7 Proven Tips to Deliver Actionable Market Research Insights

Every B2B research study aims to provide actionable results. Yet, enough market research initiatives fall short of this goal to spark conversations in product marketing forums about how to make their results actionable. Fortunately, there are proven approaches that increase the likelihood of collecting actionable insights from a survey, in-depth interviews, or other research.  Making research actionable starts with the upfront project definition and design, and extends through data analysis and interpretation. There is no silver-bullet or one-size-fits all playbook.  Some research projects need more effort in the early stages, while others require more emphasis in the final phase.  This article provides seven suggestions for more actionable research insights, based on Isurus’ two decades of experience in B2B market research.

A successful outcome starts with the planning stages of the research. If you don’t take the right steps during the research design phase, the results will not be actionable, regardless of what you do on the backend. Resist the temptation to start writing a series of survey questions. Instead, begin with the end in mind.

Identify the tactical decisions

Our single most important recommendation is to make a connection between the research (and each individual question) to the strategic and tactical decisions you need to make. Put another way, what decisions will the research results be inputs for? What hypotheses need to be validated? Avoid the let’s-see-what-we-find fishing expedition trap, or don’t waste much time on data that is nice-to-know, but doesn’t link to a specific action. If you start with a clear connection between each question and the decision it needs to inform, your results are already on their way to being actionable.  And give this process the time it requires. Sometimes, as Isurus helps clients build through these connections, it becomes evident that they need more time to define the tactical decisions.  An extra week or two invested in the upfront process yields more actionable results.

Involve but manage stakeholders

Keeping the research focused on a set of strategic and tactical decisions sometimes requires a tightrope walk with stakeholders. It is true that involving stakeholders early in the process can improve the research itself and cultivate buy-in from the teams that will be impacted by the results. However, this should not be applied blindly. The risk is the classic “too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the broth.” Once invited to participate in a research project, stakeholders naturally want to include their most pressing questions, which may not fully align with the decisions and actions the project is meant to inform. Based on our experience, many questions stakeholders raise fall into the curiosity category of “I’d like to know…”

We recommend a prescriptive approach with stakeholders. Be upfront and clear with stakeholders on why the research is being conducted, the inputs it will provide, and the decisions being made. And, just as important, articulate what the research is not intended to explore or provide. A practical approach is for the core project team to create an overall research plan and a draft of the materials before bringing in stakeholders. Doing so provides guardrails for stakeholders and helps identify the type of expertise they can provide. The project team’s questions for stakeholders are typically, “How do we make this better?” not, “What should we research.”

Identify the landmines

If possible, identify the potential hot buttons or areas of disagreement. For example, the internal champions for a new product will want the research to validate the product’s potential, but the strategy team only wants to bet on a clear winner. Or the sales team feels that price is the barrier to growth, while product marketing feels it is a segmentation issue. If you know which data will likely foster the most debate and questions, you can ensure you cover that topic adequately.

Be realistic

It is also important to keep the project team in check and align the research with what you can realistically act on. It may be interesting to know that a feature generates some interest, but if it is years down the roadmap, gathering data about it now has limited value. Likewise, avoid creating a sampling plan that includes multiple segments or buyer personas if your GTM strategy only has the resources to focus on a narrower set – unless, of course, the goal of the research is to identify new segments and markets.

Laying the right groundwork upfront puts the project in a good position to provide actionable insights. Still, the approach used to share and socialize the data is critical for translating results into actions.  In most organizations, teams and individual stakeholders vary in their ability to use data for decision-making, or how to synthesize multiple data points into a clear takeaway.  Effective research engagements support stakeholders to build understanding, confidence, and clarity around the research insights.

Roundtables not presentations

The first is to share research results in round table discussions rather than presentations, and to allot as much time for questions and discussion as for presenting the data. For your stakeholders to act, they must be comfortable with the data. They have to own it. Kicking the tires and looking under the hood helps with this process. It is also useful to defuse any landmines by acknowledging that the research is only one data stream that must be combined with the team’s experience, knowledge, and judgment. If stakeholders push back on the data, get to the root of things by asking: What is surprising? What would we have expected to see? What could explain the disconnect between the data and what we expected to see? What would it mean if the research data (not the team’s expected result) is correct?

Tailor findings for each functional team

Many research engagements include insights that touch on multiple functions. The research output from 3rd party partners or internal teams includes hundreds of data points and scores of slides, many of which will not be of interest to individual functional teams. Make the data more relevant (and more likely to be used) by creating summary reports/presentations for each functional area.

Start, Stop, Continue, Change

The two above approaches focus on socializing the data with stakeholders and functional teams. However, even after laying the right groundwork upfront, it can be challenging to identify the tactical actions to take based on the insights. When this is the case, the “Start, Stop, Continue, Change” framework can be a surprisingly effective approach. The framework breaks the next steps into four broad categories of questions.

  • Start: Based on this data, what are the things that we do not do today that we should start doing?
  • Stop: What are the things we are doing that are not paying dividends, or worse, are hurting us?
  • Continue: What are the things we do well and work well for us that we should continue and perhaps even double down on?
  • Change: Where are the areas that we are generally headed in the right direction but could use some course corrections?

When going through the exercise, it is helpful to use thematic elements from the SMART and GROW frameworks, specifically thinking in terms of being tactical, specific, time-bound, and something that has a realistic way forward.

If your research identifies a need for a seismic shift in your organization, check out Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model, developed by Harvard Business School professor John P. Kotter. The steps include:

1. Create a Sense of Urgency

2. Build a Guiding Coalition

3. Form a Strategic Vision and Initiatives

4. Enlist a Volunteer Army

5. Enable Action by Removing Barriers

6. Generate Short-Term Wins

7. Sustain Acceleration

8. Institute Change

The right partner for the need

These approaches can be applied for research conducted internally, or with an external partner. If you’re working with an external market research agency, use these tips to engage the right partner. For example, listen for whether the research firm has embedded processes to deliver actionable insights.  Gauge whether the research firm’s team takes the time to uncover your unique business challenges, objectives, and decision points, or do they fall back on a one-size-fits-all approach.  Taking a systematic approach underlies all of the recommendations above and runs through the frameworks Isurus uses for evaluating opportunities, understanding competition differentiation, and segmentation.