Don’t Ask

Don’t talk to your customers and prospects.

Well, actually you should. But occasionally you will need someone else to talk to them on your behalf. Being very close to your product, your early adopters and your own hype, your company will be incapable of hearing everything people say. In this political season we see the usual raft of riffraff running for office (who did you just picture in your mind?). Largely preprogrammed in our beliefs, what a candidate says and what we hear are completely different things. Founders, marketing executives and especially sales people perform the same filtering based on their perceptions and experiences.

If you don’t believe you do the same filtering, ask why you envisioned a particular candidate when you encounter the word ‘riffraff.’

This is where outsourcing qualitative research enters your strategy. Qualitative research is geared toward discovery, learning what people think and why. It concerns itself not with numbers but issues. It uncovers motivations, preferences and language used by your prospects. In short, qualitative research documents what makes them a candidate for a product and what will move them toward a sale.

Which is why you should avoid doing qualitative research … yourself.

Long ago I worked with a sales team that was manically focused on one aspect of their sales outreach. When I asked why this was their nearly singular focus, they presented me with ample cloud palace thinking where various sales people had been repeating the same lie to one another for years. Before I organized formal qualitative analysis for this company, I chatted with a few lost sales prospects and my lack of biasing filters showed the reasons for lost sales did not match what was in my client’s win/loss records. Yet the sales staff was absolutely convinced that they understood customer motivations.

One of the best tools for qualitative research is the “deep interview” process. Trained interviewers conduct lightly guided discussions with target people. The discussion outline is designed to pry open interviewee minds to extract everything they think and feel within a not too narrow topic. What makes deep interviewing a specialty process is the interviewer’s training in listening for several flags and detouring the discussion. These flags include:

Nuance: Often interviewees will state something with qualifications, terms or emphasis. This flag indicates that the interviewee has a specific perspective, which typically is a manifestation of a specific motivation.

Unexpected direction: Interviewees often lead discussions away from the core topic, which indicates a deep motivation. The problem is interviewees often don’t know what their own motivation is or how to express it, which is a skill interviewers have.

Passion: When an interviewee demonstrates passion (anger, love, resentment, joy, etc.) this is a key indicator of a very important aspect of customer desires, and thus important to marketing.

Trained interviewers recognize these moments and have skills to temporarily divert discussions and gather the underlying “why” behind nuance, unexpected and passion. The “why” is perhaps more important than the “what” and is where training again comes into play. Your sales team, your tech support engineers, your CEO and even your marketing executive will not recognize nuance, unexpected and passion. Even if confronted with any of the three, they lack the specific skills to properly explore them, to mine motivational nuggets and make them part of the market research mix.

Qualitative research proceeds quantitative. There is little use in surveying a thousand prospects if you ask them the wrong questions. Qualitative research – and especially deep interviews – helps you to know what to measure and through measurement set your product management priorities and market outreach communications.


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