Making decisions without data is like captaining a submarine without sonar. Sure, you’re in the ocean somewhere, but pinpointing your exact location is murky.
In business, you need to know exactly where you are to make great decisions, and great decisions are what drive strategic growth.
Whether we’re exploring potential new sales channels or validating assumptions about a client’s target audience, research projects can provide the specific direction a company needs to make great decisions. Research can tell you which technologies to adopt to increase supply chain efficiencies. It can tell you what employees to hire to better manage customer service. It can identify gaps in your communication channels that will reduce returns.
If your company is embarking upon a research project, consider these factors in advance.
Goals and hypotheses
Clearly defined goals are foundational for any research project. Your goals should be S.M.A.R.T.: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. S.M.A.R.T. goals could be something like, I want to improve the conversion rate of my website from 1% to 5% in the next 12 months, or I want to examine year over year customer satisfaction since the launch of our new e-commerce site.
Your goals can be centered on internal process improvements. For example: Shorten time to market for new products by 20% in this calendar year. Additional goals to support this might include optimizing your procurement and/or production processes.
Your goals can be customer centric. For example: Close 10% more new business this fiscal year as compared to last fiscal year. To achieve that goal, you might set supporting goals around identifying customer pain points in doing business with you versus your competitors.
In addition to having S.M.A.R.T. goals, you’ll need hypotheses to test. Research can be used to establish these hypotheses and to validate or invalidate them.
We always recommend speaking to your internal stakeholders first thing in a research project. This helps you identify all existing assumptions about your customers, your own brand, and what this research project is meant to accomplish.
From these discussions, you’ll have the intel you need to build out hypotheses to test in your study.
For example, one hypothesis could be: If we add more ecommerce functionality to our website, our current customers will spend more with us. This hypothesis could be tested by surveying your customers and asking them how much more they would spend if a given feature existed. Their self-reported data will show you which wish list items should result in the biggest ROI. If the data supports it, you can implement the features to further validate the hypothesis.
Be prepared to formalize your goals and hypotheses prior to your project starting. Specific goals and hypotheses lead to focused research which produces detailed and clear insights. To make great decisions, you need detailed and clear insights.
Like any big initiative, research projects require commitment at the highest levels of the organization. There should be visibility in the C-suite and inter-departmentally.
Regardless of who is driving your research initiative, buy-in across the board is essential to ensure project success. Everyone should be aware of the project and understand its scope. There should be shared expectations on what a research project is meant to assess and produce.
Buy-in across the board is key because research projects can produce recommendations that require change. Some changes are minor optimizations while others can shift the course of your business. You’ll want your whole company primed for larger potential shifts.
Involving your C-suite early and often will help keep everyone aligned on the purpose and expectations of the project. It will also help you gain their unique and important perspective as the project progresses. Be sure your stakeholders understand the project and their role in contributing to it. You want them to have an understanding of the initiative prior to any involvement, so you can make the most of your time together.
Rapport and trust
While research can be conducted internally, many companies opt to work with a research agency (like us) to provide that critical non-biased perspective. Make sure you thoroughly vet the research agency. Ask to see deliverables from previous research projects and talk with previous clients of theirs.
Working with a research agency can be enlightening. Their outside viewpoint can uncover risks and opportunities you wouldn’t be able to uncover internally. But the encompassing nature of research can make it challenging to establish immediate rapport and trust (even if they’ve been thoroughly vetted).
When possible, in-person project workshops are a great way to build necessary rapport to fast-track the trust building process. When in-person sessions aren’t possible, we recommend using video to facilitate a more human connection.
Your research agency should provide clear steps outlined for your participation. Frequent check-ins throughout the process will help ensure synchronicity across the teams. A good research agency knows a well-managed project is the best way to build trust quickly.
For an outside agency to conduct research, an understanding has to be gained of what exists today. Establishing a foundation of shared knowledge is an important step toward developing sound insights that do not make incorrect or incomplete assumptions about the business. Your research agency will benefit from access to past studies, persona information, and any other documentation that might shape your research project.
Gaining access to the necessary systems and supporting documentation is sometimes a tall order in large corporations with layers of security. Certain data requests can take time, especially if a compliance or security entity has to review and approve the request. Having access is critical, and the research agency should be trusted as an extension of your team.
Research endeavors require commitment, especially from your project manager. Gear up if you’ve been tasked with running this project on your side. Coordinating schedules for stakeholder interviews, gathering the many pieces of documentation requested, managing approvals, making decisions, and aiding the research agency’s pursuit require a lot from this main point of contact. While the workload is primarily on the research agency, the client-side project manager is actively involved from kickoff through final delivery.
Preparedness and openness
Perhaps most importantly, your company should maintain an openness to learn new things and be prepared to support new findings. Often, in lieu of data, anecdotes and internal assumptions shape your go-to-market strategy. When research reveals new truths that challenge old beliefs, it’s imperative your company stakeholders remain open and ready to support the findings.
Research can completely change how your company conducts business. We’ve produced research that revealed new sales channels to adopt, the need to grow certain teams to meet customer demand, predictions of customer behavior, territories to expand into, new product lines to adopt, and the ROI opportunity with product information management (PIM) and ecommerce. Taking on a research project means you are committed to learning what you don’t know and embracing the possibility for change.
At a minimum, a research project can confirm or dispel your hypotheses and long-held company anecdotes. Either way, you’re left making data-driven decisions that can advance your business.
Your company’s preparedness can make or break your research project. Have questions about how best to ready your organization? Drop us a line.