This article was originally published at Forbes.com.
The voice of the customer is an essential component to any organization's success. Investing in fresh qualitative research ensures your strategic planning and marketing efforts are on target with significantly less waste.
Whether your member-leaders are representing a commodity organization, an agri-business, or an energy cooperative, getting to the root of your needs for communications, or creating a strategic plan starts with research.
When Do We Need to Do Research?
First, don’t think of it as research. Think of it as laying the foundation to make solid business decisions. You wouldn’t purchase another company or make a major capital investment without due diligence. So, why create a five-year strategic plan without fresh data and insights?
If your farmer-owned cooperative is ready to bust out of the “way we’ve always done it” or your energy cooperative is ready to take on the industry’s massive shifts, getting honest feedback from your customers and prospects and creating board alignment is critical.
Planning Quantitative Research with Precision
While email surveys can be quick to administer, they should be planned with precision.
Who Are You Asking?
Before you blast out an e-survey to every email in your address book, consider what you’re trying to achieve. Do you want to reach your top customers? Do you really want to know why someone stopped doing business with you? Is there one geography of your organization that needs attention?
By segmenting your list and creating questions tailored to them, you will achieve more actionable results.
What Are You Going to Do With the Answer?
As you prepare your survey, ask yourself how you will use every single answer. If you’re asking if a customer would refer your business to a friend, but you do not ask, ‘why,’ you will not be able to take action on the answers.
This is also the time to review your questions to ensure they are easy to understand and only ask for one piece of information at a time. Asking a compound question in a survey can skew your results and confuse your analysis.
Select Your Most Important Questions
We’ve all been subjected to a survey request where the page count goes on forever. Once you’ve created your list of questions, prioritize your 50 percent. Then ask yourself if you really need the second half of your survey. By decreasing the time it takes to complete the survey, you will increase your participation.
Thinking Big With Qualitative Research
Focus groups are an efficient way to collect feedback from multiple stakeholders at once. There are pro’s and con’s to bringing a group of people together and asking open-ended questions or facilitating a discussion.
Avoiding the Squeaky Wheel
When it comes to squeaky wheels, it seems every boardroom is the same. During important future-focused discussions or trying to get a pulse on customer perceptions, one or two outspoken individuals run the show while other leaders seemingly leave much unsaid.
Our team at Paulsen utilizes an online, interactive platform that allows for anonymous, synchronous feedback in real-time.
One of the best situations for using an anonymous focus group is when there is perceived misalignment. For example, in some company cultures, it’s the “boss’s way or the highway” or the board has a different strategic outlook than the executive team.
An anonymous focus group creates a safe space where everyone can share their thoughts and opinions. During these sessions, participants can see each other’s responses come in live. So, the session also acts as a self-awareness exercise by allowing members of a team to be truly vulnerable in their answers.
Qualitative sessions, and especially our online platform, are a great way to test your proposed messaging. Whether you are creating a new advertising campaign or setting up your new company strategy, ensuring that your audience finds your messaging unique, compelling and believable is an invaluable step.
Research Is Key for Launching Your New Plan
Don’t be afraid of some self-reflection as an organization. An in-depth investigative process can help you identify your most pressing branding challenges and unexplored business opportunities. The end result of a well-designed research process is a set of realistic objectives, unified messaging and support for every move your business makes.
Over the next five years, consolidation in the ag industry will continue to accelerate, energy production will be transformed and customer demand will evolve how businesses meet their expectations. Partnering with an arbiter and interpreter to conduct primary research helps you plan for whatever is coming next.