CONVERSATIONS                           WITH PURPOSE                   Improving decisions                           with ...
INTERVIEW RESEARCHTHIS WHITE PAPER IS BASED ON THE   THE VALUE OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCHTHOUSANDS OF QUALITATIVE INTER-VIEWS...
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OFINTERVIEW RESEARCH?Qualitative interview research provides a level       Interview research can be...
INTERVIEWS VS. FOCUS           GROUPS                          There are many ways to acquire qualitative data:           ...
WHEN SHOULD YOU DOINTERVIEW RESEARCH?Qualitative versus quantitative research is        2. It is not practical or affordab...
WHEN SHOULD YOU DO                        INTERVIEW RESEARCH?3. You are not ready to write a survey              4. Survey...
HOW IS INTERVIEW RESEARCHCONDUCTED?A successful interview research program includes:                                      ...
SHOULD YOU USE A THIRD                         PARTY OR DO IT YOURSELF?For some purposes, a company or organiza-          ...
CONCLUSIONONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL     The ability to get closer to customers, users, and                             memb...
WANT MORE INFO?Sign up to receive regular email updates at www.themezzaninegroup.com/newsletter.php or for our blog RSS fe...
ABOUT THE MEZZANINE GROUP         The Mezzanine Group is a Toronto-based Business to Business         strategy and marketi...
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Improving Decisions With The Power Of Interview Research July 2012

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Interview research remains one of the most important – and often underutilized – ways for B2B companies and organizations to generate irreplaceable insights to guide critical decisions. A deep understanding of what customers, buyers, users, members, competitors, suppliers, influencers, and other decision-makers think can drive strategy, refine tactics, and improve overall performance. Even in the age of Big Data, qualitative interview research should remain an integral part of any research program.

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Improving Decisions With The Power Of Interview Research July 2012

  1. 1. CONVERSATIONS WITH PURPOSE Improving decisions with the power of interview researchInterview research remains one of the most important – and often underuti-lized – ways for B2B companies and organizations to generate irreplace-able insights to guide critical decisions. A deep understanding of what cus-tomers, buyers, users, members, competitors, suppliers, influencers, andother decision-makers think can drive strategy, refine tactics, and improveoverall performance. Even in the age of Big Data, qualitative interview re-search should remain an integral part of any research program.Copyright © 2012 The Mezzanine Group. All rights reserved.
  2. 2. INTERVIEW RESEARCHTHIS WHITE PAPER IS BASED ON THE THE VALUE OF QUALITATIVE RESEARCHTHOUSANDS OF QUALITATIVE INTER-VIEWS WE HAVE CONDUCTED OVER Over the past decade quantitative data has become much more readily available for business decision mak-MORE THAN A DECADE ON BEHALF ing, especially in marketing. Our increased capacity toOF SMALL, MID-SIZE, AND FORTUNE measure, track, and survey our operations and custom-500 B2B COMPANIES, AS WELL AS ers has boosted our ability to gain transparency on ourPROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS. IT businesses. But its rise in popularity and prevalenceWILL BE OF INTEREST TO ANYONE masks one disadvantage; a corresponding decline inWHO SEEKS TO UNDERSTAND HOW use and appreciation of qualitative research.THEY CAN ENHANCE THEIR STRAT-EGY, SALES, MARKETING, CUSTOMER This represents a concern. As we move beyond the ageSERVICE, OPERATIONS AND OVER- of information and into the what Forrester Research calls the age of the customer, the value of qualitativeALL BUSINESS OR ORGANIZATIONAL research is actually growing in importance. QualitativeSUCCESS BY USING INTERVIEWS AS research has the ability to guide, illuminate, augmentA RESEARCH TOOL. and explain quantitative data. Our clients, across all industries and sectors, find that qualitative interview research provides a level of rich- ness and depth that can yield an unparalleled under- standing of their target markets. In a B2B context in par- ticular, where buying decisions are typically complex, qualitative research can provide invaluable insights into decision-making that can’t be captured in a simple sur- vey – not just the ‘what’ of buying behaviour, but the ‘why.’ And, sometimes, quantitative data simply isn’t accessible in a meaningful way in a given industry or specialization, while qualitative data is much easier to obtain. The Mezzanine Group 02
