Sometimes when we work on research with a client, they are very familiar with a specific kind of tool, or they have a strong understanding of how to understand a certain kind of data. Surveys are a good example. Most of us like the certainty of surveys - we can understand the statistical value of the data, the numeric nature of data makes good charts, and it can be organized and displayed in incredibly beautiful and insightful ways. When you use a survey, you're a collector of data. Oh, you might add a few open-ended questions, but the bulk of everyday survey work is about things you know, and figuring out whether you can make a great discovery by connecting them, or organizing them in different ways, or by gathering new (but finite) facts. How many trees are in this photo? How often does the river overflow its banks? At what time is the light best for a photo like this one?
On the other hand, when you use qualitative research, it's more like being an explorer. You don't bother to guess what might be around the corner - you explore. You might do that observationally, by taking a walk in the woods or along the river's edge, and taking photos, or making notes. Or, you could ask the person in the photo why they're here. What led them to this spot? Have they explored here before? Are there things that might have been helpful on their journey so far?
The thing is, it's difficult to be a collector and an explorer at the same time. The first requires precision, a certain fore-knowledge, and many data points to validate. The second requires a sense of wonder, an openness to the idea that the answers my not be easily quantifiable on a chart, but delivers a richness and depth of understanding that is hard to see in a pie chart. Both are necessary, and each kind of understanding of your customer, your market, your operations, deserves your attention and care. When you have big questions that need answering, think about whether you need to be a collector or an explorer, and it will help you decide how to structure your research in a way that matches with the hat you're wearing for this project.
As the holiday season approaches, companies (and especially your sales team) start thinking of ways to thank, or give back, to your best customers. You can send them cards. If their corporate responsibility code allows it (and yours does), you can send them tokens of your appreciation. Some companies send sales incentives, wrapped as "gifts" and tied with a bow. (We're looking at you, Black Friday).
Here's are a couple of gifts you can give to customers and prospects, all year long: active listening and empathetic engagement. How can you do that?
Visit them at their workplace, and ask them what problems they're trying to solve, and how they're trying to solve them now. Not what problems they're trying to solve with the tool you have on offer, but simply an opportunity for you to walk a mile in their shoes. Save the solutions for later.
Ask them questions in a way that's easy for them - let them answer in a way that's comfortable, conversational, and that allows them to say, "that isn't even the right question!"
Make it easy for them to contact you - however they want. Let them call, write, email, engage through social media, or even send a carrier pigeon (ok, maybe not that). When they do, respond, even if you don't like what you're hearing, or if your answer must be, "we're sorry, but that's not a problem we're able to solve". (Bonus points if you can point them to someone who can).
If your team needs help asking hard questions, needs training on how to choose the best research approach to solve their problem, or wants a facilitator to help bring it all together, we do those things. But for today, we'll just wait patiently and ask, what's up with you, and what problems are you trying to solve these days?
"We've seen our customers do this a thousand times".
So what? You've assembled a thousand observations. Although it is valuable evidence, this doesn't make it an insight. Let's dig deeper.
"I'm buried in data. How can I make sense of it all?"
"When should I do research?"
"What's the right way to answer these questions?"
Does any of this sound familiar? Over and over, we hear product managers, marketers, even CEOs, asking these questions. Over the past 17-plus years, we've helped hundreds of them get clarity by working backward from their end goal. This is the question we ask, to get started:
"What decision do you want to make?" or "What action can't you take now, that you'll be able to take if you have more clarity?"
Most often, if you can answer one (or both) of these, you'll be in a much better position to map out the research you need. When you've answered them, you'll know:
You'll be able to decide whether you can sort this out yourself, or if you need help. You'll know if the answer needs to be quantified, with numbers (such as for a forecast), or if it needs a qualitative approach (getting your engineering team to see customers' frustration as they try to use feature X). And you'll waste less money, time, and effort getting something that's useful, practical, helpful, and actionable.
Whatever your questions, we're happy to work with you until you see everything you need.
Megann and Steve, Partners in PANOPTIKA, are working for our clients every day to help they need to know to make better decisions in their complex business environment.
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