23 Mar 16 Are you “reading things” right?

The success of your business strategies lies in having deep insights on your ecosystem. How do you sift out reliable insights from the flood of inputs from multiple sources?

Steve Jobs once said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page. Some misinterpreted this to mean “Apple does not like to conduct market research”. Actually, the key words in his quote were about “reading things” that were not necessarily overt or obvious.

Companies do need information and inputs to read, understand, analyse, interpret and convert into corporate strategy. Getting reliable market intelligence is therefore critical for good decision-making. However, it often doesn’t come neatly packaged from certified and published sources, but has to be synthesized from a bunch of messy inputs from talking to multiple people in the ecosystem. To what extent can you rely on things people have said? As a decision-maker, you need to figure out which inputs you must take seriously and which ones to disregard. Can you make recommendations to your Board of Directors based on primary research? How reliable are the findings?

Here are a few pointers to help you determine the reliability of your findings:

Who has given the information? Did the information come from a relevant person in the right department? A marketing person talking about the market expansion plans is more credible than a manufacturing executive commenting on the same. Was it a senior or a junior executive? While the senior person may have better strategic understanding, his junior is likely to have a better knowledge at a granular level. Was he confident or hesitant while giving information? Some respondents may throw out guesstimates for the answers they don’t have.

You need to ask your analyst who the respondents were to decide how much weight should be given to their inputs.

Avoiding misunderstandings: Was the analyst experienced in elicitation techniques? Were the questions asked by the analyst clear? Could they have been misunderstood? For instance, you may want information on a particular variant of a product, but the respondent may have misunderstood you and given you inputs on a different variant of the product. You need to ensure that the analyst doing the questionnaire design is sensitized about the possible misunderstandings and ensures that the questions are asked clearly.

Is the data validated? You need to verify that the findings are validated. How many respondents agreed with the findings, how many of them disagreed? Are the findings broadly aligned with the findings from secondary research (e.g. other published industry data)? How reliable is the source? Does he have any vested interests? The strategy manager must consider all the information that is available before coming to any conclusion. The research team also helps the strategy manager by providing him with multiple sources of information.

Ensuring reliability of your findings is indeed a tricky task. The key lies in sifting useful and genuine insights from out of the plethora of inputs gathered. To this objective, the research team and decision-maker should work in tandem with each other.

Ultimately, all companies have access to the same information; good companies are able to “read things” right.

Ameya Pandit

While at ValueNotes, Ameya worked on market research studies for clients in the medical devices sector and logistics industry.

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