  3. 3. WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OFINTERVIEW RESEARCH?Qualitative interview research provides a level Interview research can be used very effectively forof nuance and richness and can provide an- a number of different purposes:swers to questions that secondary research oreven a survey can’t. Interviews take you inside 1. Market landscape – to uncover the subtleties ofthe minds of prospects and customers, to un- relationships and trends in the industry.derstand how and why they make the decisions 2. Competitive intelligence – to understand thethey do. Interviews give you the opportunity for a range of positions in the market, and how effec-dialogue that allows a much greater opportunity tive they are.to probe deeper into interesting facets of cus- 3. Go-to-market-approach – to evaluate potentialtomer behaviour and perception. go-to-market strategies and their reception in the marketplace.For example, finding out how often someonepurchases a given item is very different from un- 4. Buyer behaviour – to clarify why and how buy-derstanding how they purchased it or how en- ers make the decisions they do, and what influ-trenched or loyal to that product they may be. ences them.Survey data may indicate that customers are 5. Client satisfaction – can be used either to illu-very satisfied with a service and a company may minate or to prepare for quantitative research orbelieve that its customers are loyal as a result. for a more strategic review of client satisfaction.However, interviews may reveal that, despite 6. Member needs assessment – to probe theexpressed satisfaction, customers would leaveto a competitor because of small and unrealized affinity that members have with the organizationneeds that the company did not anticipate or un- as well as to gauge their satisfaction and identifyderstand. emerging needs. Can also be used to prepare for quantitative research.In our experience, the results of quantitative 7. Segmentation – to obtain a nuanced, client-research tend to tell a familiar story, often vali- centric perspective.dating internal hypotheses and accepted wis-dom – while still offering value in the precision 8. Feasibility study – to assess market interest inof the responses. However, qualitative research a particular product or service.among customers and potential customers arefilled with anecdotes and colour, delivering muchdeeper insights to behaviour and opportunities,and enabling more informed and higher qualitydecisions by leadership. The Mezzanine Group 03
  4. 4. INTERVIEWS VS. FOCUS GROUPS There are many ways to acquire qualitative data: one-on-one interviews, focus groups, observationalTHE MOST EFFECTIVE analysis, shadowing, and others. The most common-METHOD TO ACQUIRE ly used in market research are interviews and focusQUALITATIVE DATA IS THE groups. We find that one-on-one interviews are theONE-ON-ONE INTERVIEW most effective method for most situations. While fo- cus groups can sometimes be done successfully in a B2B setting, and may be practical when a group is already gathered together (such as at a conference), there are a number of challenges which directly affect their value, including: • Competition: Where interviewees see each other as competitors, there can be concerns about dis- closing information. Participants may also send out intentionally confusing signals, or may partici- pate more for the purpose of trying to learn some- thing from their competitors, calling results into question. This occurs less frequently in a more private situation like a one-on-one interview. • Logistics: In B2B research and for professional associations it can be quite challenging to secure even one-on-one interviews. Bringing together in- terviewees to a central location for a discussion is near-impossible in many fields, and extremely challenging and prohibitively expensive in others. • Heterogeneity: It is unusual to find a set of pure peers in B2B or professional association settings. For example, even among health care profession- als there is a clear hierarchy between physicians, nurses and technicians. Even among physicians, there are significant differences among different specialties, and between specialists and general practitioners. These differences in professional roles can cause reticence and differential levels of participation by individuals in a focus group. The Mezzanine Group 04
