Matching Research to Goals: When Hard Data Is Needed

In another article, we reviewed how to evaluate if market research is worth the investment. One of the main takeaways of that article was to think of market research as a form of insurance because its findings can keep you from losing a lot.

However, there are two main types of market research: qualitative and quantitative. Within those two categories, there are many different types of studies. This is a point that some contract managers tend to oversee when signing up for a research study.

As valuable as qualitative research can be, quantitative research fits some projects better. It all depends on the project’s objectives. Let’s review the types of situations in which “hard data” from quantitative studies is needed.

The Typical Scenario

The most common situation in which a quantitative study is necessary is the one of companies offering business-to-business services to its customers. Under this scenario, let’s imagine that a company needs to do research to make a “go/no-go” decision about offering a new service and the company decides to run a focus group to gauge how potential customers would react.

However, an analysis of the objectives driving the research, in other words why the company wants the research and what questions it wants answered, it would become apparent that such a company needs quantifiable,hard data more than just opinions and perceptions.

Numbers Don’t Lie

When the objective is finding out exactly what percentage of customers – or prospective customers – are likely to take a particular action, such as using a new service, quantitative research is called for. Online surveys can incorporate many more responses than focus groups, allowing for more accurate representation, and the questions can be tailored to elicit very specific answers that translate into hard data.

There are many other scenarios that call for hard data. Here are two specific examples:

  • To know the correlation between price and customer purchasing. “For every percentage point we raise prices, what percentage of our customers will we lose?” is a question that requires hard data to answer.
  • To find out the answer to “If we change from this color to that color, what will be the impact on sales?” This is another example of an objective that fits the mold of quantitative objective.

Does this means that an enterprise should only limit itself to quantitative research? Not at all. For example, if you enterprise wants to figure out why and how the difference in color mattered, perhaps even determine a short list of better-selling colors, then qualitative research with focus groups would be more appropriate.

Online Surveys Deliver Reliable Quantitative Data

When quantitative data is required to validate a “go/no-go” decision, a very large sample is required to statistically validate the conclusions drawn from the research. This mix of large sample and hard data is often best delivered by online surveys.

The first step in online surveys is to determine who you want to take part in the survey. Customer and prospect lists are often available to work from. The next step is to send email invitations to participate, personalizing the invitations with the contact data you have. Response rates will be higher with a nice incentive for participation. It’s also important to track who has taken the survey, so that you can send reminders to those who haven’t.

When implemented properly, online surveys have a high open and completion rate. There are two main reasons for this. First, the Internet allows respondents to have he benefit of running the survey at their own pace, just like under mail-back surveys. Second, the online format enables the company to track completion in real time and can provide feedback or reminders to survey takers to encourage completion.

Another advantage of online surveys is that they can be managed from anywhere as long as you have Internet access. The login credentials could be added as a note to the dashboard of your contract management system or assigned to a team member as part of a process. Necessary updates can be done without having to spend in mailing costs or telephone calls and are implemented right away.


Both qualitative and quantitative research have their place. The key is to determine which methodology delivers the most-valuable information for your  research goals. In the case of needing to predict definitive customer responses, quantitative research is usually the better choice.