Understanding potential customers and their needs is one of the most important elements in developing a successful offering. Market research activities like customer interviews and observational research are great ways of understanding needs, problems and opportunities. However, before running out to start talking with buyers, put together a simple research plan. It doesn’t need to be a complex or lengthy document – it can simply be one page that lists the research objectives, types of organizations to target, buyer and user personas to target, number of interviews needed and the focus areas of the research.

Many teams struggle at this point. Some come up with vague goals, such as “We want to understand more about the pain points of customers.” Others skip over the goals and get right into the specific questions they want to ask.

Without well-defined goals and objectives, you may find that you’re spending time with the wrong types of organizations or personas, or that there is disagreement among team members about who should be targeted or what the focus of the research should be. Also, it’s hard to determine when your research effort should be done if you’re not sure of the purpose and success criteria.

Here’s a handy trick to get your colleagues on board with market research and to clarify the objectives: Frame your research objectives as questions. List the questions that you want answers to but can’t answer today. By phrasing your research objectives as questions, you can more clearly articulate the intended result of the research. This exercise also allows you to confirm that you do, in fact, need to conduct research to answer the questions, and allows you to tailor the type and amount of research you need to get the desired answers.

Here are a few examples:

  • How are home-based consultants using mobile phones for expense reporting?
  • What is the level of interest among current buyers in a service that would collect compostable materials?
  • Does our current electrical testing equipment satisfy the needs of facility managers? If not, what needs do they have that are not met by current products?
  • What changes could be made to our routers to make it easier for non-technical office managers to install them?
  • In addition to guiding your research by keeping you focused on answering these questions, this approach provides a template for your research summary. Each question can be a slide or heading, followed by the answers generated by the research.