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How to Conduct Effective Research 

Mobirise

Reviewed: June 2020

10-minute read


How to Conduct Effective Research


Synopsis

If approached in the correct manner and with a bit of thought and planning, research campaigns will deliver information and results that can fundamentally change the way you manage your business.

Research is a critical element of any strategic sales and marketing planning process. This paper takes a realistic look at the importance of research, whatever size your business. It gives examples of valuable information research campaigns can generate and explains the differences between qualitative and quantitative methods. It also looks at types of B2B research and offers some personal experiences of conducting research and, 10-pointers to help you plan out future campaigns.


Introduction 

During World War two, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel said: “Time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted.” ‘Reconnaissance’ in the military is the gathering of information. In business, we simply call this research.

The secret of business is to know something that nobody else knows in order to stand out in the market. US author, anthropologist and film-maker, Zora Neale Hurston said; “research is formalised curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” Well-conducted research can have an incredibly positive impact on your business, product, or service whether you are a new start-up, SME or larger corporate organisation.


Conducting research

Solid research forms the backbone of any businesses sales and marketing plans – irrespective of company size and takes a lot of the guesswork out of strategic decisions. Good quality, regular research can have a profound impact on your business, product, or service. So, what types of research are there and what are we likely to glean from it that can benefit, inform, and help steer strategic business decisions?

Firstly, be open-minded. Do not assume that you know all there is to know about your competitor’s or even your own business. Be prepared for some surprises from the results of your research. Some competitors may appear to pose a significant threat as they manufacture, sell, or distribute the same or similar products as you. However, because of research, you discover that they have a minimal market share in your sector; or that they are selling purely on price and offer little or no technical support compared to your business. This type of information could have a direct impact on a business’s sales and marketing plan, forthcoming campaigns, company pricing policy, future staffing/resourcing and in the case of a manufacturer, inventory and even lead times.

• Some examples of how research can provide valuable information are:

• Who it is you compete against in your sector

• What your competitive advantages are and how you differ from the competition

• Identifying emerging opportunities and trend in your marketplace

• Determining if there is a demand for a new product or service

• Whether customers are aware of the full range of products and services you offer

• What customers think of you

• What customers want to hear from you

• How your prices compare with those of competitors

• Whether internal perceptions match external ones

• How important the cost of the goods to buyers is in your marketplace

• How your customers find you or your competitors

• How well-known you are in the marketplace

• The products or services your customers most value

At this point it is worth mentioning – Don’t be shocked or embarrassed! Research often reveals things that you never knew or have even considered previously. You will usually emerge from the experience knowing more than you thought you knew.


Methods of research 

There are two methods of research: qualitative and quantitative. Let us have a look at in more detail. 

Qualitative research 

This method requires your business or agents, to talk directly to people. By talking directly to people, you will gather the experiences and opinions about your or your competitor’s business, products, services, and aspects of the broader marketplace.

The personal approach to qualitative research indeed takes time. It can also prove tricky to analyse and extract the findings, but it does give direct and unmetered results. The feedback and responses are “straight from the horse’s mouth”, although it is always worth bearing in mind that individual’s comments can be based purely on their last experience – both good and bad. A recent late delivery can certainly skew someone’s opinions of a supplier – even if your record to that point has been impeccable! 

However, this approach allows for open-ended questioning that can develop as matters arise. Following up on qualitative research can also be used as a method for generating appointments (or an excuse to talk to the customer) to discuss the matter in more detail. 

Quantitative research 

This process allows for a deep dive into a relatively small sample group. As the name suggests, quantitative is a volume method of collecting information. Typically, there will be a standardised template of questions asked of all participants – these are the online, email and telephone surveys. Often this method uses more closed, multiple-choice answers or even restricts the length of the ‘free text’ answers you can give. If not correctly planned or executed, these can lead to frustration as the recipient finds them impersonal, soleless and repetitive. With poorly thought-through research questions, you may well find the respondent wished they hadn’t started and have given any answer just to get it out of the way!

