Inexact renderings of the known world in the 1500s successfully guided exploration, development, and investment in a period of remarkable economic expansion. Today, insightful market analysis constructs images of the future that guide innovation and strategy. Just like the coarse maps used during the Age of Exploration, timely maps of emerging opportunities have much higher value than precise renderings of known opportunities.
Market Research in any industry is a challenge. Given that technology continuously creates new markets, opportunities, rewards, risks, and organizational uncertainty - IT Industry Market Research is especially challenging. Here are some things to watch for if you're a provider of Market Research:
Know your client's decision-making process… A project will have many "clients" within the client company - each of whom will have different roles, responsibilities, and agendas. It is important to gain an early understanding concerning who is in the process and who needs to be engaged for the project to be a success.On the client side, actors will include:
The Executive Sponsor whose money is being spent and who owns the business decision and action items.This is your client. The project team needs to earn this person’s trust – either directly or through a client project manager who owns the project and represents it well internally. It is vital that you understand what the executive wants the project to accomplish.
Project Managers who's job it is is to procure your services on behalf of the Executive Sponsor and make sure you're doing what you're supposed to do.This person may not know (or share) the Sponsor's agenda or key business issues to which the project should be providing answers. Ultimately, the Project Manager is not your most important client.
Late-comers and Sharpshooters with a stake in an outcome opposite to that of your direct client. These folks can kill your project. Sometimes your client will purposely keep these folks out of the process so they can have more control over the answers to win an internal battle. The late-comers only recourse may be to vigorously attack everything that you've done - especially if your client directed the project that has created an unfavorable outcome for the former. Sharpshooters may also be research staff who were purposely left out of the process by your client because of design or budget issues. There's not much you can do about this - expect to be forewarned about the roles and potential issues of attendees to your final workshop or presentation. A good client Project Manager will help you manage this challenge.
Other actors with agendas. Client staff members with which you have other relationships for other products or services can be important allies. Client Finance staff can be dangerous since pulling the plug is one way finance staff can look good on a project
...And then Communicate early and often... Custom research projects are really a series of interlocking promises - often made in the face of process uncertainties. Frequent, clear, and honest communication is essential to project success in this sort of environment. Constructive communication takes considerable preparation, committment, and effort to succeed - but is the one essential component of all satisfying projects. Frequent and clear status reports establish a sense of shared project commitment - and give the project manager an openning to set accurate expectations which will build trust within the project team and with the client.
Know who to talk to…The IT buying process has many stages each potentially involving different actors.Technology evaluation, business process applicability and specification, IT infrastructure considerations, budget control, and vendor selection processes may all involve different individual actors – or multiple committees.A study designed to understand how to meet business requirements with a technology will have a different respondent base than one designed to determine how IT will integrate/accommodate the technology. Make sure you are talking to the right people.
Know the "right" answer… Its highly likely that in the eyes of the executive decision-makers there are “right” and “wrong” answers.You should not find this out during the Final Presentation.It’s important that the project team understand who among the clients is in the process and what they expect.Don't resist making your client's case if that's what's called for. But do your best early in the project to show them that they might be wrong – and they will be better served hearing the “wrong” answer than proceeding with a decision that sounds “right”, but ultimately will lead them down a bad path.You will be doing the executive client a great service by helping him or her re-shape their thinking.Many times you can pinpoint the segments (i.e. small vs. large business, US vs. Asia, enterprise deployments vs. departmental deployments) where their beliefs hold and where they do not.Your ability to help them clarify their internal market models is an extraordinary value for your client.But you will need to telegraph this early and often. And you will run the risk of getting fired from the project - which in the long run is not the worst outcome.
If you're a Client for Market Research...
Know what you need to know… Key facts required to make an important decision may be 1) unknown, 2) unconfirmed, 3) or contested.Its more likely that all three are in play in a project.Doing “a project about” topic X, Y, Z – collecting data and dumping it on the table to sift through and find the “nuggets” - will almost certainly lead to project failure and/or disappointment.To avoid this problem:
Start with what you think you know now...This will establish the framework for the research hypotheses and ensure that you’re not wasting time and money rediscovering what you already know.While you may want to reconfirm certain beliefs, focus the data gathering and analysis on resolving those issues that block your decision-making.
Go right at the key obstacles that are blocking your decisions - Don’t expect the answer to reveal itself… Expecting that one can assemble a large body of facts and then use them as building blocks to reach a good decision is a fool’s errand.You are much better served by asking direct questions in multiple ways with multiple methods – or drawing counsel from different sources.
Convergence of conclusions from multiple sources is much more powerful validation than an expensive over-dependence on one method – as rich as it seems.
Use the right Market Research provider for your problem - Be sure you select a research provider that excels in gathering and analyzing the type of information required for a good decision for your company. Most importantly, the provider should be able to relate results and conclusions in a compelling conversation with the decision-makers.Providers who excel in primary research may not excel in understanding subtleties of technology or usage implications. Providers with strong technology market knowledge may not understand how to accurately interpret customer responses or may bring biases to the analysis. Strategy consultants and economists have their own strengths and weaknesses. Understand the provider's DNA and what it means for applying research and analysis to your business decision.