Don’t Boil the Ocean

Don’t Boil the Ocean

Don't Boil the OceanKnowledge is power, so market research can be a source of competitive advantage for many companies. However, when it comes to research, companies need to work smarter, not harder. There are mountains of data available and the sheer volume can be overwhelming. Here’s the trick – ignore most of it.

For small and medium sized businesses, market research should be managerial (not scientific) in nature.  Gather enough facts to test an assumption, but no more. In a business situation, anything more is a waste of time and effort – and both are precious commodities for your business.

The saying “Don’t boil the ocean” means don’t try to analyze everything. You need to be selective; figure out what your priorities are and identify the most efficient way to meet them. Know when you’ve gathered enough information and then stop. Otherwise, the time spent will not justify the return, much like trying to boil the ocean to get a handful of salt.

Specifically, aim to integrate research activities into your daily operations rather than undertaking one major research project every year. For instance:

  • Organize monthly focus groups: they’re easy to set up and can be effective sources of practical, action-oriented information.
  • Train your employees to ask two or three research questions every time they speak with a customer.
  • Form a small advisory group to act as a sounding board on new product ideas, target markets, or marketing campaigns.

A managerial, ongoing approach to research can yield valuable returns. Don’t assume that because you’ve been in business for 30 years, you know your customers. Things change and so do customer needs. Learn to understand what makes your customers tick without having to wade through an ocean of information.

*(Adapted from Ethan Raisel’s The McKinsey Way, 1999)

Ted Kouri


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