The New Normal for Selling: Why Market Research Is More Essential Now Than Ever

Listening – it’s something every professional must do well to be successful, particularly those in sales. An effective sales approach has always included listening to understand client needs and responding to meet those needs. The COVID-19 global health crisis continues to unfurl, and we still don’t know what the full human or economic toll will be. But, we do know that essentially every organization will feel the impact of this crisis in some way. Therefore, listening to understand a client’s pain points and concerns is more critical now than perhaps ever before.

 As research professionals, we know that one way to effectively “listen” to your clients is through qualitative market research. This might include using tools such as one-one-one dialogs, surveys, and focus groups. To make the most of these efforts, however, you must know precisely what data you are seeking to find.

 In most cases, the ultimate goal is to uncover and understand the underlying perceptions or emotions that drive decision-making. From this data, you can more fully understand the worldview that shapes your clients’ beliefs and actions, and craft your messaging and response accordingly.

 How do we direct market research to help us truly “listen,” and understand not only our clients’ needs, but the worldview that drives them?

  • Ask the Right Questions – To start, you must ask the right questions the right way. Whether you’re using one-on-one conversations, surveys, or other tools, asking the right questions will ensure your effort yields practical, usable information about your clients.

    Check out our previous blog on market research to better understand the 8 question types that help you gather thorough and insightful data. Incorporate a mix of these (direct probe, playback, leading, tag, etc.), and you’ll be able to start identifying consistent themes or perceptions that likely influence decision-making. If themes start to emerge during a direct conversation, use that opportunity to ask more probing questions to gather further detail.

  • Employ Empathy – Next, think like the pros at Apple, Google, and Samsung who use the practice of design thinking to develop products and services for their users. Design thinking revolves developing a deep level of empathy for the target user to understand their needs, thoughts, emotions, and motivations.

    How can you employ empathy with your clients? The Interaction Design Foundation states, “To gain empathy towards people…we should try to imagine ourselves in these users’ environment, or stepping into their shoes as the saying goes, in order to gain a deeper understanding of their situations.” We must leave our own opinions, experiences, and assumptions behind and put ourselves in the client’s shoes to understand their mindset and motivations.

  • Use Observation – Finally, to more fully understand your clients and what drives their decision-making, use the practice of observation. By asking the right questions and practicing empathy, you’ve probably started to see some semblance of your client’s worldview emerging. Now, observe your clients either passively in their typical environment or through an interaction to help expand on that understanding.

    Ask simple questions – WHAT has happened? HOW did it happen? And, WHY might that have happened? – to move from simply observing to making educated guesses about your clients’ motivations and emotions. Learn more here.

Everyone’s perspectives are informed by their own beliefs, values, and life experiences. The COVID-19 crisis is undoubtedly historic, and will certainly factor into the worldview for many business owners and professionals in both the short and long-terms. To successfully navigate times of uncertainty like those we are in now, sales professionals must employ their market research skills to listen to their clients more closely and carefully than ever before. These are extraordinary times; therefore, your sales approach must follow suit.