10 Apr 13 Getting reliable inputs from primary research in India

Getting reliable inputs from primary research in IndiaEmerging markets like India are the preferred destination for a variety of organizations – private equity firms looking for investment opportunities, corporations looking for new markets for their products, and asset managers looking for higher returns on their investments.

But doing business in India is fraught with challenges, particularly for investors who are not familiar with the country. They like to base their business plans and projections on hard market data – market size, market shares, competitors, financials, regulations, cost structures, and so on. For most sectors, much of this information is simply not available in India.  And this is frightening.

In the absence of published research and reliable statistics, one has to rely on primary research. But can you really base your investment decision on what a bunch of people are telling you? Will you get reliable inputs?  The answer is yes, if you design your primary research well.

  • Who has the information that you need?

For any sector, the people within the supply chain will collectively have all the information you need. You need to go to the right person for each bit of information. Various types of respondents for market intelligence include customers, suppliers, distributors, dealers, government agencies, employees, ex-employees, competitors, etc.  You need to approach the person most likely to have correct information, else you could be misled.

Indian respondents for instance, are fairly loquacious. But this is a double edged sword. A knowledgeable respondent will prove to be a goldmine, but if he doesn’t really know enough, it is possible that he will still give an opinion on the question asked. It will then be a little difficult to figure out whether to take the response seriously or not.

The first step therefore, is to choose the right respondent. If you want reliable data, ask each person only what he is likely to know. So recruitment consultants may not be able to tell you about their client company’s strategy, but they will know what skill sets the company is hiring.

  • What function are they in?

Within a company, it is important to get to the person in the right function. For example, someone from the finance function will have the correct numbers on their fingertips. The sales and marketing executives may exaggerate employee numbers, revenues, capabilities, market shares, etc., but they have a good grip on industry trends and dynamics.

  • What level are they at?

Senior employees in organizations are better able to give a macro perspective and industry insights. However if you need to know operational details, it is the middle level that is most useful. The juniors may have only a partial picture. For validating certain data points, we have found that even security guards and receptionists are valuable sources of information.

  • Your language

Talking to the respondents in their native language is a winner in terms of building a rapport with them. They are more likely to give you candid and honest inputs.

  • Your knowledge

Knowledgeable interviewers or analysts are in a better position to elicit reliable data, because they are able probe and cross question the respondent on their responses. One, it makes for better insights during research, and secondly, the analyst can identify responses/ respondents that are shaky.

  • Non verbal cues

Body language during face-to-face interviews and voice tone in telephonic interviews tell you when the respondent is confident and when he is uncomfortable. Of course, this requires cultural familiarity and experience to recognize.

  • Validate

Finally, you can’t rely on what one person tells you. He could be ignorant, or mistaken, or just lying. You need to have a sample of respondents and look at where their answers converge.

Having a trusted local research partner with experience in using primary research to gain actionable insights is essential for organizations looking to do business in emerging markets like India.

Do you have any other tips and experiences to share?

Varsha Chitale

Varsha led the competitive intelligence practice at ValueNotes. As part of her drive to educate India Inc. on the merits of competitive intelligence, she often conducted webinars and seminars on CI for senior executives of Indian companies.

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