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Market Research – How To Try Something New Without Getting Fired

Market research is going through a radical transformation from analog to social, mobile and data analytics.  If you’re a researcher and you’re not riding this wave like you’re the Laird Hamilton (that’s him in the picture) of customer insights, you are missing out on some of the most amazing opportunities of your entire career: opportunities to pioneer the use of new tools and methods that are destined to be the future of the profession, to learn things about consumers that were previously unknowable, to move faster than ever before, and to improve business performance with insights that get jaw-dropping, OMG, how did you figure that out???!!!! reactions.

But…change is hard.  At ThirdSlice, we understand that, because our focus is entirely on helping clients embrace new approaches to customer insights that they haven’t used before.  Toward that end, we wanted to take a step back this week and share with you some big picture thoughts – not about best practices in customer insights or an innovative project we just completed – but about how to successfully try something new at work…without getting fired.  So here are our tips on how to be a pioneer, one step at a time, after helping many customer insights professionals bridge from the old way of doing things to the new.

1. Be Intentional and Specific About Why – When you decide to try something new, such as a research tool or method, know exactly why you are doing it.  You should be able to articulate a number of specific, real business benefits that will result from your efforts, which usually fall into one of three buckets: better insights, faster insights, or cheaper insights.  Avoid trying new tools are methods because they sound cool (Caution: research-tech marketers are very good at creating “cool”).  Worst of all, avoid trying something new just because others are doing it.  

2. Actively Prepare for The Many Naysayers – Expect many people you talk to about your new approach or research methodology to be opposed to it, and have a long list of reasons about why it’s a bad idea.  Resistance to change is part of human nature and you can’t do anything about that.  What you can do is listen politely to their concerns and be prepared with a set of well-articulated answer that explains what you’re up to and why.  Listen attentively, stick to your reasons, say them with confidence and know full well that you are very unlikely to change their minds.  Most of all, do not let them deter you.

3. Work With Someone Else If You Can – Not every new research initiative can justify having two people working on it, but it’s great if yours can.  The benefit may be partly related to sharing the workload, but more importantly, you’ll be able to support and encourage each other in the face of the challenges you are likely to encounter, particularly from the naysayers mentioned above.

4. Identify And Mitigate the Risks – It’s just a fact that when you try something new – whether its related to market research, your golf swing, or space travel –  the risks of things going wrong increase.  What separates successful pioneers from the rest of the herd is that they focus relentlessly on identifying the risks in advance, and putting plans in place to mitigate, reduce, or even eliminate them altogether.  If you think through what could go wrong, you’ll solve most problems before they happen and be well prepared for the those that do arise.

5. Prepare to Invest Some Extra Time – Some parts of your job you can crank through in your sleep.  But that’s not the case with a new approach to customer insights.  In fact, a common recipe for failure is not dedicating a little extra time to a new initiative to ensure its successful.  New research initiatives do not run on autopilot. If you are the champion, be prepared to personally and carefully oversee the project yourself.  And if the learning curve is steep, allocate even a little more time.  Plan for this by ensuring that you’ve temporarily offloaded some part of what you normally do to have the time you’ll need to give your new initiative the care and feeding it deserves.  As the learning curve flattens, you can reclaim what you back-burnered or gave up.  If you’ve chosen the right new tool or method, you might even find yourself with some extra time on your hands.  (Really?!!! Yes!)

6. Define and Plan For Success – Before you get started, define what success will look like.  Be as specific as possible.  And ensure that others who are stakeholders in your new approach agree with your definition.  Also, get agreement up-front that if you’re successful, your success will be advertised and celebrated.  Not because you want the recognition, but because others will see that success is possible, that new things are worth trying, and that they too could be part of new initiatives that will drive your business forward.

7. Prepare for The Unlikely Event of Failure – Despite all of the best laid plans, risk assessments, and mitigation efforts, new research initiatives sometimes bomb.  Before you get started, consider what failure looks like and what it would mean for you and whoever else is involved in what you’re doing.  Try to roughly determine what you think the risk of failure is (it’s usually much lower than you think), and get all the right people bought into the both the likelihood and implications of this happening.  Ensure your boss and others in positions of authority understand that failure is possible. Most importantly, get them to agree that you will be celebrated for trying, not punished for failing.  There is no better way to kill progress and create a stagnant culture than for leaders (and colleagues) to punish those who try to innovate when they fail.  Finally, if you do fail, conduct a post-mortem to determine what went wrong and what you’ve learned, and share your learnings broadly.

8. Do It Again – Experimentation is not a one-time event.  It’s a way of conducting business, and perhaps more importantly, a way of life.  There has never been a more exciting time to be a customer insights professional.  With so many new tools and methods out there calling your name (and quite literally, your phone), the time for trying new things is now.  Using the framework laid out above, you can safely experiment with a wide variety of new approaches to customer insights, becoming a hero to your clients and colleagues and re-energizing your career.  Don’t run screaming from the wave.  RIDE IT!

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