What If You Created Strategy Before You Conducted Market Research?
It sounds crazy, right? Everyone knows that market research should feed your strategy.
It’s true that when it comes to strategic plans, insights from research are crucial. It’s either garbage in (e.g., no insights), garbage out (non-insightful plan) — or quality in (e.g., great insights), quality out.
But many times, it makes sense for B2B marketers to construct the better part of their plan before they decide on market research. Read on to see if and when this applies to you.
10 Situations Where Strategy Before Research Makes Sense
In many B2B planning situations, gaps in market knowledge far exceed the available funds for research. Yes, often the most critical research need is to better understand customer needs. But what if, like many B2Bs, you aren’t sure which customer(s)/stakeholder(s) are the most important decision-makers?
In fact, there are many research gaps that B2Bs define as more critical than understanding customer needs — especially if they have other acceptable means of gathering customer insights like surveys, the salesforce, customer advisory boards, etc.
In addition to the decision-maker question above, here are 9 more research gaps that you might deem as important or more important than gaining customer needs insights:
- Which trends are/will affect your target market the most?
- What are the different segments of the market and which ones should we target?
- What are the characteristics of customers that predict their profitability?
- What types of solutions and competitors do clients utilize to solve the problem your products address?
- What are customers’ perceptions of your company and its products, and what do they think of your direct and indirect competitor’s offerings?
- How do customers define an “entire solution” in your category, and do they want to get everything from one supplier?
- What do customers think about a new product or service offering that you’ve already created?
- What do competitors charge, do customers think it’s fair, and how do they feel about your pricing?
- How do customers research the problem your product solves, and where do they get stuck?
How To Use Strategy to Direct Your Research
So what happens if you think that many of these questions are potentially more important than customer needs research? You still have the problem that your research budget won’t cover your wish list from the questions above.
The solution comes from building a draft strategy and applying a tool we call “What We Wish We Knew” or “Wish We Knew” (WWK) for short. Here’s how it works.
You hypothesize all of the key parts of your strategic plan — analyzing the situation, examining your options, choosing your strategic approach, creating execution plans, etc. — leveraging the resources, knowledge, and experience available to you and your team right now. Then, after each part of your plan is completed, you highlight the questions you and your team still have. You capture these “what we wish we knew’s” on a WWK template.
The template should have a column for you to capture the ways that you might gain further insight into the WWK item. Many times, internal resources and secondary research can inexpensively help you fill the gap.
But the most important column on the WWWWK template should be left blank until the end. This is where you rank each unknown item in terms of its criticality to your plan and market success. Which plan inputs do you have the least amount of confidence in?
These items are most worthy of resolving, using any available research time and budget. Now you can be sure that your research resources are focused on your most critical insight gaps.
Why Does This Approach Work? Because It Is LEAN!
By now, hopefully, you are beginning to see why setting strategy before research makes a lot of sense. We are not talking about a fully-baked, immovable, and unchangeable strategy.
We are describing a strategy hypothesis as a means to identifying your own unique set of “unknowns” so you can prioritize and maximize your research budget.
Think about the concepts like LEAN and Agile that most companies are wisely encouraging. Lean marketingis a process that builds in time for frequent evaluations and iterations, so you can adapt and tweak your marketing strategy as you get feedback, as the market changes, and as your competitors unleash their strategies.
That’s exactly what we are advocating here, for the additional purpose of identifying your most critical market research needs. Have you heard of the LEAN concept called the Minimum Viable Product (MVP)? When it comes to research prioritization, think about the concept of the Minimum Viable Plan (“MVPlan”)
Many B2Bs with no research budget at all still find great value in an “MVPlan”. If they look beyond their lack of funds, they can use the WWK process to find low/no-cost ways to at least approximate the insight gaps in their plan.
In almost all cases, companies that create a strategy hypothesis first maximize their available research funds and maximize the effectiveness of their plans. What at first sounded like a bad idea — creating strategy before conducting research — is now the way they do it every year.