  5. 5. WHEN SHOULD YOU DOINTERVIEW RESEARCH?Qualitative versus quantitative research is 2. It is not practical or affordable to do surveyreally a false choice. In a robust market re- research, given the context or resourcessearch or member needs assessment pro- availablegram both methods are used regularly, and • Expertise is still required to design surveys thatare designed to work together in a comple- will elicit meaningful data. With the proliferationmentary way. However, there are a number of of free or low-cost online survey tools, it maysituations where quantitative research is not seem that there are few barriers to administer-optimal, and where qualitative research via ing surveys, but access to the technology doesinterviews becomes an irreplaceable tool: not equal capability. A poorly-designed survey1. Quantitative secondary research is not with imprecise or overlapping questions can available muddy the waters. Since there is a tendency to gravitate towards quantitative data, regard-In many B2B industries, adequate secondary less of how misleading or unclear the data mayresearch that would enable us to quantify the be, this can be especially dangerous in terms ofmarket or report on customer or competitive warping decision-making.trends is simply not available, at any price..This is particularly true where industries are: • It is not always practical to obtain a quality list for survey distribution, particularly an email list.• Highly specialized, niche, or small – data is The more scattered and diverse the target pop- not collected or reported at the appropriate ulation is, the harder it will be to get a survey to level of detail. a representative sample.• Operating in a fast-changing technological, • Obtaining and evaluating a sample can be very economic, or regulatory context — data difficult. Even if you put out a survey with a quickly becomes obsolete. significant incentive, the target market will not• Emerging, disruptive, or cross-disciplinary necessarily respond, despite best efforts. This — the category doesn’t exist yet, or the is especially true if you are asking a particular data may not be reported in a way that’s target market to comment on a topic or service applicable. that isn’t core to their business. If the goal is to• Geographically focused (in Canada or understand a small or fragmented market, sam- elsewhere) and struggling to apply US or ple issues for quantitative data become even global data to a specific market. more challenging and make the data difficult to interpret.In these cases, interview research can un-cover trends and even give a sense of marketsize. Note that secondary research should bean important component of any research pro-gram, to take full advantage of sources thatdo exist, however limited, and to contextualizeprimary research findings. The Mezzanine Group 05
  6. 6. WHEN SHOULD YOU DO INTERVIEW RESEARCH?3. You are not ready to write a survey 4. Survey research may not answer the questionIf little is known about the issues or the targetpopulation, it may be impossible to write an ef- While quantitative research has grown significantlyfective survey. Conducting interview research more sophisticated in recent years, it still has limi-beforehand will vastly improve the survey’s rel- tations that qualitative research can address. Anevance and accuracy. Interviews can help by: open question asked by a live person in the context of a conversation can elicit much richer information• Surfacing important topics to explore and than a closed survey question ever will. appropriate questions to ask. • If you want to identify trends and future devel-• Identifying terminology which will resonate opments in your industry, qualitative research with respondents. can be a much more effective – and faster• Generating potential answer options to pro- – way of uncovering the emerging ideas that vide on the survey. will affect your industry. People only rarely fill• Clarifying categories of respondents in a tar- in “Other: please specify” on a survey. But, if get population. asked an open question in an interview (such as “What are the trends you see in your indus- try?” or “What are your main challenges?”), they can provide a great deal of analysis which QUALITATIVE RESEARCH CAN may point to the future, and which likely would HELP IDENTIFY TRENDS AND not have been included in a survey. FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS IN • If you are exploring sensitive issues, dynamic YOUR INDUSTRY and adaptive interviews can be more effective in obtaining useful data than a survey which may just get abandoned or, worse, answered inaccurately. • If you want to understand a complex landscape with a number of interlinked players, qualitative research can give you a sense of the relation- ships and power dynamics between them. The Mezzanine Group 06
