According to the lyrics of the Southern Culture on the Skids song, we’re all in search of truth and some pointy boots, and maybe a few snack crackers.
There’s only one way to find out what your market really thinks and that’s to get out there and ask them point blank. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Put together a set of questions, gather your market together, work your way through the list in as scientific a manner as possible, rush home, analyse the responses you got and then use all that intel to improve your product, boost your services and send your business into the stratosphere.
Simple? Except it’s not. Of course it’s not.
The only way to find the truth is to ask
If it were just a simple case of asking the right questions (which it is) and analysing them objectively (which it is), then there wouldn’t be a problem. The fact is your market is geared to lie to you. Even if they are the nicest people in the world they are simply hot-wired to reply to your market research questions with misinformation. They don’t set out to do this, they’re not malicious. It’s just the way stuff works in the human world.
To compound everything else, many businesses all too often ask the wrong questions or ask them in the wrong way. Some are so geared to selling their product that they fail to understand they are using a Q&A session to promote themselves rather than find out valuable intel that could help them provide a better service. Others just don’t know how to dig deep enough and find the informational gold that will make a big difference. In short, questions are difficult.
Are you asking the right questions?
You may not be surprised to learn that many businesses will only ask the kind of questions that give them the results they are looking for. It’s understandable – if you have been selling a product for a while all you really want is affirmation that you have a good thing going and your customers love what you offer. Unfortunately, that kind of approach doesn’t give your business anything except a lesson in treading water.
How you ask something is almost as important as what you ask. This is another easy trap to fall into. Businesses can load questions so that they push the individual being asked in a certain direction.
What you really need to do is to give yourself as much chance of getting an in-depth, truthful answer as possible. It’s not easy but it can be done. Those answers will be of more benefit to your business than any number of skewed responses you’ve collected because you hadn’t thought through your approach properly.
Several reasons why your market will lie to you
Ask most people a question and they’ll do their best to provide the right answer. They want to please you and people who like to please are more likely not to give the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. They are more likely to tell you exactly what you want to hear.
Let’s say you come across as passionate about your product or idea. If the person you are interviewing picks up on this they are likely to catch your bug and try to complement your enthusiasm by providing more positive answers.
Conversely, if you go into a Q&A with less enthusiasm than a raccoon in a dishwasher, then you will get exactly the responses that match your mood.
People don’t like to be embarrassed. Ask them a certain kind of question and they’re likely to answer how they think they should. For example, if you ask how important home grown, good old fashioned US products are, they might say: ‘Hell Yes! They are very important to me’. What is more important to them, however, may be how cheap and easy the product is to get hold of. In other words they don’t really care where it was made if they can get their hands on a bargain.
Several more reasons why people in groups lie
You might think you will get a better spread of good answers to your questions if you have groups rather than individuals. Unfortunately, the answer to this is no you won’t. Groups have their own dynamics and depending on the type of people gathered in one place the answers can be heavily skewed to reflect the mentality of the gathered rabble. You can also have a situation where one or two people lead the group and effect what the others say or agree to, all of which makes it impossible to get a rational evaluation of the data.
How to dig deep with the right questions
Questioning in market research needs to be non-judgemental and as open as possible. It’s about allowing the person to speak as freely and not providing them with loaded questions that push them in a particular desired direction or leaving them feeling they have to respond in a certain way.
Don’t forget, we’re after truth here, not an affirmation of the quality of your product or service. You should be asking questions such as:
· Tell me more about that…
· I’m curious, in what way does that (the problem) impact on…
· Help me understand how this (the desired solution) would make a difference…
· What would happen if you could… ?
· What would happen if you couldn’t… ?
· In a perfect world what would you like to be able to do instead?
· In what way will that make a difference?
Conversational questioning is a difficult skill to master but the great news is the more you do it, the more proficient you should become.
And don’t forget: Words can mean a lot but so can those non-verbal communication cues that can prompt you to dig deeper with a particular line of questioning. Get used to recognising and understanding those cues and you could add a good deal of power to your questioning and your final market research results.
The art of being objective
Finally, it’s not just your market that can mislead. You as a market researcher can bring your own expectations and prejudices into the equation, skewing the data even more. You can have all the right questions and the right way of asking in the world but if your own evaluation of the data is flawed then it can lead your business in the wrong direction at the last moment.
Most startups struggle and fail. Valery Satterwhite specializes in the success of fast growing startup businesses. She helps startup entrepreneurs get, keep and grow customers and excite investors. Startup entrepreneurs and founders. avoid the big and costly mistakes that derail a lot of startups, even those with great ideas. For more information please visit http://www.NailMyStartup.com.
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