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Interview with Brandon Hall Group Chairman and CEO: Focus on the Core

mike-cooke-imageMarket research is becoming more necessary as the speed needed to beat the competition continues to accelerate. I had an opportunity to speak with Brandon Hall Group Chairman and CEO Mike Cooke about market research, the mistakes companies make, and where businesses really need to focus their research dollars.

It’s all about the core.

“Market research needs to be prioritized,” said Cooke. “You can’t collect comprehensive research on 100 percent of everything your business does. Instead, focus on the top 5 to 10 percent of your business’s core areas and get as much data as possible on those top areas. Those areas should be game changers — in other words, the decisions that have monumental business impact in your organization.”

Businesses are going to have targeted needs when they turn to market research, but they also have big-picture worries. “I think that the really big questions companies are asking are around understanding context,” said Cooke. “The world is changing all the time. Companies want to know what’s next, what’s coming? They’re not necessarily worried about today, but they’re worried about the next three months, the next six months, the next year.”

“We’re going into new research cycles now,” said Cooke. “Companies are looking for ways to always be creating and innovating to match the changing world. The other thing they’re using research for is to understand what’s going to be a disruptive force in our industry? Just like Apple did with the music industry. What could damage my business if I don’t make the right moves in the next three months or the next year — people want to understand as far out into the future as possible to ensure they don’t get caught short.

Companies focusing on the core initiatives for their business should avoid these mistakes when using market research:

  • Conducting research as a single event: Research can’t be a one-time thing. Things are always changing. Even if you have a small budget, spend it on continuous measurement so that you see what’s going on.
  • Relying on old research: Businesses spend lots of money and get these wonderful reports — but the data is two years old. “Research even six months old scares me,” said Cooke. Research has to be as timely as possible.
  • Ignoring the research: This happens when the data comes back and it doesn’t support the initiative in question. Instead, the research should elevate your thinking and inform the decision.
  • Spending too much money: People still have a business to run every day, and there is just so much research out there. Collect research you need, but focusing on the top 5 to 10 percent of your company’s key programs will help you keep spending under control.

When companies are ready to make decisions informed by the research, create a communications strategy. “When you’re making a change to be a more data-driven organization,” said Cooke, “there’s a lot of change management that has to occur. You establish rollout plans for top-down and bottom-up strategic planning, so do the same with research. Show how the business will be improving by making data-driven decisions.”

Mike Cooke (@MikeCCooke) is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Brandon Hall Group, a leading analyst firm focused on Learning, Talent Management, Sales, Marketing, and Executive Management. Cooke was previously CEO and co-founder of AC Growth, as well as the VP and General Manager of Field Operations at Bersin & Associates (now Bersin by Deloitte).

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