  7. 7. HOW IS INTERVIEW RESEARCHCONDUCTED?A successful interview research program includes: ANYONE CAN HAVE A CONVER-• Clear research objectives. SATION, BUT NOT EVERYONE• Well-thought-out methodology, including provi- CAN CONDUCT AN EFFECTIVE sions for confidentiality, medium of the inter- INTERVIEW. INTERVIEW RE- view, time, and so on. SEARCH FOLLOWS A SPECIFIC• Interviewees targeted for types of companies, PROCESS AND IS BEST DONE types of roles, and the ability to comment on BY SKILLED INTERVIEWERS specific subjects. WHO ARE ABLE TO DRAW OUT• Incentives for interviewees, based on an as- INFORMATION FROM INTER- sessment of their motivations. VIEWEES AND UNDERSTAND ALL THE NUANCES OF THEIR• An interview guide designed to meet the re- COMMENTS. search objectives while enabling the interview- er to build rapport and trust with the intervie- wee.• The identification and preparation of interview- ers, including a thorough briefing on the context of the project and the research objectives, as well as practice runs and observation.• Securing and conducting the interviews.• Monitoring and course correcting as required, to enable learning through the process and to ensure quality of results.• Performing systematic and rigorous analysis of the results, mapping back to the research ob- jectives but also reporting unexpected findings. The Mezzanine Group 07
  8. 8. SHOULD YOU USE A THIRD PARTY OR DO IT YOURSELF?For some purposes, a company or organiza- • Objectivity: To get the full value from a re-tion can conduct interviews itself, and gain use- search process, a fresh set of eyes is oftenful results. This is true particularly when there needed. An outsider can see patterns that in-is a very specific information objective desired, siders might miss, and insiders may shy awaythere is little perceived risk in having the com- from tricky findings that a competent and pro-pany reach out directly, and where confidential- fessional external research or firm should beity is not perceived to be important to the inter- comfortable addressing.viewees. Sometimes, as with client satisfaction • Capability: Designing, conducting, and ana-check-ins, there can be a relationship-building lyzing the results of interviews are specializedaspect to the company doing this kind of re- research skills that most companies and orga-search itself. nizations do not possess. Interviewers must be able to fully grasp the business context and the• Sponsor confidentiality: In order to ob- research objectives, adjust to the styles of the tain objective data on many topics (for in- interviewees, and adapt the interview ques- stance, brand perceptions or competitive tions to the responses received. Most compa- intelligence), it is critical for the sponsor of nies and organizations do not have these skills the research to be kept confidential, which in-house. is not possible if they are conducting the re- search themselves. This also avoids tipping • Network: An external firm may have a larger the sponsor’s hand to competitors. and more diverse network than the company or organization itself, as well as relationships with• Interviewee confidentiality: Only a third experts in various industries, which it can bring party can credibly state that confidentiality to bear on securing interviews. will be maintained. This encourages inter- viewees to be more forthcoming with genu- For more information on how to implement inter- ine impressions and opinions, and therefore view research successfully, see our companion the interview results can be taken more seri- White Paper titled “Conversations with purpose: ously. Maximizing the value of interview research,” which provides steps for successfully conducting interview research, and suggestions for avoiding common pitfalls. The Mezzanine Group 08
  9. 9. CONCLUSIONONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL The ability to get closer to customers, users, and members, understanding their emerging needs andTOOLS TO UNDERSTAND THE addressing challenges before they become intracta-B2B ENVIRONMENT REMAINS ble, will be critical to business success in the comingTHE ONE-ON-ONE INTERVIEW decade.WITH BUYERS, INFLUENCERS, Mastering the oceans of data that are now availableSTAKEHOLDERS, AND INDUSTRY in the business environment is part of this capability.EXPERTS. However, those who ignore qualitative methods of obtaining actionable insights will risk making deci- sions without seeing the full picture. The one-on-one interview – actually going and talking with the people whose decisions directly affect your business – is a unique and invaluable technique to include in any research program, to improve the quality of decision- making that results. The Mezzanine Group 09
  10. 10. WANT MORE INFO?Sign up to receive regular email updates at www.themezzaninegroup.com/newsletter.php or for our blog RSS feed at www.themezzaninegroup.com/blog/ The Mezzanine Group 10
  11. 11. ABOUT THE MEZZANINE GROUP The Mezzanine Group is a Toronto-based Business to Business strategy and marketing company. For more than ten years, we’ve helped executives in small and mid-sized companies, large enterprises and professional associations achieve growth through effective strategic plans and marketing implementation. We know growth - we were named one of the fastest growing companies in Canada for four years by PROFIT Magazine.The Mezzanine Groupwww.themezzaninegroup.com 416 598 4684info@themezzaninegroup.com

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