Today is the last day of my two month long summer internship programme I underwent at an industrial market research firm based in Pune as part of my two year Post graduation programme in management (in short, for my MBA). I learnt a lot here and have made some observations. I had tried to compile them here into some points as conclusively as possible so that may be a starter in this field may stumble upon in future and may require it. So what do you think are attributes of any effective market researcher. I am not going to dwell much on the objective defining stages or those. I am going to focus here on the approach towards data collection for the research project. This is from the mouth of an amateur, so kindly go easy on me.
- Understand the product under study so thoroughly that even the experts from the field where the product comes from starting doubting their own expertise. Unless you have understood the history of the development of the product to its current form and where is it headed you won’t be able to understand the problems that your respondents will try to tell you when you talk to them.
- Understand the various stakeholders (channel partners) in the market for the product. Understand each one’s function and importance. Also try to gauge what information can be retrieved from whom.
- Visit professional networking sites (I recommend LinkedIn which has been my personal favourite throughout my project) and search for people from relevant backgrounds from the various companies and make a list. Then go visit the various company websites and get their office contact numbers and start calling them. Generally we face the first hurdle here. Receptionists are the most irritable hurdles you will ever come across. I say most because they put up barriers where any aren’t needed. They will stall you without even understanding the nature of the business we called them for. They won’t transfer your call unless we name a specific person we want to talk to. So the list we made from LinkedIn will help us cross this hurdle over here. Though not all, but most do transfer the call to the concerned person.
- So here it is. You have reached the concerned person. This is it. Its show time, buddy. Be calm. The person on the other side is a human being too. Remember those telemarketing calls you used to get when you were in middle of a household argument with your spouse and suddenly your phone rings and they start bombarding you with their sales pitch. You went ballistic on them. Take a note from those times. Ask them first whether it’s a good time to talk to them now. You do not want to start this on wrong foot. If they are busy, make sure you get from them a suitable time when they can be called back.
- Ok. So they have given you the green signal to talk. Start with your introduction and spell out the objective of your study and ask them whether they are the right person who can guide you on this. Sometimes they aren’t. Don’t fret and neither do end the call. Ask them if they can direct us to the concerned person.
- When talking with the right person who has the knowledge you seek, engage into a discussion with him. And for that, your understanding will come to your aid. Remember it’s a telephonic conversation for him though it’s an interview for us. Focus on developing a relationship. When he feels comfortable talking to you, he will automatically share things.
- After your discussion is over, ask them for their permission to call back again if in future we will require any more assistance of his. (I assure you, you surely do require it). If possible get their extension numbers or cell phone numbers and email IDs.
- Understand that every call is unique. You will come across many unexpected situations. You should be able to think on your feet. Be considerate, think and respond to the situation accordingly. Also same approach will not always work. You will have to wear different hats. For example, say at one place you need to pose as a supplier for a valve (a sub part) used in throttle body (which is the product actually under study) so that the buyer of throttle body will share some details regarding throttle body and their requirements for that valve. In another case you may pose as a researcher who is writing a white paper on manufacturing practices in textile industry. Be creative. Approach each target interviewee as a challenge and revel in the experience.
- Being organised from the start will be really helpful. Note down any uncommon observations regarding each touch point you contacted immediately. Make an excel sheet of all relevant contacts, so when you are doing analysis of the research, if you need to clarify something, you can immediately reach the desired person and clarify the issues.
- In some research projects, calling only will not help. You may be required to do personal interviews on extensive field work. For that you will initially do have to call the concerned people and get the appointments fixed up.
- Before going on field, you need to prepare a proper questionnaire with all the relevant questions only. How do you assess your questionnaire to be appropriate? After coming back from field visit, when you enter the data into your research data base only to find that something or other is missing, you will come to know about the futility of the effort. But all is not lost. You can call back and get those remaining details (if you had focused on developing a relationship). But then improve on it before your next field trip.
- A good researcher also questions every data that the lead provides. He cannot and should not rely on data from one source in a target company. He needs to talk to two-three different people to validate the data he gathers. Also be updated about the
- After all the required data has been collected by telephonic calls or field visits, they are to be entered and analysed. Market research is as much about proper analysis and insights as much as it is about collecting the required data. Understand that generalisation should be made carefully only after understanding the issue at hand fully.
- Now it’s only human that while working on something, we tend to generalise and over simplify our work. So while researching, keep a constant check not to accidentally let individual perceptions and assumptions enter our analysis and take our research in a wrong direction. It requires considerable effort and conscious working. Eventually it pays off in form of a quality report from a quality research.
The above is not a rigid structure or step by step instruction guide to follow. Many of the steps can be customised to suit individual tastes and projects. Anyways what I eventually realised was this.
Patience, perseverance, creativity and active initiative taking are some of the ingredients that make up an effective market researcher.