A question I often get asked is about the value of technology domain or industry expertise when delivering market research services. Many market research firms are very horizontally structured, touting the capabilities to deliver market research insights to industries ranging from consumer packaged goods to fashion apparel to enterprise software. Does it therefore matter to a technology company whether a firm they engage to conduct market research for them has the industry expertise? While the techniques of market research-segmentation, conjoint analysis, online focus groups etc. apply to a wide range of products, we believe domain experience does matter, especially for technology market research. Here are five reasons why and what technology companies should look for when hiring outside market research expertise.
1. Situational fluency: Domain experience enables providers to quickly grasp the business challenge a technology client faces and design appropriate methodologies to gather the data points and insights required to solve the business problem. Techniques that work in packaged consumer goods may not be appropriate nor the best approach for technology audiences.
2. Conversational fluency: Knowing how to engage with target research respondents. This is critical for qualitative interviews and focus groups, but also for designing quantitative surveys. B2B technology audiences, in particular, can tell if the researcher conducting the interview is conversant in the technology area. The depth of their responses will depend greatly on their perceptions of the interviewer's ability to process their responses. They will tend to "dumb down" their responses to an interviewer they perceive as not being able to comprehend their responses and will frequently hold back on their responses figuring the extra effort and energy on their part will not be worth it. This leads to a lot of closed ended responses to open ended discussion type questions versus engaging dialog.
3. Peripheral vision: this is an important aspect. Technology respondents may provide out additional information, tangential to the subject at hand, but potentially significant to the client's business. Such peripheral insights are most likely going to be lost on non-tech savvy researchers and are likely to therefore go unreported.
4. Enculturation: Domain expertise plays a significant role when reporting insights and findings. Data driven presentations by non-tech researchers who merely “crunched the data” and are not able to tell the full story and create inferences back to the client's business and industry and not likely to land well with internal stakeholders tasked with taking action on the data. Unfortunately, this can lead to a lot of research investments that simply sit on some client research managers shelf. Engaging and impactful presentations by research suppliers fully conversant with the market landscape on the other hand, are more likely to be well received across the organization and be acted on. This is a prime reason why Silicon Valley Research Group's hiring criteria require prior work experience in at least one of the technology practice areas we cover (in fact, we currently have two-ex engineers on our staff!). Selection of members on a client project team is done carefully to match experience and expertise of our analyst staff to the client's industry.
5. Domain specificity: Lastly, the domain expertise must be specific to the client's industry. It is not enough to look for general technology experience, the experience needs to be in the particular technology area-wireless, enterprise networking, consumer devices, embedded systems, etc. The more specific the better, instead of semiconductor experience, does the research provider understand communication ICs, FPGAs, etc.? Target audience specificity is also important, for example, does the provider’s domain experience in cloud computing relate to marketing these services to Fortune 1000 companies or to small and mid-size businesses. At the very least an open and honest dialog on the provider’s knowledge gaps needs to take place upfront prior to vendor engagement and research execution, enabling both parties to assess the impacts of those gaps and how these can be mitigated.
Alan Nazarelli is President & Chief Strategy Officer of Silicon Valley Research Group, a global market research and strategy development firm. He can be reached at email@example.com.