Market Research = Professional Listening?

Market ResearchI took advantage the other day to do some Fall cleanup of my office and came across an article I had read a number of years ago from the McKinsey Quarterly called The Executive’s Guide to Better Listening, written by Bernard Ferrari. .  What I love most is that it continues to resonate even today.  I actually find it incredibly relevant – especially in a time of new US Presidential leadership.  A huge challenge for new leaders – whether they be corporate, academic, or political – is in better understanding their audience and responding with the “right” programs, products, messages, and decisions.

Now, you may be saying to yourself – “But Wayne, you are not an executive. Why do you care?” Well, random curious reader, I may not be an executive. But within market research, I do consider myself a professional listener so it is a skill I value.

In the article, Ferrari outlines three rules of behavior for executives who want to be better listeners and I would like to show how we can adopt these rules to be better researchers:

  • Show respect – Ferrari essentially states that executives need to listen to all levels of employees and respect their potential to provide valuable input. This made me think of how we need to “respect” the views of our respondents in our sessions. So often I have been around a table, or even behind a mirror, and have listened to clients laugh at or mock responses because they were deemed too silly to be taken seriously. I put forth though that even the silliest response needs to be listened to, as it may contain a nugget of truth behind it. So, I examine each response with a respectful eye and try to understand where each respondent is coming from.
  • Keep Quiet – While Ferrari talks about the tendency of executives to talk more than listen when in a conversation, keeping quiet is also important for market researchers…sometimes. When we are meeting with clients as researchers, we so often want to wow them and show them we “get it” that we interject too early. Believe me, I am guilty of this all too often. I think the advantages of keeping quiet and “listening” to respondents – either in a live session or when going through the data afterwards – are pretty self-evident. However, I think it is also important to keep in mind the need to keep quiet and listen to clients. Letting clients articulate their questions, challenges and hypotheses fully before offering up questions to be asked and methodologies offer a clearer picture and also can give one time to formulate a more solid, complete approach.
  •  Challenge Assumptions – This is probably the most important piece when it comes to research. When assumptions are challenged, the most impactful and key insights come are usually unearthed. This is why I find it important to go into a project with a sound hypothesis. And then be prepared to have it challenged. However, it is important to note that not all currently-held assumptions will be present in that hypothesis.  Therefore, I think it’s important to have those up-front conversations about the current state of the company and current priorities or ways of thinking and do my secondary research about where the company has been and where it is going. Doing this helps to give me a better idea of the assumptions in place, so I may be in a better position to challenge them.

In addition to these three behaviors, there is another I would add to be a better listener when it comes to market research:

  • Get excited about it! – I honestly think “listening” is something a true market researcher should enjoy. At its purest essence, market research – especially qualitative – is the act of actively and effectively listening (if it’s done correctly).  Through solid market research – asking, the right questions, listening effectively and presenting my findings in an impactful way – I can help my clients do what they do better and deliver a better product or service to their base (which in turn should make them happier). This excitement drives me and makes me more interested in participating in “the conversation.” Think about it. I am sure we have all had to sit through conversations, lectures or – gulp! – time-share presentations that we were not excited about. How actively were you listening then?

Effective listening takes practice and dedication. It also takes the right tools. Invoke’s many solutions facilitate these conversations at multiple levels. The platform enables me and my clients to listen in real-time with respondents both on a broad scale and one-on-one. Additionally, my clients and I are listening to each other as we discuss what we see.

Being a good listener sometimes goes against our natural instincts to converse and contribute, but it is important for market researchers to learn how to listen effectively. After all, if market researchers aren’t listening, then who is?

Always listening,


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