Putting together and executing a research plan is one of the largest and most time-consuming tasks for a product manager. It is also one of the most unknown tasks, as you don’t know what might come of the research. Many times a research plan is called market research, and while it might be done by a marketing department, it is usually initiated and executed (on the back end) by the product manager or owner.
What is additionally difficult is that sometimes a product manager is "married" to a product or solution idea. They personally love it and are afraid of what their research might determine, but this research has to be done. It will save a ton of time and money in the long run and make for a successful launch—and a much happier executive team.
When you begin to craft a research plan, you want to ensure the plan can answer the following questions:
Do you need this product? I see situations over and over where people are sure there is a need in a market for a product, but the research shows otherwise. This is the most important part of your research plan and will save you time and money in the long run.
Who is my competition? This will help you understand who else might be in your space.
Who are your customers? Make sure your target customers are included in your research plan because you want to ask them questions so you need to know who they are.
What are your goals? Once you realize there is a market for your product or solution, you need to understand what your goals are. How many do you want to sell? To whom? In what area? Etc.
Crafting your research plan involves making sure that you have both quantitative and qualitative data—data that is easy to analyze and data that you can take pieces of and work with to understand exactly how to craft your product, solution, or strategy.
The actual research plan will have different pieces that answer the questions above. Each plan will differ based on what you are trying to accomplish, but the easiest way to explain it is to give an example of a research plan.
The best way to start is with a written questionnaire sent to potential or current customers to determine if there is a need for the product. This can be done in a format that includes multiple choice and written questions for easy distribution, high response rate, and straightforward answers. Because the analysis is quantitative, it does not take long to gather and analyze. These are questions that youwrite, but they can and should be distributed by a third party that is more neutral so that your targets will feel more comfortable answering questions.
Once you determine there is a need for the product, you can move to looking at the competition and doing a competitive analysis. This analysis can be done by someone in house, but I recommend a neutral third party. An employee can often be swayed towards preferring your products for obvious reasons. Hiring an analyst or research firm to dig into the industry should be a part of your research plan. The competitive analysis is somewhere between quantitative and qualitative data.
The last piece of the research plan involves almost purely qualitative data and figuring out who your customers are and what they want. It involves sitting down and conducting market research and conversations to understand their needs and wants as you build out the product or solution. The first two pieces of the research plan could be done by internal teams if you want, but in-person market research should always be done by a third party.
Finally, your goals will determine how you craft your questions and research. Your questions and research should be crafted so that you can meet your goals.
A written questionnaire often involves multiple-choice questions, is easy to fill out, and the data is most often quantitative.
I recommend five to ten questions. Ensure that one helps you determine your Net Promoter Score (NPS). There is a set way to calculate NPS, and it can be found here: https://www.netpromoter.com/know/. The methodology looks at your promoters vs. detractors and omits the people who are simply neutral. For example, if you have 60% promoters, 30% passives and 10% Detractors, the NPS will be +50, which is 60 (promoter percentage) minus 10 (detractor percentage). The industry benchmark for a tech company is usually somewhere around +35.
Unlike the other questions, which I recommend have only five options for ease, an NPS score is based on a question that has eleven options from zero to ten.
Example of an NPS question: "How likely would you be to recommend this company or product to fellow business associates or colleagues?"
Your qualitative data can be collected in one-on-one research sessions or in groups. If you are focused on businesses, I would recommend using a one-on-one method so that you aren’t putting your customers in the same room with the competition. It may make them uncomfortable answering questions.
If you are focused on consumers, you can do either one-on-one interviews or a focus group. Either way, you need to ensure you write the questions for the third party you hire to execute. And it’s very important that you have specific follow up questions based on the answers given. These questions should focus on the goal you set forth in the first section of this guide.
Research needs to be done in many different forms in order to get the quantitative and qualitative data you need to move forward. This research takes time and money but is much cheaper to do before a product or solution is built than after. Can you imagine going through the entire process of building a solution or product only to determine that either it wasn’t needed or something different was needed? That is much more expensive than doing this critical research.
I recommend you watch my Executive Briefing on Product Management. This guide will help you understand what is expected of you from the executive team as you are developing your research plan.