When I explain what product marketing is, I always separate it into three different tiers. The first tier is entirely research. Research on: market landscape, industry, competition, customers…you name it, we do it as product marketers. As Colm Lennon mentioned, it was paramount in turning his division at Honeywell around.

But sometimes, we get so bogged down (with deciding which questions to include on our surveys, digging into competitor features or losing hours on the phones with customers) that we don’t pause and think of what we’re trying to accomplish with the outcome of all this research.

So pause and ask yourself. What are you trying to accomplish?

From a product marketing perspective, research is all about decisions. Before you start diving into your research, the first thing that you should do is to define the business decisions that need to be made. Then, and only then, you can decide how you should approach and undertake your research. Business decisions should always be your North Star when it comes to research.

Besides saving you time by limiting the scope of your research, this approach is also an easy way for you to get in front of executive management and achieve consensus (on approach, scope and decisions) before the research begins. This saves everyone involved a lot of time and headache down the road. It also shields you from pesky requests for additional survey questions (or an expanded scope) by having predefined objectives in place.

Enough money for R or D cartoon

Conducting research in a large (or even small) organization can be challenging for product marketers. Due to the cross-functional nature of our role and the number of departments that we work with, it’s common to want to include everybody. Yet this can often sabotage our research efforts. I’ve had instances where I’ve tried to be more collaborative and open question submissions to everybody. Before I knew it, the resulting customer survey looked nothing like my original draft. We still got a lot of great data, but the process was little more painful and the data more difficult to digest.

A lot of companies will conduct research (customer, competitor, etc.) on an annual basis or some other fixed cadence. While this is great for consistency, it’s not always the best answer for the business. If you have business decisions that need to be made more frequently, don’t limit yourself to constrictive research calendars or fixed timeframes.

Right now, a lot of companies are switching to continuous research. As business needs or questions come up, they will survey or conduct research (instead of waiting for the next scheduled initiative). If Agile is a common practice in software development, why shouldn’t research initiatives be the same?

The trick is doing this in a smart way and, in the case of customer research, not giving your customers survey fatigue. Frankly, it’s also important to make sure that you’re not giving your own team survey fatigue. Aside from not scheduling too much research, the best way to do this is to make sure that your team has the proper tools to conduct research and data analysis. For those of you who have been blessed with Tableau and never have to use Excel to pivot tables again, you know what I mean. 🙂

Stay tuned for a research tool roundup post!

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