Qualitative research provides invaluable contributions leading to improvements in methodology, questionnaire design, analysis, and insight development. When getting the right answer from your research is worth a few more resources (which is always the case), qualitative research can inform and improve quantitative research for better, more actionable results. Here’s how:
Before Conducting Quantitative Research
Before you start writing the questionnaire, even before you decide on the optimal respondents, conducting qualitative research can help you design the best possible research process. With qualitative research, you hear the language the consumer uses in discussing the product or the purchase experience. You understand the logical sequence of topics for the consumer and identify the correct metrics to use in your questions. Qualitative research can even help you choose the optimal methodology. Will an online survey work or should you use telephone surveys? Will the respondent still accurately recall the experience you want to evaluate if it happened more than a month ago or do you need to find respondents with more recent experience? Do we need to talk to the decision maker, or is it okay to include influencers? At what point in the purchase decision process do you want to survey your respondents? Qualitative research can help you answer these questions, and many more that you must consider before starting your research project.
Using Qualitative Research in Survey Pretest
It is common research practice to use the first ten or fifteen surveys completed as a pretest. While that will help you check if the survey logic is working and determine if respondents are breaking-off at any question, it is won’t ensure your questionnaire is working optimally. You can only determine that by speaking with the respondents who have experienced the survey.
Pretest your survey with “real” individuals who have the experience and qualifications you have determined are needed to qualify. Ideally, work with them in person and ask them to complete the survey (using the actual methodology you are using in the research project.) After they have completed the survey, go through it with them again, one on one, question by question. Did they have any uncertainty about what was being asked? Was the wording of the question unfamiliar or confusing to them? How did they decide to answer when they were not sure what was being asked? For example, if your question asks about equipment they have recently purchased, is that too vague? Would a list of specific equipment of interest to you be a better choice? Moreover, what about if you lease your equipment – does that count as “purchasing”? Qualitative research can help you make sure the information you get back from your survey is the exactly the information you need to make business decisions.
Using Qualitative to Better Understand Quantitative Results
Qualitative research can help explain the findings of quantitative research. Using the results of the research, you can screen for precisely the respondents to whom you need to speak. (There are even techniques that let you go back to the specific individuals who answered the survey, or if your survey is online, you can “break into” the survey and use chat technology to get qualitative information about their responses on the spot.) Follow-up qualitative research lets you get their perspective on the topics, show them the results, ask them if they agree or not, and ask them why they believe and answered as they did. The results of qualitative research conducted after the quantitative research is complete can give depth to your results and increase its decision-making value.
Qualitative research findings can add critical information and rich descriptive illustrations that enhance the information collected in quantitative research. While it does have some drawback (mainly the additional resources required) you should consider qualitative research for those projects that have significant potential strategic or financial impact.
So ask yourself, do you have the right balance of qualitative and quantitative research in your organization today?