Bad Research is Dead Weight to Your Strategy

By Erica Olsen

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Bad Research is Dead Weight to Your Strategy

All great strategy is created from well-informed, synthesized customer and market data. It simply isn’t a strategy if it doesn’t have data to back it up. But, basing your strategy on bad research can be just as detrimental (if not more) than building your plan on no research at all.

Bad research you say? How can research be bad?

We firmly believe that all customer research isn’t created the same. As practitioners, we often see high profile organizations stumble and fall while collecting customer insights. Their “tell-me-all” approach to customer insights leaves them with a stack of information about their consumers that both is difficult to analyze and isn’t necessarily meaningful to your organization’s plan.

The plethora of data may seem valuable, but the true value of customer insights is giving you specific data on how your business strategy can positively impact and serve your customers. So, instead of launching an all-encompassing 50-question customer survey, consider following these steps:

1. Align your research intent around high-level business strategy.

When it comes to performing customer research, start with the end in mind.

While you might not have created your entire plan, you probably have some insight into what you need to learn from or about your customers to build an effective, holistic strategy. Be narrow and focused about what you want to learn from you customer research; opt for brevity and specifics over broadness and generalization.

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Being specific and clear about what you’re trying to learn and how it informs your business makes customer insight and data easier to process and act on during strategy creation and execution.

2. Pose specific questions.

While it’s easy to get caught up trying to identify customer demographics, you should ask yourself if it’s the most important information you can learn from the mouth of your customer. Should you be able to find that information elsewhere, seriously consider axing basic demographic questions.

In your customer surveys or interviews, don’t dance around what you’re trying to learn. Be clear and intentional with the questions you ask. Clear questions will give you the specific answers you need to develop a clear, informed, and actionable strategy. If you don’t know how exactly you’re going to use a question’s answer to develop your plan, don’t ask the question.

3. Don’t just regurgitate the data. Make it tell a story.

After you’ve collected your data and insights, resist the urge to simply regurgitate the findings into a report. Instead, truly look at and analyze the information. Think about how responses to different questions influence each other. Look for relationships, trends, and though-provoking responses.

Your organization’s ability to act on this research wholly depends on your ability to look between the lines of the spreadsheet and find the takeaways from your customer’s voice. Looking at responses from a 30,000 ft level is important, but mining the granular responses and inferences will give you the research nuggets you need to strike strategy gold.

Above all else, it’s vital to make your customer research inform your organization to act. As you enter each customer research exercise, the most valuable action you can take as a leader is to be clear, direct, and intentional in the manner in which you create, execute, and analyze your customer data. Your strategy quite literally relies on it.



Erica Olsen

Erica Olsen is the COO and a co-founder of OnStrategy. She has developed the format and the user interface for the award-winning OnStrategy on-line strategic management system. In addition, she is the author of Strategic Planning Kit for Dummies, 2nd Edition. Erica has developed and reviewed hundreds of strategic plans for public and private entities across the country and around the world. She is a lecturer at University of Nevada Reno and University of Phoenix. She holds a BA in Communications and an MBA in International Management.

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