Sales and Marketing Software

Stop Writing the Conclusion before asking the Question

By Bob Johnson, VP & Principal Analyst

Buyer Research: Marketers Must Stop Writing the Conclusion Before They Ask the Question

There is tendency among too many marketers to look at the buyer research process as done only to prove a hypothesis. Such an approach often leads to biased, self-serving research questions that do not provide an accurate picture of the buying process and a full sense of key issues. When done incorrectly, it is a thinly veiled attempt to use research questions to only demonstrate the viability of a particular approach or solution where alternatives, challenges, issues or needs are simply left off the list of choices. Designing surveys with that mindset is misleading and damages both understanding and decision making.

Why are some marketers willing to mislead the reader by only asking certain questions or asking them in a way that fulfills an approach, angle or view?  They take a short-term view of proving the viability of their offering, not just to customers, but as importantly to their internal audience. Second, they fear negative reaction from management about results that are not powerful, compelling or substantial enough to get the desired headline. Then, they hear statements about bad research data; you didn’t ask the right questions or ask the right people. So a sense of personal risk among marketers who charter buyer research can outweigh a desire to know the truth about what drives behavior or how a vendor’s capabilities stack up against all the needs of an organization. Imagine all the bad decisions that result as such slanted results are used for planning and execution.

Let’s take an example where one hopes to show that in data storage best practice, leaders stress cloud-based solutions that hinge on scalability, data security and real-time monitoring. Our first researcher scopes the survey to include a listing of only those three items, adding an ‘Other (specify)’ choice to capture anything else. They find that 75% of the respondents selected all three! Wonderful, wonderful, we have a headline and it matches the capabilities we offer. Things are looking good in River City so to speak. It is a headline and conclusion first, and then frame-the-research mentality. But it is wrong, leads the respondent (witness) and fails to uncover what really drives buying decisions. So do you really think that will build any sense of relevance or confidence on the part of the buyer? Don’t you think they’ll often scoff at you because you missed best practice issues that are critical to them? Stop kidding yourself. You lose legitimacy and fail to build a sense of expertise when you use this approach.

Our second research seeks the truth and casts aside the personal risk from not getting the results that others in marketing and sales are chirping for. They create a list of ten potential best practice keys, five of which can be addressed by their offering, while others are emerging or enabled by other, integrated offerings. The list was created to reflect the market, not to reflect an agenda. The respondent can choose as many of the ten that they like or add in their own. But our intrepid researcher does not stop there. In additional to the check one or more option, they add a second column to the question to ask what the top three are among those that were choose.  Consider the story that can be told as a result. The full landscape is now in view, discussed and able to drive up the relevance of what is being said, if only through the broader, more realistic perspective. Those that consume the research see how the vendor has a full understanding and guess what? The best practice areas most often select in the top three, have scalability and data security as number one and two. By being more open to gain a true understanding of best practices an even-handed approach gave an accurate view of market needs.

If you have others that suggest a desire to manage the research process towards desired outcomes, think of the trade-off between short-term survival and long-term results. Push back on that intention, as in reality, the data will say what it’s good or bad, but you will be better off by seeing an accurate view. Simply put, creating self-fulfilling questions and results is deceitful and wrong. Thankfully, given the more than 15,000 surveys we’ve conducted this year, many agree that getting an accurate picture of market drivers and buyer needs is always the best approach.


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Bob Johnson

VP & Principal Analyst, IDG Connect

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