I just saw the results of yet another market survey that almost failed to ask what turned out to be the single most important question. Several people within the vendor’s company, each with decades of experience in the target market, reviewed the survey questions. One of the reviewers had recently worked in the buyer’s role. Each reviewer had been involved with the design of the product and knew every detail about the technology and the problems it could resolve.
So why was the most critical question not included in the original version of the survey? it related to a capability that was relatively unimportant to the internal stakeholders.
I have been worrying about this product launch. While the users were overwhelmingly positive about the pilot, we’d conducted phone interviews with several economic buyers and each had reported high levels of satisfaction with business-as-usual. It appeared we would have to either delay the launch or risk positioning against a problem that no one wanted to pay to resolve.
Then a relatively serendipitous review by an external industry expert produced a new question and market feedback that surprised everyone. This is only the second survey I’ve seen this year and in both cases the companies only barely added the most important question. They were about to launch a product without the key insight that would guide them to feature the capability buyers valued above all others.
I’m always concerned that we are overly dependent on industry experts whose internal role inevitably erodes their objectivity. Now I’m worried that easy web surveys may be the default step for market research. Surveys are great at confirming that the insights gained from a few buyer experts are pervasive. But because they can only provide answers to the questions their designers value, they can also be dangerous.
One of my client’s industry experts sat in on just three of the interviews we conducted with the target buyers. He was absolutely stunned by what he heard. Had those interviews not occurred, or had he opted out of those meetings to do something “more important” than listening to the buyers, the company’s targeting and messaging strategy for this launch would have failed.
It is often difficult for a company to adjust its strategy to conform to the market’s view. Inevitably a lot of stakeholder passion was poured into the original vision. Sometimes a market will evolve to value the developer’s perspective (in this case I suspect that’s highly likely). In the short term these companies should be comforted by the cash buyers will spend to solve their high priority problems.