My regular workout buddy is an outsourced marketing consultant. As we sweat it out in the cardio area we yak it up about many things. A frequent topic is the desire of her small business and start-up clients to get some kind of marketing research insights on essentially no budget.
Recently, she was telling me about a start-up who wants to get 30 interviews done across North America with various types of business owners, and has a budget of $5K for the whole thing. As you can imagine, a range of expressions crossed my face when asked for advice on how to do this!
It's a common problem, and I'm not unsympathetic. In fact, I keep thinking about putting out some kind of e-book on this topic, as I get the question so often. (What do you think about that, dear reader? Is this a good idea? What needs to be in it?)
What advice do I give?
For right now, here's what I usually say, or variations on this theme. (I'm thinking B2B here, because it comes up more in that context for some reason.)
1. A few really good in-depth interviews with the right people are better than a whole lot of interviews.
2. 30 interviews is not some kind of "random sample" or "more representative." The ONLY reason to do that many interviews would be to systematically cover a few people in many different categories. e.g. ensuring you have some people from each of six industries, for example, and subsets of "users" and "non-users" in each group. Or smaller and larger. Or more sophisticated / less sophisticated. Or some other dimension. (These are research design considerations.)
3. For business buyers in North America, regional location is only important because it affects industry, regulation, and access to solutions. Silicon Valley business is different than Chicago business because it's Silicon Valley industries, not because of the warm climate, unless you are talking about landscapers.
4. Research done with friends of the owner is dangerous, because they are anything but disinterested and unbiased. This is the worst kind of convenience sample (Yes, that's a real research term, and it means "people we could easily get hold of.")
5. You can get people to participate in research without a monetary incentive, but there really needs to be something in it for them. Examples of "something" include: a copy of the findings, a chance to network with peers and talk about shared concerns, a free meal in a nice setting, a chance to influence development of a new business concept, free stuff from the sponsor.
The reason professional researchers don't do it this way is that a) it's not fast/efficient enough and b) it's not reliable enough. It's not because it's impossible.
6. Assuming you have the right people to talk to, it's all about the questions you ask, and the environment you create, and how skilled you are at listening. You don't generally hire a carpenter just because they have tools -- they also know how to use the tools. If you decide to build your own deck, at least keep it simple. This leads to point 7 --> how to use the time in the interview.
7. Spend most of your time just learning about them, their business, their interests, what kind of solutions engage them. Do not start with a bunch of direct questions. Soak, soak, soak up the information about who they are and how they go about being successful. What are their pains? How do they deal with those pains today? This is always the key to developing good value propositions.
8. Plan to spend some time going over your notes in detail, and figuring out what the differences between people are, as well as what the similarities are. Going for only similarities is a very common newbie mistake that is made even by trained researchers.
9. Don't go all high tech, that won't substitute for a lack of finesse on 6 and 7. Just phone people up using that good old OLD tech, the telephone. If you are going to record the interview, tell them.
I have a short e-book -- it's FREE -- that will help you think about what you are trying to figure out. Check it out. I get a lot of good feedback on it from people who take 30 minutes to work through the questions.
If any of this resonated with you, I would love to hear from you, either in the comments, or send me an e-mail with your thoughts -- susanabbottarc[at]gmail.com.