Recently we were discussing our approach to an upcoming project with a colleague of ours. Our clients are entering a new market, and they don’t even know what they don’t know. His thinking was that a researcher couldn’t possibly get a valid answer using second-hand information. This “hearsay evidence” argument is frequently put forward by folks who are used to using a lot of statistics and models in their work. However even circumstantial evidence can lead to the right answer, if we allow ourselves to triangulate. Triangulation is a lot like cross-examination. That means validating by using multiple sources, asking for comparisons or contrasts to the hypothesis, as well as by asking the same questions using different points of view. Being able to triangulate is one of the most significant advantages of taking a qualitative approach. In the hands of a skilled, objective moderator, it can net you a deeper, more reliable answer than surveying, or than simply speaking with one very tightly-defined segment of the population.
Why does triangulation work so well? When we’re in the midst of a project and we find that the hypothesis isn’t invalid, but is perhaps a little “off”, we have the opportunity to adapt and take a different tack. If, during the course of one interview, a respondent points us toward a source that may have additional insights to share, or a unique point of view, we can follow that lead. Triangulation also means that we can amend our approach to make the interaction with the customer or the respondent more interesting, fun, relevant, or engaging for that individual – and hence get better feedback.
So the next time you have a chance to engage potential customers in a discussion, think about ways you can triangulate the information you’re receiving. Key steps to making sure you’re doing this include:
- Put together a “laundry list” of key questions you’d like answered.
- Identify who can answer each query, most directly (Your customer? Your sales team? Your customer’s customer?)
- Figure out who might be able to corroborate or challenge the opinions of your front-line “witnesses”.
- Re-word some of your key lines of inquiry and ask them again from a different perspective.
- After you’ve investigated all of your issues, a simple, “have we overlooked something we really should know?” always provides some useful information.
Helping you find a better understanding of your customers,
Megann & Steve