Use market research properly

If you want to be a bad product manager, use market research to justify a decision you’ve already made. You’re the product manager, after all, and you know what the product should do and how it should do it. You’ve done your research already. If someone else has research that conflicts with what you’ve found, then it must be a problem with how they conducted the research. Either way, what you’re doing is so new and innovative that there’s no way to do research about it because it’s something people haven’t ever seen before and have no way of evaluating it. And even if the market could, you don’t want to be a robot that just does everything market research tells you to do, do you?

If you want to be a good product manager, use market research to inform your decisions. Part of being a market-focused product manager is listening to what the market has to say, whether you like it or not.

At times, that may mean overturning a decision you’ve made. It could lead to the company squashing a pet project that you’ve been working on for months. There’s potential that you will get a good dose of “I told you so” from other members of the product development team.

Listening to market research that contradicts your ideas or work is painful. No one enjoys spending time and money just to find out that something they thought was great really is far from it. Ultimately, though, you will benefit, your product will benefit, and your organization will benefit.

Unfortunately, not all product managers see it this way. For whatever reason, their attempt to supersede market research findings with their own personal beliefs by misusing market research.

Market research is usually misused in one of four ways:

  1. The research is structured such that the only possible outcome will show support for whatever the person funding the research wants it to support. Good market researchers will usually avoid being involved in a study like this, but it still happens.
  2. The parts of the research that refute the product manager’s beliefs are ignored, the focus instead being on the small findings that support the initial hypotheses. Product managers will talk about the glowing findings from the research but only mention those key points that back up their beliefs.
  3. The market research findings that go against product management ideas are discounted because of problems in the way the research was carried out. This can include blaming the “wrong” findings on who carried out the research, how they conducted it, what methods/protocols they used, the type and number of participants, the incentives provided, and anything else that may be used to poke holes in the undesirable findings.
  4. Neutralizing one market research study with another. Product managers may attempt to respond to findings they do not like or agree with by conducting their own research or commissioning another study (possibly structured as described in #1) which refute the findings and throw the whole research into question. (“Yes, I know that the study that cost us several hundred thousand and took six months and included research with thousands of participants found that this was a bad idea for a product, but I did some research with my mom, wife, and best friend, and they all think it is great.”)

Good product managers use market research properly and can recognize when they are in danger of potentially committing one of these errors. Market research should not be followed like commandments — it is appropriate to ask questions and dig deeper than what is just presented on the surface. However, there is a difference between giving any research study necessary critical oversight to ensure its validity and conducing a total write-off of the results because they do not support your preconceived notions.

As difficult as it may be to accept some of the findings from research studies, doing so will help product managers build better products and ultimately be better product managers.