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KILL the MODERATOR; AWAKEN the CONSULTANT

1. Be indispensable.
During every phase of a project, you have opportunities to demonstrate your consulting skills.
Research specific aspects of the project.
Do this even if the client hasn’t asked you to — competitors’ websites, any secondary information about the category, new developments that experts are talking about. Once these have been collected, send the best ideas and materials via email to key project stake- holders before the first interview/focus group.

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Ask questions that go beyond the project scope.

Can the client share past research that has been completed? A marketing plan? Online interfaces in development? How did the client agree upon the pre- scribed methodology? Did they consider other methods before coming to you with the request? What do they plan to do with the results? What else is important to know about the product/brand/ service that will make you an expert before you walk into the room with their customers?

 

Offer your own ideas for using alternative methodologies/tools.

This is a tricky one. The client may have very specific ideas about how they want to structure the research. Internal company politics may be dictating a   particular methodology or target profile. But you are an expert; consultants do not just listen — they provide advice and opinions (see how you are not simply exhibiting good “moderator” behavior here?). Offer your ideas for other potential tools or methodologies that might be a good fit. It may be as small as adding one or two questions to the discussion guide or as big as changing respondent specs or recommending an alternative methodology or combined methodologies. Consider costing out this alternative and including it, along with the pre- scribed method, within your proposal. Even if you get shot down for your ideas, the client will respect you for having an informed opinion.

 

Be   proactive,   post-data   collection. Do not wait until the final deliverable to contact the client. Even if you haven’t been asked for a topline, send a brief summary of your thoughts about the results. If the client showed particular interest in a single interview he or she saw, comment on it, and offer insights that are relevant to the rest of the respondents you spoke to. You could actually save the client from embarrassment if he or she starts telling col- leagues that this one customer represents the view of the entire sample, and then the report arrives telling a contradictory story.

 

In your report…

  • Organize your results under clear themes that tie directly into the stated objectives and what they mean or the client’s business.
  • Do not just summarize, extemporize, etc. Offer a strong point of view on the results.
  • Include at least one fact or insight   that did not come directly from the research but instead from your experience, as long as it does not break any confidentiality agreement you have in place. But be careful. You do not want the client to think you are a know-it-all, just a know-a-lot. If done with authority and creativity, this single act will go a long way toward getting you invited back for the next   project.

 

 

  1. Stay current.

Your worth as a qualitative researcher while in the conference room goes beyond what you can do with the questions given. You need to be up on every- thing in order to be successful with clients and respondents alike: news events, popular culture, the categories you are covering, the latest innovations. Some ideas:

  • Facebook has something updated continuously called a news feed. Make it   a true news feed. If 60% or more of the content in that feed is not coming from news sources — the Times, WSJ, bloggers, industry-specific journals, etc. — then you are not using it to your advantage. After reading
  • a post describing your best friend’s change in status from “in a relation- ship” to “single,” console yourself by opening an article about the latest advances in neuromarketing. I’m only half kidding.
  • Set up Google news alerts on   your client’s subject matter, category or competitors. You can   also follow related stories or companies on LinkedIn.
  • Find a way into your target. Even if you have nothing in common, try to get close. Read and watch the stuff they read or watch. Visit the places online where they hang out. Which brings us to…

 

  1. Leverage technology to demonstrate our expertise.

Sure, we all have email and a website right? Maybe a LinkedIn page? But are you really leveraging technology and, more importantly, demonstrating to your clients that you not only know your stuff but you might be able to teach them a thing or two?

 

Make your communication a no-AOL zone.

I see moderators who are still using an AOL (or Yahoo) address for email. You know who you are. It costs almost nothing to register your own company URL and set it up as your email address. I beg you. You will not lose anything — your family can still send you silly cartoons and vacation pictures to your old address and then you can forward it to the new one, or you can set up multiple addresses in a central Gmail account.

 

Get your consultant message out via LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

But, Dave, I hear you saying, “I have a life outside of what I do for a living.” Great, then save your public messages for stuff that is important: awards you have won, conferences you will be attending or speaking at, articles you have read that really rocked your world. Posting a message on one will send it out on all three platforms (after a simple setup). And make sure to have an identity on each that is separate and distinct from your personal social- networking profile. Clients probably will not want to see pictures of your cuddly Abyssinian.

 

Use free or low-cost tools to enhance your deliverables:

  • Google Docs: When I am conducting interviews that are a bit more structured or involve rating scales,
  • I create a Google form and enter participant responses to each question. Google automatically puts them into a spreadsheet for you. Edit it (removing respondent info), and send it to your client if you trust him or her with the detailed data.
  • Try a word cloud: For something more playful, you can enter your transcripts into a word-cloud generator and send that to your client. This may spark a conversation or reveal an aspect of the results you hadn’t considered.
  • Over-share materials: Use Dropbox or another secure audio/video-sharing site to share recordings and other materials from the interviews/focus groups that you have completed. Most facilities provide digital audio or video files, but not all of them will post them online for you. Make it your   job. If your client has no confidentiality concerns, create an online project folder that includes the screener, discussion guide and related written materials so stakeholders can access them anytime and from anywhere. This will also come in handy at the facility if you need to print out the re-screener for the front desk.

 

  1. Never say “I am the moderator.”

This brings me back to my initial comments about your personal brand. Even if you have done all of the other things mentioned above, you still might have to reinforce the importance of your role through the use of specific language — create what political consultants call “the frame.”

If your client consistently refers to you as “the moderator” while talking to other members of the client team, it   is your responsibility to correct it. With humility, of course: “Yes, I will be moderating the focus groups, but I like to think I offer you guys much more.” Then remind the client of some of those very important things. No one else is going to be a better salesperson for you or for the unique skills you have to offer.

So, the next time someone asks you, “Okay, tell me about your personal brand,” instead of making the same mistake as Hannah, you can say something like: “I’m a consultant with expertise in your industry, and I have a deep understanding of the ways in which the people you care about, your customers, interact with the products/services they buy. Hire me, and I will show you how we can leverage that expertise to find the answers you are looking for. What’s that? Oh yeah, I’m also a moderator.

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By David Kozatch

DIG • Wainscott, NY • david@digsmarter.com

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