Marketing Research: Finding the Right Person to Interview Can Prove to Be Half the Battle

Article excerpt

Retial bankers have been worrying about marketing for years, and retail marketing research has been an important part of the process. Sometimes the issues have been complex -- for example, how a financial management product should be constructed and whether such a product would cannibalize existing accounts. Sometimes the issues have been much simpler -- whether a new account holder should get a teddy bear or a $20 bill. In either case, research findings about customer behavior can save thousands of dollars and can help to avoid painful mistakes.

Now that corporate bankers have discovered marketing, it is just as important that they also discover marketing research. Yet the marketing research must be approached differently from retail research. Who to Interview

The three critical components in designing any research project are who to interview, how to conduct the interview, and what questions should be asked. Deciding who ot interview -- and how to persuade that person to agree to an interview -- is the most important challenge facing the corporate marketing researcher.

On the retail side, finding the right person to interview is not a major problem. Most banks have detailed information about their customers, so it is often easy to identify the right customer respondent. More generally, every household has at least one financial decision maker, but few households have more than two or three people who might fit this role. Noncustomers can therefore also be located without much trouble.

On the corporate side, finding the right person is not so easy. Different people make decisions for different services, and responsibilities within an organization are constantly changing. Customer lists may include an organization name only, or may list an individual whose title is no more specific than "bank relations manager." (this usually means tha that the individual's responsibility is to go to lunch with bank calling officers, not to make any real decisions.) And the larger the organization, the mroe likely it is that a title will be misleading or that a list will be out of date. Interviewing a person with a specified function (e.g. "the individual most responsible for selecting a bank to provide cash management services") is a m ore reliable approach, rather than asking for a specific individual or for someone with a specific title.

On the retail side, once the financial decision maker is identified, most of the challenge is complete. Most people are willing to participate in a telephone interview at home, and a longer, in-person interview can also be arranged (though sometimes a gift or other incentive must be offered).

Corporate financial decision makers are much more reluctant to be interviewed. It is always more difficult to find time for an interview at work than at home, and financial officers can be particularly hard to reach. Some chief financial officers already schedule 50-100 meetings with bank calling officers each month along with their responsibilities. Interview requests will often be delegated (perhaps to the wrong person) or refused.

There are a number of ways to increase the likelihood that a corporate respondent will agree to be interviewed, but the best is to keep the interview short: a financial officer is much more likely to sit for a 15-minute telephone interview than for a 60-minute interview conducted in-person. It is also critical that the researcher be honest about the interview length, as the respondent may arrange another appointment at the expected completion time of the interview. Research companies whose "15-minute interviews" stretch to an hour do not get invited back.

A personalized advanced letter can increase the likelihood that an interview will be completed. Most corporate respondents will not accept a gift in return for completing an interview, but the promise of a summary of the (non-confidential) results can help to generate interest. …