Editor’s Intro: Someone told me years ago that the main difference between market researchers and consultants is that researchers sell standardized products while consultants sell standardized processes. With that in mind, Tim Brightwell gives a solid overview of a process by which companies can, confidently and successfully, deploy new technology platforms for market research. There are lessons here for implementing any significant new market research innovation.
We are lucky to work in an industry that celebrates innovation, change and disruption. Global and regional conferences include forward-thinking speaking tracks on new technologies and methods, thought leaders share ways to move us into the future in industry publications and people get excited about advances that are poised to transform the way we work. Unfortunately, our industry has also historically been very slow to adopt and actually use these innovations.
Some of the most talked-about fields that promise to revolutionize our space in recent months include artificial intelligence (and its subset, machine learning) and automation. The possibilities that these technologies open up are profound: from providing massive time and cost savings all the way to shifting the skill set needed for people entering and working in the market research field.
Yet, implementation and real-world use of these technologies remains low. Not because researchers and their clients don’t want the benefits that things like automation provide, but more because of an overall resistance to change for a wide variety of reasons. You might hear things like: “Budgets are tight, we don’t want to spend our allotted funds on something we aren’t sure will work.” OR “Personally, I’m excited to try this, but my boss or other stakeholders in the company want it done as it always has been.” OR “I’m waiting for these new technologies to mature and then I’ll reevaluate.” In short, there is a great amount of fear about a possible misstep by moving outside of the comfort zone that the status quo provides.
These concerns are understandable. There are risks if new technology fails to deliver on its promises, both in terms of company investment and personal career. I maintain that to predict the future is to create it, and this same mindset has been the motivation behind some early adoption of these new technologies. One of the best ways to approach this challenge is to create a process that relies on stepping stones, so concerns can be alleviated and results demonstrated all through the implantation path. Some of these steps include:
- Identify the pain points. Before you can even start the process, you have to get a foot in the door. Knowing the daily struggles with which your target audience grapple and exactly how smart use of technology can alleviate those struggles is vital. When you can clearly correlate the use of specific technology functions with solving those pain points, you are one step closer to implementation.
- Get the right people in the room. Lead into every project by making sure the right people are involved from day one – from product demos to planning meetings. Be honest about who needs to be in the room: this includes decision makers and gatekeepers within an organization who can make a project fly or die. Understanding the internal audience and their needs and expectations are key to all parties in getting to helping a company make the leap to adopting new technologies.
- Ask the right questions up front. The key to success is to understand what the end goals are from any kind of change, why the change is important and how success from the change will be measured (I suggest specific KPIs/metrics be set ahead of time). This will help align efforts from across internal stakeholders and ensure that you can measure and communicate activity and the impact of that activity. If you can show the real impact that technology adoption will have on pre-determined metrics, then you are a huge step closer to moving the needle ahead.
- Find the right partners. Choosing a new technology solution is one thing, but how it is implemented is another. A good technology partner should work with clients, asking many of the same questions I suggest above, and then press home on any points of weakness. Specificity of scope from the beginning will help both the technology company and client a roadmap that outlines requirements and deadlines throughout the delivery process. Alignment on terms of implementation, approach, attitude and goals – as well as openness and honesty about concerns – can help avoid complications during the project.
- Adopt a staged approach. No matter how flashy and beautiful a new technological innovation may be, resistance can be expected. We recently had a situation where a client thought the new technology looked perfect, but still wanted us to export to the familiar PowerPoint format. Once they had this in hand, they felt comfortable enough to take a step forward and implement piece of the new technology. They just needed the reassurance that they wouldn’t be losing any comfort or predictability along the way.
- Access the right training. Adoption of new systems is hard, no matter the industry. The best results from new technology implementation occur when providers support their technology with in-office training sessions and appropriate customer support. This is key to adoption within the wider company, and ensuring that desired outcomes are achieved. The way to make any technology shine is to make sure it is making the lives of those using it easier – and this starts with training.
Demonstrating the power of a new technology, while often impressive, is not always enough to put it into practice. There are several other steps along the way that can help companies ease into adoption, centering around over-communication and thinking ahead. Let’s start creating the future for the insights industry!