Assumption Is the Mother of Trouble in Market Research
I was recently struck by two events – completely unrelated, but at the same time, exactly the same. Through both of these, I was reminded of the important lesson of being confident to proactively ask the right questions. Of course, as market researchers, we spend almost all of our time asking questions and then synthesizing the answers. Sometimes the amount of questions can be overwhelming – and we can work through that, as Ariella LaBell explains here. However, the two scenarios I want to share happened much farther upstream than this.
The first is a story that I recently heard from an employee of a major market research panel company. A research provider sent a screener through to the panel company and gave them the green light to begin recruitment. The screener indicated that the target group was pediatricians who were treating a high volume of schizophrenia. This struck the panel company’s project manager as a bit odd, but they didn’t question it and began calling pediatricians. They screened through pediatrician after pediatrician, all of whom said, “Schizophrenia? No … I’m a pediatrician. We don’t treat that.”
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After weeks of this, and with fielding quickly approaching, the project manager finally contacted her client and informed him of the problems the recruiters were running into – that despite screening through dozens of pediatricians, they just weren’t qualifying, and they weren’t sure what to do about it.
Well, the reason why they couldn’t find pediatricians to qualify is because this was an error on the screener, and the client actually needed to speak with psychiatrists – who obviously would have been much easier to qualify. However, because the panel company did not express their concerns about an obvious red flag earlier, the research project was put in jeopardy instead of being fixed as promptly as it should have been.
In another recent scenario, I was working with a client who provided us with an algorithmic typing tool to segment respondents. We were told which specific segments we should recruit and which segments to avoid. As recruiting got underway, we noticed that one particular segment we were looking for, which I’ll call “Concerned Optimists,” was not showing up in the results. However, another segment we were not familiar with, which I’ll call “Affluent Optimists,” was coming up fairly often. After following up on this, it turned out that the segments were one and the same, and the names simply had been changed at some point without notifying us. The unfamiliar segment was in fact our target, rather than the people we should be turning away. By noting this and talking to the client right away, we were able to fulfill their segmentation quotas quickly.
Both of these events illustrate the importance of fully understanding the big picture and communicating ahead of time about details that seem unclear. Projects should always begin with a kickoff discussion with clients and vendors to ensure that communication lines are opened early and kept that way throughout the research. By trying to ask our clients important questions and at the same time always being available to answer questions ourselves, we can quickly, proactively and successfully avoid missteps. Don’t just assume and take orders. Think through what makes sense and problem-solve. That’s what separates vendors from true partners.