing while walking around
- the use of a variety of methods at different times.
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