A Real Life Market Research Plan: How You KNOW That You Gotta Have One

Over the last few articles, I’ve been breaking out and digging deep into the benefits of writing a market research plan and how to write one.  Today, I’m going to start a multi-part series of a real life market research plan scenario — you could call it a case study, so that you can see how I use it with one of my clients. decision-making-processes1

It’s not easy being a manufacturer in a teeny-tiny niche

I don’t know how I got so lucky (I’m being facetious here), but I’ve always worked with manufacturers who make products you’ve never heard of, but use all the time.  This time is no different.  My client is a manufacturer that makes widgets that are sold into the oil and gas, instrumentation and chemical industries.

They sell their products through distributors who often carry multiple lines of product.  And that means that in addition to competing with other manufacturers who make the same stuff – they also have to compete inside the distributing organization to have their lines pushed or sold over other competing lines.

Their strategy for growth is to engage with their top distributors and help them grow their business (the distributor’s business) by making their products and services easier to sell and service.

To accomplish this, they decided to create a “panel” of distributors and engage them with a series of surveys that will provide feedback and help the manufacturer focus their efforts on what will help their distributors be more successful.

Setting objectives – start general and get specific

Our strategy was “to be easy to work with,” but that is not an objective.  We had lots of iterations and discussions around what it meant to “be easy to work with” among the management team, the sales people and our distributors.  But these conversations were very disjointed and were living in a million different emails.  This was not efficient.

That’s when we decided to tell our distributors about our commitment to be easy to work with — and that we were going to start putting some communication channels in place to accomplish that.

Our idea was to create a community of distributors, engage them in conversation to uncover what “easy to work with” meant to them and their customers.  This was our social media exploratory research – we wanted to use that feedback to create some more specific objectives.

That’s when it got complicated — real fast

It was all super simple in the beginning.  We had decided that we were going to be easy to work with.  All we had to do know was figure out exactly what “easy to work with” looked like for our distributors and their customers.

This proved to be a lot more challenging than we thought.

We started by inviting everyone into a Ning Community.  Since our distributors and their customers weren’t really active on social media as part of their professional life, we needed to find a way to gather them all together into a single space where we can start conversations about what “easy to work with” looked like.

These efforts were mediocre at best.  It was hard to get people to join and even harder to engage with them.  As marketers, we all know that you have to manage communities and have daily conversations and when making stuff is the heart of your business – instead of marketing stuff — well, it’s just one more thing you have to do and it just doesn’t get done very well.

We needed data

It wasn’t long before we decided that what we needed was data.  We had to set a baseline for what the current situation was for our distributors so that we can start taking actions and measuring our results.  The Ning Community didn’t make it easy to do that.

We decided to create an online panel using SurveyAnalytics’ Panel feature.  This was definitely going to give us the data that we needed but it had to be collected a certain way — and this is where creating a market research plan became a critical item on our to-do list.

Why an online panel MUST have a research plan

There is such a thing as too much information — and irrelevant information at that.  So the online survey panel was definitely a step in the right direction.  One of the reasons we decided on using an online research panel was that this methodology would allow us to do the following:

  • Profile our distributors:  One of the features of an online panel is the ability to profile your participants.  That means that once they profile themselves — you can segment and filter your data based on the profiles you have and that frees you up to have shorter surveys and filter your data better.
  • Run shorter surveys:  Our distributors WILL NOT answer more than three questions for any survey.  And since we already have them profiled, we don’t have to ask them profiling questions over and over again – we just ask them those questions that are relevant to the survey.
  • Mobile surveys: Another thing we knew about our distributors is that they used mobile devices – and this allowed us to send surveys using SurveyAnalytics special mobile platform for panels.  In a lot of ways it runs like Foursquare – where you get notices that there is a supershort survey to answer and you can answer it via your mobile device in less than 30 seconds.

As you can see — between the Ning community and the short surveys we run via the panel — it’s critical to have a market research plan.  Because we aren’t asking 20 questions, because our audience is mobile, because we have this Ning community where they are having conversations — there HAS to be a plan, a map of what we are asking and what channel is the best place to start that conversation.

In the next article, I will tell you how we recruited people into the communities and how we moved them into the surey panel.