Product Management Rule #8: Market Research Must Be Actionable

42 Rules of Product Management

Product Management Rule #8 from the best-selling book, 42 Rules of Product Management, was written by Luke Hohman, Founder and CEO, The Innovation Games® Company

Good market research answers one or more questions that help you understand your customers . . . in such a way that you can take confident action towards your goals.

The plethora of market research methods, and the consultants and market research firms that promote their favorite method, makes it far too easy for product management and marketing professionals to lose sight of the single most important goal in good market research: good market research is actionable.

Good market research answers one or more questions that help you understand your customers, your competitive marketplace, your competitors, and even yourself in such a way that you can take confident action towards your goals.

Ultimately, effective market research is:

  • Systematic—planned, well-organized, with a goal
    and a method
  • Objective—minimal researcher or method bias
  • Focused —on specific questions
  • Actionable—the results obtained enable you to
    take action

The first letter from each of these words forms the acronym SOFA, and, like a comfortable sofa, effective market research provides a comfortable position for taking action.

Also realize you don’t need a big budget to conduct market research.

In fact, you don’t need a lot of things to do great market research. You don’t need:

  • a big budget
  • a marketing degree from a prestigious university
  • a degree in statistics
  • the perfect respondent

Oh, sure, these things can help, and, yes, of course, in certain specialized circumstances, they may be required. But for the vast majority of product managers and product marketing professionals, you don’t need a lot of what people think you need to do great market research.

What you do need to conduct great market research is:

  • a commitment to understanding your customers
  • the willingness to accept results that do not match your preconceived ideas
  • specific questions, a method appropriate to getting the answers, and the readiness to act

Whoa. That’s a pretty small list. Too small for your taste? You are welcome to add some of your own requirements as to what you think you need. But be careful: Requirements are like chili powder. A little goes a long way, and too much spoils the pot.

So stop stressing about whether or not you should be starting with primary market research or secondary market research. Stop thinking that the only way to make your case is through statistical significance. And stop selecting your method based on the tools you know, the tools your boss likes, or the software licenses your company has signed with a market research vendor.

Start instead by getting on the SOFA of market research. Ask yourself: What are my questions? What will I do with the answers? Once you’re clear, or at least as clear as you can get, find the market research approach that will help you get the answers. If that requires a statistically significant, multi-month, ask-my-boss-for-more-budget conjoint analysis, then by all means make your case for more budget. If it means using collaborative play such as Innovation Games® with your customers, then do that. And if it means something else entirely, well, that’s just fine too.  The important thing is to start actually listening to your customers (in any of the many wonderful ways you can).

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