As qualitative researchers, we’re in the business of making observations. We don’t just observe the research subjects or respondents, though. We also like to observe the observers. In business-to-business research, we’ve noticed a peculiar problem that can creep into the process. Because of B2B’s nature, clients often know their customers directly. So it can be very difficult for them to not personalize the responses they hear during a focus group or customer advisory meeting. The more affinity they feel with the customer, “Bob”, the more likely they’ll accept what he is saying as gospel, even if what Bob says doesn’t reflect what the majority of the group is feeding back. Being a believer can mean you close your eyes to other truths that are being presented to you.
This can happen in consumer projects, too, of course. We see it when “Susan” is a particularly good communicator. And it doesn’t hurt if Susan’s view of the question at hand aligns with the view of the client (or their Agency partners).
Knowing this, it’s worthwhile taking a step back from the responses and opinions shared during this process. First, a trained moderator or facilitator can inject some sober second thought into the findings while developing recommendations. Secondly, as a client, if you find yourself saying, “but Bob said” or “we heard Susan tell us”, consciously take a step back. Think hard about whether any other respondents offered a conflicting opinion. Then consider what the implications are, of those differences.
We’re all for believing what customers are saying – as long as you’re sure you’re hearing all of the messages those customers are sending.
Believing in better research results,
Megann and Steve