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Research can lead to better decisions

To make an effective business decision you need to be sure of your facts. To be sure of your facts you need access to good quality information and data. This often means undertaking research. Many organisations, particularly small to medium businesses, perceive research to be an unnece-ssary expense. Others see it as a wise investment in risk management. Without research you risk making bad business decisions because you have insufficient, or incorrect, information upon which to base your decision, or worse, get bullied into decisions based on beliefs rather than facts. By making good decisions based on the guidance of the research data you should achieve your objectives and thus meet or exceed performance expectations. Understanding research is a critical skill for any business. Some myths about research- Some of the more common myths about research are that it is only for big decisions, it means doing a survey or it is too expensive. It all depends on how you define research. If by research you mean surveys, they are expensive. This is because they take large sample sizes, substantial field costs, complicated data analysis techniques, skilled specialists to read the data tables, skilled specialists to graph and interpret the data, and high level skills to translate data into practical application. However, a lot of research can be done at no cost, other than your time, or at a small cost. Not every decision requires a survey to be undertaken. Following are some such research techniques.• Simple observation. This could just mean taking the time out to ‘walk the floor’ of your business; visit competitors; observe how customers behave when selecting products. • Analysis of internal records. Every day transactions such as enquiries/sales/complaints, contact reports, or door counter data are rich in valuable insight. Most organisations are awash with data and information that can be utilised from its daily activities. It’s just a case of finding out what is available and then making sure you get access to that information on a regular basis. • Low-cost experimentation. You could try a different offer in controlled geographic locations for your marketing and compare the results to the usual offer/marketing tactics you employ.• Secondary research. If you have a library card you have access to an enormous range of information and data, including electronic databases and specialist publications that you cannot get just by using the Internet. Good sources of information include the Australian Bureau of Statistics, local, state and federal government reports and studies, journal articles, annual reports, trade magazines, industry bodies’ newsletters and websites. There are also some great no nonsense and practicable research books, such as Marketing Research: An Applied Orientation by Malhotra, Hall, Shaw, et al, published by Prentice Hall, Australia; Marketing Research That Won’t Break the Bank: A Practical Guide to Getting the Information You Need by Alan R Andreasen, published by Jossey-Bass; Business Research by Jill and Roger Hussey, from Macmillan Press. Informally talking with customers or clients.- It’s amazing how things can look from your customers’ perspective. This is one of the most simple, least expensive forms of research and yet so much insight can be gained from it that can actually help grow your business. When to resist research - It is not always appropriate to undertake research. Sometimes research gets used (or should that be abused) in order to delay decision-making. However, there are some legitimate reasons why you should not undertake research (from Andreasen 2002), including when: • the research is not directly related to some decision that needs to be made;• there is no uncertainty as to what is the correct action to take;• it is really designed to bolster personal standpoints;• it is done only to provide ammunition to justify a decision that has already been made; and• it is done as a fishing expedition, to satisfy your own curiosity, to keep up with the Joneses or just for the sport of it.When to call in the professionals - While this column does advocate trying to see if you already have information and data available, or can trial some low-cost research techniques, there is a time when professionals need to be involved. Such circumstances include trying to understand complex decision-making processes about how people make decisions and choices, if the decisions you will make with the research data are of critical importance, or need to be able to be projected with a high degree of accuracy and/or other people are likely to be taking a very close interest in the results with a view to being critical. Make sure that the research company you employ has the required professional qualifications and adheres to the research industry’s required standards. Individual researchers should be a member of the Australian Market & Social Research Society (AMSRS) and adhere to the society’s required ethical and professional codes. The AMSRS runs many research courses throughout Australia. A free template for a research brief, with notes, is available from julia@knowledgesolutions.com.au.

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