Many financial services companies have to rely on business professionals to be the gatekeepers for their brands, with the power to determine if consumers even have access to their products/services. Finding a way to really understand what's important to them and how to break through their inertia is a huge challenge we see with many of our financial clients and other business professionals. Their time is what they sell, for the most part, and getting two hours of that for a focus group is extremely difficult. Even when they agree to participate, they can easily be sidetracked by their own clients' demands, which will always take priority.
Would you give your time away?
Put yourself in their shoes. How easy would it be for you to commit to a static two-hour block of time? How engaged or focused would you be if you knew there was a “fire drill” going on back at the office? It’s a true research challenge that takes a special approach to get our clients the insights and information they need so they can better connect with these powerful gatekeepers.
When conducting research with professionals, it's very important to understand the day-to-day challenges they face so you can determine the most effective ways to get their participation and engagement, including when and where you conduct the research, such as opting for a breakfast session at a downtown hotel.
Plan your research around their schedule.
In addition to “showing up,” we want participants to be able to take the time to thoughtfully answer questions and help us understand where opportunities exist. Think about what their days might be like. What interrupts them? What will they do if they get an urgent request from a client? Will they be able to fully engage if they're distracted by their own clients' needs?
Knowing all this, it’s critical to allow professional respondents the flexibility to interact with us on their own time, when it's convenient for them to think uninterrupted so they can be more thoughtful in their responses. For that reason, online qualitative research is often the best course.
Let them manage their own time.
You can’t predict when business professionals will have the time to really engage with your questions or activities, so give them 24/7 accessibility to the qualitative research, over an extended time frame. As much as we want to get their responses quickly to reflect them in our business plan, this rush to finish the research works against us because it forces a fast response, which is almost always an answer you already have.
We've found that real insights emerge as part of a “conversation” that can last from a few days to several weeks. Like fine wine, insights need time to breathe to be their best.
Don’t accept the “language of the category.”
Business professionals have their own languages for their categories, which have become almost generic in the way they describe their needs and their clients' needs. When you listen to them, you find that most seem to describe their businesses and their clients in the same way, so the challenge is to get them past these common descriptors to articulate more meaningful and ownable insights.
This is especially important when developing new product or positioning concepts; we have found, more often than not, that this “language” doesn’t resonate strongly with clients when we play it back to them, even though they speak it all the time. The key is finding ways to “force” them to think about their businesses and clients in a new way, so they can’t default to the language of the category to which they have become comfortable.
We create unique activities and exercises that keep the discussion interesting and encourage a fresh way to describe the problem, insight, or need, in a deeper, less superficial way.
We use visual techniques to understand emotional themes or connections, and use metaphors to gain a deeper understanding of the journey/process and decision making. We even have our business professionals interview their clients to gain new insights.
Our business professional respondents always tell us the research was fun, interesting, and not what they were expecting. Most importantly, they are willing to participate again.
Until we have all the answers we’ll keep finding better way to ask the questions.
At SpencerHall, we don’t settle for surface-level insight. That’s why we created inventive methods that reveal motivations and influences that are often unarticulated or unseen. Tools like our online Sounding Boards enable us to create “thinking partnerships” to build a relationship over time that reveal more, and virtual ethnography that shows us how respondents engage and connect across different moments in time.
Carole Walters started her career in the media business, where she led media buying for a large advertising agency, finding the right way to communicate with key targets. As a researcher, she has proven experience in innovation and research across a wide range of industries, including financial services, technology, consumer package goods, fashion, food & nutrition, personal care and pharmaceuticals. Carole plays a key role in product ideation and innovation and has a real aptitude in uncovering the emotional insights that are most meaningful to strengthening brand connections. Prior to joining SpencerHall in 2000, Carole was a senior executive involved in marketing and media with over 20 years of experience.