5 Steps to More Effective Research


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“My clients get paid for making successful decisions. My job is to provide the insights that increase the probabilities that they will make better decisions.”   — Frank Pleticha

Frank and I reconnected recently.  He had helped Aveus with our own customer experience research efforts some years ago and also assisted us on client work. Then we lost touch.  I always recalled how smart, and open and practical Frank was so I was glad we found each other again.  (Thank you Linked In!)   When we got together, I asked Frank, given all the changes in the field and new tools, how to be a smart consumer/user of effective research today.  Here are the 5 steps for effective research he suggested:

  1. Listen and probe for understanding before deciding anything.

    Very often someone will say “we need to do research.”  Use a conversation to get thoroughly grounded in the strategic context of the upcoming business decision. Good researchers need to live in the decision maker’s world. Find out what marketing decisions need to be made and why – before making any decisions about the type and extent of research required,

  2. Do the work to understand the cost of a wrong decision.

    Think of marketing research as a risk management tool. What is the value of the “insurance” that is needed in the case at hand?  If you’re working on a project that has a low risk, spending a lot on research to protect you is clearly a poor use of resources.  On the other hand, if considering a major investment (new product launch, opening a new market, changing a distribution strategy), underinvesting in research increases your project risk and exposure. 

  3. Answer the question: “What do we need to know?” (This is also known as a research objective.) When the subject of research comes up, people start piling on the questions they want to ask –undoubtedly you’ve experienced this – without really thinking through what they will do if they get an answer. Getting clear about what ‘we need to know’ is a critical way of pruning the questions and getting to the most essential research needs. This is where Frank says he plays back hypothetical results to the decision maker. For example, he might ask: “If we conducted this study and learned that 37% of your target audience wasn’t even aware of the problem that you’re trying to solve, how would you use that information?” How would the nature of your decision change? Quickly, a large list of “nice to know” survey questions gets whittled down to a small subset of essentials.
  4. Don’t do more research if you already have the answer. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But too often, people don’t do the basics of looking around to understand whether any of the “must know” questions have already been answered via secondary research or internal research that the company has already conducted.
  5. Finally, clearly specify whom you want to answer your questions.

    Getting answers from anyone who will participate in your research is not helpful.  A cursory pass at the characteristics can be a costly mistake. Creating a crystal clear profile of your needed research participants is as important as anything else you do.
You can see where Frank and Aveus aligned. In one of his last comments to me he said, “Great research comes down to this:  always start with the need, not the product.” 

Now that is great advice. 

Frank Pleticha is the lead consultant at answers2action, LLC and has a long history in the field of research. Learn more about him.

photo credit: Marc_Smith

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Chris LaVictoire Mahai
Chris LaVictoire Mahai is co-owner and managing partner of Aveus, a global strategy and operational change firm. She is also an author. In her book, ROAR, Chris explores what it takes to drive the best possible customers and business performance outcomes through the lenses of speed, predictability, flexibility and leverage.


  1. I’d argue that there is at least one more requisite for effective research to produce actionable insights. Most customer value propositions, and the research conducted around them, examine only the tactical, rational and functional components. Considerably more important are the emotional and relationship components, which are frequently missed or superficially addressed: http://www.targetmarketingmag.com/blog/customer-centric-trust-based-relationships-humanity-emotion-profits


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