My team at KS&R was recently participating in a workshop with one of our key clients. We had spent about two hours talking through capabilities, business issues, research approaches, success stories, etc., etc.
As we were getting ready to close, one client asked, "How do you defend your research results if people start throwing darts at them?"
Talk about a loaded question.
If you are in marketing research, you know the dilemma. The data says what the data says, but someone in the room keeps pushing back and tries to poke holes in every statement made; especially when it doesn’t line-up with pre-conceived expectations for the business.
During our discussion, some broad themes and strategies emerged:
- Don’t let a challenge to the results go unanswered. Defend the results. Address the concerns. Do not be passive. All challenges to the integrity of the research – big and small – must be answered. If left unanswered, they will poison the research investment, and make future insights that much more difficult to capture.
- Own the design. You are bright. You are smart. You consulted on and crafted a research design to address the business objectives within the budget parameters given. Take it personally. Be proud of what you were able to accomplish. Restate the reasons and rationale for using that approach; and why that approach was the best approach to take. Competence breeds confidence. The more your clients trust your competence, the more confident they will be in the result.
- Be transparent. If you look and act like you did something wrong, your client will think you did something wrong. By walking through your thought process and laying out a detailed explanation (during the examination) you are able to demonstrate why certain decisions were made and the implications (validity) of those decisions.
- Remember the timeline. Implementing a research project can be a long, winding journey, especially when there are multiple stakeholders for the results. Marketing research projects are rarely done in a vacuum. As decisions are made, be sure they are documented. When necessary, don’t be shy about reminding the team of these decisions.
- Challenge pre-conceived notions. Don’t just accept that your client’s view of the world is the right view. You were asked to do the research for a reason. Understand the fact basis for their point-of-view; and define points of alignment and misalignment based on the research process. Build context through other sources of information (secondary research, prior research, industry reports, etc.), and challenge your clients to allow the research to influence their decision making in the same way these other factors have.
I have never been very successful at throwing darts. I don’t have the aim or the arm to do it well. That said… I have had a few darts thrown my way these past 20+ years. I have found the best approach is to face them head-on, defend the decisions made, and doggedly fight to turn the data into business knowledge and insight.