5 Questions Every Innovative Researcher Needs to Ask

Nov 11 2010

5 questions every innovative researcher needs to ask …. and the one answer they need to give

by Mike Sherman, Neil Gains and Linda Collard

Changing technology and new techniques can make research more insightful, easier, cheaper and often more fun.  But good (and innovative) research should also be about the end result.

We believe the most innovative researchers understand people, new processes and the business they are working with.

A gentle, but necessary, interrogation

With this in mind, here are five foolproof questions every thinking researcher needs to be able to ask their client, in order to get the most out of their research. (And, yes, it is challenging if your client doesn’t have the answers… but it remains your job to find out!)

1. What business decisions need to be made?

Insight always comes from understanding the business issue and context from the outset – that is, the research must be designed with the end goal in mind.  The answer will never be right if the question was wrong.

2.  How will the client make money?

Often the reason why clients do research includes “to understand customers,” “to test new product ideas” and so on.

While true, these are secondary objectives.  The primary objective, especially if you are the CEO or CMO, is best illustrated by that great philosopher, Jerry McGuire (Tom Cruise), who is taught to “Show me the money!”.

If you can’t connect the research to the bottom line (via increased share, price, market growth or lower costs) you will not be aligned with senior management.

3. Do I need research?

Is there value at risk? Uncertainty?  If not, then you probably don’t need research.

Conversely, if there is an important decision to be made and money is at risk, even directional input will be very welcomed.

4. What else do I know?

Sometimes the answer to a research question can be addressed using existing knowledge.

More importantly, existing understanding should always be used to provide the right context for decision-making, whatever answers the research provides.  Never rely on one piece of data, where multiple perspectives are available –including the intuitions of the key business stakeholders.

5. Are we in a dialogue?

A dialogue has two key features: all parties are engaged and participating and it is ongoing.  Contrast a dialogue with the usual research presentation (monologue) to end users who are seeing the data for the first and only time.

Always discuss findings with key business stakeholders throughout the research process. After all, building understanding is an iterative process.

The art of the answer

The right answer, the only answer an innovative researcher should give, is the one that directly addresses the business question.  This statement is not disingenuous. Too often researchers believe they are answering a question when they are not (or at least not in a clear enough way to be understood).

Perhaps the best way to ensure you are ‘on the money’ and can concisely deliver your answer, is to ask yourself:

  • Can I deliver a 30 second ‘elevator speech’, answering the business question?
  • Can I provide a one-page executive summary of the research that contains and supports this answer?
  • Can I support that summary with 10 to 15 key analyses that tell a coherent story?

Delivering innovative research involves asking these five questions, clearly communicating your answer and engaging in a dialogue.  Easily said but hard to do; ask your client and they’ll likely confirm it is worth the effort.

This article was first published in Research World, the magazine for marketing intelligence & decision making published by ESOMAR. For more details go to http://www.esomar.org/researchworld.

Linda Collard is the owner of Duck Egg Blue Communications and can be contacted at [email protected]

Mike Sherman is an independent consultant at New Creation Services and can be contacted at [email protected]

Neil Gains is the owner of Tapestry Works and can be contacted at [email protected]

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