The data that organisations gather falls into two main categories. ‘Primary data’ is collected specifically to aid in making a decision, whereas ‘secondary data’ has already been gathered elsewhere for another purpose.
Obtaining secondary data is often called ‘desk’ research and is likely to be easier than obtaining primary data. Primary data collection is what most people envisage when they think of market research.
We first consider secondary data, because that is where companies should start - in case the data they need already exists.
There are two general sources of secondary data. The first is internal data, for example from your organisation's own records, that is routinely collected. External data, on the other hand, is data collected by other organisations, either for their own use or for sale. An example of this might be the international trade or employment statistics collected by governments.
Most organisations have some data on performance. Many will also have information on ‘turnover’ - whether the latter is money generated from sales, the number of patients seen, visitor figures, the number of new or repeat customers, or other measures which encapsulate what an organisation does.
Performance. Most organisations in most sectors have to keep data on performance for accountability purposes. Normally (and increasingly) the data is computerised. At the least, this data enables statutory accounts of financial performance to be drawn up.
Regulatory regimes, public performance audits and quality assurance systems also require performance data to be kept.
How readily and quickly available performance data is to different managers varies, but it is an important source of data for market research purposes. However, when data is collected primarily for use by other departments of an organisation, it may not be sufficiently specific or relevant for market research purposes.
Accounting systems are driven by accounting requirements, and in particular by accounting periods, and will often give an unbalanced picture until year-end procedures are completed.
Performance figures may be available about individual customers or clients. This can pose the problem of ‘information overload’. There will be so much information, most of it redundant, that in effect it will be useless as a management tool.
More information is not necessarily better information, if it cannot be used. The Pareto Principle, which states that just 20 per cent of causes can provide 80 per cent of effects, is important here: a small amount of data about major customers or about segments of customers can yield the significant information.
Organisations keep all sorts of data, either on paper or in their computer systems, ,that can be used as market research information: details of product returns or complaints; staff timesheets or diaries; telephone call logs. There may also be data not held systematically on computers, such as the notes that sales or other front-line staff may keep of meetings and conversations with customers.
These may record what the customers think of the organisation’s services, of others’ services, and about what the organisation should be doing to provide better value.
Turnover reports. These can provide data about volume and frequency of customers and transactions. They can be, for example, records of what products or services were sold, to whom and when they were sold, or of how many visits to the doctor were made by various classifications of people, and what they were suffering from and when.
Next week we will continue to look at important data sources when considering quality...
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