“Researching to 100% assuredness is 100% stupid,” surmised a wise old marketer.
Marketing research is essential, but so is action. Perfect knowledge is impossible in the same way as constantly moving one half of the remaining distance toward an object. At some point you have to stop researching because diminishing rates of risk reduction make no since given the cost of research and the costs of delay.
But like many alcoholics, knowing when enough-is-enough is clouded by your direct participation.
One way to triangulate when to quit researching is to pair the costs of too much research verses too little. We all do this informally, but two problems evolve from hipshot restraint. First is that everybody has a different perception of risk based on their perspective. Start-up entrepreneurs are likely to short research in order to get to market quickly – to obtain first mover advantage. They will override the desire of marketing and product development to better understand market needs. Yet without the impatient founder, marketing types could eternally navel gaze, collecting data, analyst reports and survey results to perpetually refine a ‘successful’ product until such time as the product exists because someone else got it to market.
The cost of too much research includes lost opportunity, direct cost of research, cash burn and team fatigue. The first three are directly measurable and should be while the last one is difficult to quantify but could be used as a tie-breaker.
The cost of too little research is market failure, meaning either too little revenues or no revenues at all. These can be estimated with fair accuracy in most cases. Anal retentive types could even plot intersecting curves of the two cost lines and state with certainty when research should cease, though this degree of diligence is another form of obsessive research.
Yet just sketching the competing numbers on a whiteboard quickly tells you how much more you can afford to research before research become a problem. Take that point and then slice another 15% off the research side because the risk side is always bigger than you think if for no other reason than the great idea you have has likely been conceived by someone else.
The marketing lesson is that you have to stop researching sometime. You must do enough research to prevent disaster, but you have to stop in order to prevent disaster. Knowing where to stop and then having the guts to say “This is what we will ship” is from where leadership comes.