The ROI of Primary Research

Mar 27, 2009

Coming up on the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, I am happy to report that I’m in first place in my pool of 35 basketball fanatics. I won two years ago and I’m looking to repeat the performance. The funny thing is that I don’t even follow the sport. My personal secret is my professional weapon: pre-project research.

Research is an oft-forgotten yet essential business tool and can save money, time, and resources. While the cost of entry for my basketball pool was only $25, the stakes are significantly higher when assessing the costs to launch a new branding campaign, career site, or national recruitment program. Small mistakes can create long-term headaches like high turnover, poor performance, or dropped conversion rates.

So before the next round of hoops begins, lets take a moment to look at some of the different kinds of research there are, and when it makes the most sense to launch yours.

There are three kinds of research.

Secondary. Secondary research already exists, and is therefore the least useful in helping you, since every project in unique. Your company, your culture, and your objectives are different from everyone else’s on your buddy list, so you can’t expect to have the same outcomes from similar projects that you launch. (Secondary research did however, account for my early success in the basketball pool.)

Quantitative. Quantitative research is often used as an independent survey tool, but it is most effective when used to validate the findings of your qualitative study. Think quantity, think survey, think slice and dice statistics. It’s much more objective since when the questions are crafted correctly, the answers are unbiased. The costs of running quantitative research surveys have come down considerably through online tools like SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang. The trick is getting the right analysis from the data. Make sure that you get a fair-size sample pool across geography and skill sets, if applicable to your project.

Qualitative: Qualitative research should be both the beginning of your discovery process as well as the launching platform for any next research steps. Bring in a small sampling of the “right” types of people and do a focus group, in-depth interview, or telephone campaign. The questions are open-ended and the answers are subjective. A trained moderator will probe to explore the deeper perceptions, opinions, and feelings about your topic. Think quality, ideas, and individual interpretation.

The costs of launching qualitative research vary, but expect a price tag of $3,000 to $5,000 per group, depending on the circumstances, and don’t make the mistake of going cheap and doing it yourself. You’ll be biased and won’t get good data from the effort.

Qualitative research using employees can help define: Internal culture; employer brand and value propositions; alignment of executive strategy with general population; and the strengths/weaknesses of your recruiting campaign among target populations.

Launching internal research using your own employees? It shouldn’t take more than two hours at the max. Get a skilled facilitator and have it off-site. The more people can rely on anonymity, the closer you’ll get to the truth.

Offer an incentive. These can range anywhere from a really nice catered lunch or dinner to $100 gift cards depending on the circumstances. If you’re doing a group with commissioned salespeople, consider that they might be losing revenue from possible missed sales.

Have a well thought-out discussion guide, but allow for the flexibility to go “off-road.” I’ve been involved in situations where from the moment the first group begins, I know I’m in for a bumpy ride. Whether there was a disconnect between assumption and reality or a significant event that shaped the course of the conversation, don’t worry if a group goes somewhere unexpected. Often that’s the precise outcome we’re hoping for because it demonstrates engagement of the attendees.

As in the adage “if it can’t be measured it can’t be managed,” research is the fundamental starting point of any new effort. For a cost of less than $20,000 and a window of 90 days, you’ll reap the benefits from new insights or a confirmation of gut instincts that ensures the successful outcome of your project.

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