The Mixed Method Approach to Gathering Customer Intelligence

Now that we’ve established the importance of a theme-based approach, how do you go about gathering this level of customer intelligence?

You may be familiar with different types of research methods below—each designed to collect different types of data.

  • Secondary Research, also known as desk research, involves gathering existing data that has already been produced. Examples of secondary data include reports and studies by government agencies, trade associations or other businesses within your industry, researching the internet, newspapers and company reports. Some of these sources are free and in the public domain. Others have either a subscription service or may ask for a one-off fee to buy a piece of research.
  • • Confusingly you should perform secondary research first. Look for what’s out there. We don’t regard it as heretical to say this but there may be enough available to give you a very good start for your theme development. We’ve already said that proprietary advantage can be gained by interpreting this secondary data in creative ways.
  • • What you look for and where you look is determined by where your target customer base is. Does it have a global presence? Is it in a particular region? Do you focus on particular types of executives, for example, Chief Information Officers (CIOs)? Key customer issues publications such as The Economist, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review often feature special reports. Companies such as Gartner and Forrester Research have a particular focus on technology, while Marketing Week can provide insights into what’s affecting marketers.
  • Primary research, also known as field research, involves gathering new data that has not been collected before; for example, surveys using questionnaires or interviews with groups of people in a focus group. Performing formal primary research can be costly. The secondary research should have helped answer some questions and help you identify gaps in your knowledge. You may also see opportunities to gather insights into your customers that could provide you with a useful communication vehicle to involve customers in the primary research sample and to send them your analysis of the output. IBM performs an annual CIO study that follows this pattern and helps put them in a thought leadership position regarding emerging technology issues and trends.
  • Quantitative research is rooted in numerical approaches. The emphasis is on objectivity and the use of statistics or data gathered through polls, questionnaires or surveys. With quantitative research methods, numerical data are gathered and then generalised across groups of people to explain trends. These methods begin from questions such as ‘how many?’, ‘how often?’, ‘when?’ and ‘where?’.
  • Qualitative research is designed to reveal a target audience’s range of behaviour and the perceptions that drive it with reference to specific topics or issues. If you want to get inside your customers’ minds you need to do qualitative research. Face-to-face interviews and focus groups can provide valuable insights into your products, your market and your customers. Qualitative research is about finding out not just what people think but why they think it. It’s about getting people to talk about their opinions so you can understand their motivations and feelings. Face-to-face interviews and group discussions are the best way to get this kind of in-depth feedback. Qualitative research can be valuable when you are developing new products or coming up with new marketing initiatives and you want to test reactions and refine your approach.
Mixed method approach to gathering customer intelligence

Fig. 4.2 Mixed method approach to gathering customer intelligence

There is no one way to conduct research, and we recommend that you combine a variety of tactics and techniques to ensure that the data you collect is balanced, well rounded and valid.

In fact, in the field of social and behavioural sciences, there is an entire journal named The Journal of Mixed Methods Research, which is dedicated to explaining how to design and conduct mixed research methods to better understand problems and inform decisions.

We encourage you to incorporate the sources and methods illustrated in Fig. 4.2 in order to weave together patterns and form a holistic view of your customers’ worlds.

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