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Often, some of the most vital data needed for a business decision is not only important, but it's also needed quickly. This can create some dilemmas for researchers and marketers - issues that fall broadly into 2 categories:

1. How can we get this data within such a tight timeline?
Can we ensure the methods and data are robust?

For customer insight to keep up with the speed of business, marketers and researchers need to have a plan of action to address these issues. Based on our own experience running fast-turnaround projects - where business critical answers were needed within the space of just a few days - here are 6 tips that should help companies address these 2 key concerns in research speed:

  1. Establish clear research objectives.

Having clear objectives has broad applications in research, but many marketers often underestimate its importance in expediting the process. But here's the irony: the need to get answers more quickly usually arises as a result of business objectives that are clear and decisions that require data. To reach your goal quickly and avoid gathering irrelevant data, your research objectives must be clear and fully aligned with your business objectives.

Establish clear research objectives by talking to stakeholders, agreeing on your research needs, and creating a short briefing document that lists agreed-upon goals. Once you've done those initial steps, follow up with a briefing call: a conversation can help you better understand people's true objectives.

  1. Keep it simple.

With clear research objectives, it's easier to keep things simple because your goals will help define the right methodologies. In general, the simpler the methodology, the faster it can be implemented - and the faster you get the data you need.

Clear objectives result in simpler and more concise survey questionnaires, discussion guides or other research methodologies. All of these contribute to a more efficient information-gathering process.

  1. Stick to your timelines.

In all research projects, timelines are important. But when the data is expected next week - or even tomorrow - timelines are vital.

Take the time to actually plan out a timeline - even if it's only a small project. This is the first indication whether the methodology you're hoping to use will actually work given the amount of time you have. If it doesn't fit, you can go back to the methodological drawing board before getting started on something that was never going to meet your requirements.

Make sure your deadlines are realistic and that you have the resources to meet them. A missed deadline within a project can cause a domino effect and even delay the final business decisions.

  1. Do it online and know your tools.

Keeping the research online means you'll be able to collect data faster than more traditional methods (postal surveys, telephone interviews) for both qualitative (qual) and quantitative (quant) research.

For qual research, online methods allow you to run several forums simultaneously. They also let you run live-chat focus groups covering a range of geographical regions so you can get your fieldwork done quickly, easily and cost effectively.

For quant research, you can reach members wherever they are - via smartphone, tablet or desktop. Additional data processing to get results is often minimal or not required when you do quant research online.

When planning fast-turnaround research online, aim to be comfortable with the tools you're using and ensure you can get the necessary help to take full advantage of them. Invest some time to increase your understanding of the tool's capabilities - you'll appreciate this when you're pressed for time. Knowing your tools is critical for creating realistic timelines and ultimately meeting your deadline.

  1. Follow the rules of engagement.

If you're running your research using an online insight community, your ability to do successful fast-turnaround research will be determined by how many members you have and how likely they are to respond. Having a well-maintained and engaged community is key.

Make sure you have enough people in your community. Continuously building your online community in addition to big recruitment drives will keep the number of members in your community up and reduce the natural loss of members over time. Regular engagement activities should also help your members realise the impact they're making by taking part.

Of course, I hear you say: "Yes, in a perfect world I would have a huge community with every member eagerly staring at their inbox just waiting for me to invite them to an activity." But even if your community is still a work in progress, that shouldn't stop you from doing fast-turnaround research.

Partly, it's about knowing the strengths of your community and adapting your methodology accordingly. For example, if your community loves qual forums but is not so great at responding to surveys, then this should inform your methodology. Or, if you know you'll get 1000 responses to a survey overnight, you could feel confident about splitting the sample between cells. On the other hand, if you know you'll get nearer to 100 responses overnight, you'd want to keep things simpler so you still get useful, robust data.

Fast-turnaround projects provide opportunities to engage your members further. Explain how people's urgent feedback will be used to make an important decision. Or you could provide some feedback after the project as a thank you for people's fast responses. You could even tell your members when the data will be used for an important decision or meeting so they can really see how important it is for them to reply quickly. Additionally, tailored invites can boost response rates for these types of projects.

  1. Think ahead: Have an ace (or two) up your sleeve.

If you're running your research on an insight community, you already have an advantage over more traditional research methods. That's because with a community of customers, you can quickly engage people whom you already have profiling information from. You can be very targeted in your research and only talk to people based on their past responses.

It also pays dividends to plan ahead and ask your community any questions you think might come up as 'killer' research questions in the future. One of the great things about insight communities is that you have constant access to your members, so you can ask these questions in small chunks (just 1-2 questions at a time) and can refresh the data by regularly running them on your community. By being prepared in this way, you can get a head start when an urgent, fast-turnaround request comes in.

The speed of today's business world requires insight that moves just as quickly. More CEOs and CMOs now recognize the importance of involving customers in business decisions. But for customer input to truly make an impact, the speed at which we deliver the insight is just as important the quality of information.

How do you make research efficient in your company? Please share your comments below.

Re-imagining research: 10 golden tips for the modern researcher

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