With quantitative research, it is essential to ensure that you ask the recipient questions that are relevant to their job role – especially in larger organisations where people often have specific job roles. In an SME company, the owner may well also be the design engineer, buyer, expediter, and production manager. In a larger organisation, this could be five or more people and, a specific question on technical support may only be relevant to the design engineer. 


Types of B2B research 

Avoid wherever possible, trying to be all things to all people. Looking at the most common types of B2B research will help break down what tools are available to you. Here are some of the more common examples and what information they can yield: 

Brand research 

How are you perceived in the market place and where opportunities lie. Use brand research to identify differentiators and to strengthen your brand.

Customer research 

With customer research, you are gathering information on what it is your customers and prospects want and how you can deliver it.

Customer persona research 

Sometimes, referred to as avatars, a customer persona is where you identify who the people are that influence or buy your product or service. It gives a clear indication about who makes the final decision and what messages they want to hear. Creating customer personas can be complicated and take time, but it allows your sales and marketing team to be more targeted, persuasive, and influential.

Market research 

Gives an understanding of who your actual competitors are. It can identify what services you should be offering and which opportunities you can turn into a competitive advantage.

Customer journey research 

By learning, understanding, and following the customer journey, you will be able to map out the path taken by people to find, trust and buy your products or services. Use this information to make the buying process as smooth as possible by highlighting any lumps, bumps, or bottlenecks. It will, in turn, help improve the closing rate and raise customer service standards.

Customer satisfaction research 

Provides valuable data on exactly how happy your customers are with your business. Customer satisfaction also forms part of the latest ISO quality standards. 


Considerations

Do not be ignorant or arrogant. Often internal perceptions of your business are quite different from those shared by those on the outside. For example, what you think is excellent customer service, may not be being received as well by the customer. Also, how many times have you heard people say “Well, I never knew you did that!” to suppliers. 

For me, one of the most surprising results of a piece of research I commissioned was to learn that ‘price’ was not the essential factor to our sampled customers in a customer satisfaction survey. It came in number at number four after (and in no particular order) on-time delivery, product reliability and technical support. 

For research to be useful, the data needs analysing with an open mind – do not jump to conclusions. Analyse the findings thoroughly and objectively. Make sure you have all the facts around you and look for the similarities in responses to highlight where the priorities are. You will also need to repeat your research regularly to be able to manage and monitor change effectively. Dependent upon your market and customers you may choose to conduct annual or bi-annual research on existing customers. However, for new customers, you may see more benefit from asking them to complete a customer satisfaction survey once you have delivered their initial order for feedback on their first impressions. 

Where customers have taken time to respond to your research and have identified issues, do not shy away! Make sure a senior member of your team follows up with the customer promptly. The follow-up serves not only to reassure and, hopefully, retain the customer but allows senior members of your team to discuss the matter first-hand with the customer, feedback to the broader business and implement improvement processes. 

Do not be daunted. Research can be as simple or in-depth as you need it to be. In most instances, a research campaign is very manageable with your internal resources. You just need to ensure that you identify what it is you want to learn more about, your target audience, what resources (staff and budget) are available and the timeframe.  


Summary

If approached in the correct manner and with a bit of thought and planning, research campaigns will deliver information and results that can fundamentally change the way you manage your business. 

Successful planning: 10-pointers 

Ten pointers for planning a successful research campaign are:

1. Identify the reason for the research 

2. Clearly define who it is you want to hear from and why

3. Choose the right type of research for your business; either qualitative or quantitative.

4. Select the most appropriate type of research, for instance; market research, customer journey or customer satisfaction; or a combination of types.

5. Ensure the questions are relevant to the customers you are targeting

6. Collate and be objective in your findings

7. Prioritise the actions that result from the research and task a senior manager to respond promptly and directly to individuals who have taken the time to highlight issues they have had.

8. Share the results with the broader business

9. Be open-minded; you might be surprised with the results!

10. Repeat. Any research is only a snapshot in time. Research regular intervals for a like-for-like comparison and to measure progress and improvements over time


Download your free PDF copy of 'How to Conduct Effective Research' here.

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