It’s hard to get a straight answer if you haven’t thought about the question…

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet we frequently hear from clients or prospects, that they’ve undertaken research projects in the past, only to find that they didn’t get the answer they needed. Or, that they did learn something, but it raised a more important question that they hadn’t thought of. Or that halfway through “Project X”, they discovered a new question, tried to start answering that, and found out that what they learned was inconclusive. While watching the British Open it occurred to us that these teams could learn something from all of the great golfers who have succeeded in hefting the Claret Jug. That it can never happen without hours of unseen advance preparation. Preparation that takes place before the “show” – without spectators, without fanfare, and requiring a heavy dose of dedication.

Of course there’s some luck, skill in adapting to market factors, and lots of action on the day. But frequently, unsatisfying research results are the result of not doing the work. Of not spending enough time up front to define the real question. Or of not developing hypotheses and thinking in advance what action to take, if those hypotheses turn out to be true (or false). In plenty of industries, the recession has spurred a purchasing model that forces the purchase to be made before the real question is identified. Or that forces the methodology to be chosen or the scope of work defined before ever considering what the team needs to know.

It’s frustrating and time-consuming to try and fight the system. It’s hard to make others to see the value in taking time up front for thinking, when the workplace is demanding action, action, and more action. But it’s worth it. The best projects, with the most satisfied clients, always begin with a serious investment in thinking that will provide an actionable answer at the end of the day. So as you’re considering your customers today, and wondering how to serve them better, take time to ask:

  1. What is the one question, which if I answered it, would make a real difference to how I could deliver value to my customers?
  2. Who do I know who could answer that question?
  3. What are the answers I might receive?
  4. For each of those answers, what action could I take that would impact the customer in a positive way?

Using this model, if at any point you reach a roadblock, you’re not ready. Keep asking. When you can answer these questions, you’ve done the work. This is the heavy lifting – the prep time that is essential to a winning result. When you are ready, it’s time for research. Be prepared to capture the trophy you’ve been looking for – a deeper insight into what your customers want, and a good idea how to give it to them.

Continuing our quest,

Megann and Steve


Make better decisions, get better results, grow your business. We use a deep toolkit of specialized techniques help clarify your objectives, identify decisions that must be made, and eliminate knowledge gaps, resulting in strategy with a firmer foundation and better results.

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