Cost center no more: How research leaders can demonstrate research ROI

Everyone is being asked to do more with less these days, and customer intelligence teams are no exception. It’s essential that research departments find more efficient ways to gather actionable insight while demonstrating ROI for what they do.

Unfortunately, traditional market research tools and methodologies are too slow and expensive to deliver the rapid agile insight stakeholders need. As the cost of conventional research and the time required to do it goes up, response rates are plummeting, adding to some perception that customer intelligence teams are more of a burden than boon.

To dispel the myth that market research is a cost center, research leaders need to equip their team with the right processes, strategy and technology. Key to this is accomplishing two distinct yet related goals: creating a positive experience for the customer and delivering insight in a more efficient and scalable way for the business.

Improve the research experiences to get better insight

If you want to get better insight more quickly, start by putting yourself in a customer’s shoes. If they have a positive experience providing feedback, they are more likely to participate and you’ll be able to get better insight more quickly.

Unfortunately, the research industry has some work to do when it comes to delivering a better experience to customers. The 2017 GRIT Consumer Participation in Research study found only a quarter of customers globally are satisfied with how companies engage them in market research activities.

Delivering a better research experience can be as simple as avoiding repetitive demographic and qualifying questions—questions you should already know answers to based on your previous engagement with the customer. To that end, research leaders need to invest in the right technology to improve the research experience. The right technology should enable research teams to run more concise and focused activities. It should also let your team improve customer relationships by providing an easy way to share with your customers how their feedback and insight is shaping your decision-making.

Realizing that research experience is customer experience is a good first step to getting insight faster than ever before.

Scale your research activities

Better research experience leads to better customer relationships, and better customer relationships results to higher quality insight. But it’s still important for research teams to do more with less if they want to improve their efficiency and productivity. Research teams are streamlining their processes and taking advantage of technology not only to support their belt-tightening strategies but to shorten project timelines and scale how they distribute ongoing insight to the organization.

IBM, for example, has embraced “directional” research, having realized traditional projects that take weeks to complete may not deliver insight quick enough for stakeholders. Instead, it uses an insight community to quickly go out and get customer feedback within a week, or in some cases within two or three days. It enables the company to get a quick pulse on how B2B buyers think and feel and get a good directional read on buyer opinions and attitudes. This agile approach to research has enabled IBM to reduce project timelines by as much as 75%.

Uncover new revenue streams

Some research teams are expanding the ROI they deliver by going beyond just delivering insight—they’re opening new lines of revenue with the feedback they gather from their insight communities.

Media organization POLITICO, for example, has uncovered $5 million in new, incremental revenue within eight months by incorporating audience feedback into its sales teams’ pitches. Other brands are offering research services and data to clients and partners. Some brands use feedback to show partners the ROI of their advertising campaigns, while others use them to build buzz and awareness. For example, NewsCorp Australia used research from one study alone to drive more than $500,000 in advertising sales and $3.2 million in open opportunities.

The proof is in the performance

Vision Critical’s experience with thousands of brands has shown that a relationship-based approach to customer intelligence helps companies get better quality insight and helps dismantle the perception that market research is a cost center.


Another company found response rates rose to 30% with insight community compared to just 5% to 10% with ad hoc surveys.


We recently commissioned Forrester to investigate the ROI of this approach, and it found several organizations that used our platform had significantly higher response rates when compared to other methodologies. One company reported 100 times increase in survey completion rates with an insight community. Another company found response rates rose to 30% with insight community compared to just 5% to 10% with ad hoc surveys.

Forrester also found that brands that used insight communities enabled their market research teams to run more concise and focused activities to avoid survey loading and fatigue. Survey drop-out rates were also lower for insight community activities compared to other methods.

These organization also experience more agility and faster access to customer feedback—respondents told Forrester these were the main benefits of their Vision Critical investment. One consumer insights team reported that time-to-delivery of survey projects went down from four to six weeks to a week at the most, and in some cases, even 48 hours. Another estimated it gained 7x return on its investment on lower research costs alone for the 80 surveys it ran over a year with its insight community when compared to traditional research methodologies.

Conclusion

The examples we provided here, as well as Forrester’s analysis of the Vision Critical approach, shows it’s possible for research teams to do more with less. It even forces them to build better, deeper relationships with customers—something research leaders should be thinking about because it is a necessary step to uncovering and boosting research ROI.

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