“I’m sorry, but your new idea stinks!”—Six Quick Tips to (Tactfully) Relay Unfavorable Research Results
by Susan Frias
Scenario: Your colleague (marketing team, company exec, etc.) comes to you with a “great idea” for a new product/service/marketing message, and they are eager to get it launched in market.You know it first needs to be tested among consumers to make sure it is ready for production. The higher-ups feel this is a waste of time because the idea is the next best thing since sliced bread (so they think). Heck, it may even be the CEO’s brainchild! But you follow all the quality-assurance protocols and run a flawless quantitative online research project to test the new idea and lo and behold, the results are not good. In fact, they are bad—really, REALLY BAD! What do you do? How do you tell your colleague that their new idea stinks?
Delivering bad news is an unpleasant task, but learning to do it effectively (and tactfully) can prevent a costly disaster in the marketplace. It can also provide you an opportunity to boost your credibility and improve your professional relationship with the client. So, how do you tactfully relay bad news? Below are six tips to ensure your results are not just heard but accepted and acted upon.
- Do your due diligence. First, quality assurance is vital! You may think you ran a flawless project, but it is important to double-check your work! Confirm your sample was credible. Be sure that all cheaters were found and removed. Check for speeders, duplicate IP addresses, and respondents from invalid time zones, and remove those respondents as well. Review demographics for skewing results. If skews are found (for example, people with higher incomes gave much more favorable ratings than those with lower incomes), consider weighting the data to balance the skewed demographics (income levels, in this case) and see if that changes the story. Let’s say everything checks out and the results are accurate, although still not the desired results (bummer!). What next?
- Look for reasons why. The devil is in the details! Closely review each question to look for patterns in the data that could reveal important clues. Read through verbatim comments from open-ended questions; don’t just rely on the coded results. Bonus tip for questionnaire development: Include an open-ended question or two after key rating metrics that help answer the reasons why (whether good or bad), such as “Why do you feel that way?”
- Don’t sugarcoat it. Tell it like it is and be honest and direct. It is important to be respectful of others’ time, so don’t beat around the bush! Instead, get to the point and explain the results in clear terms. However, be prepared to explain the reason for the idea’s poor performance (see tip #2).
- Provide a reasonable solution. Create a sense of confidence and trust by focusing the bulk of your presentation on providing solutions. Make recommendations for strategic improvements and back them up by pointing to the findings that support your recommendations. However, don’t shy away from recommending to scrap the idea if the findings truly support that.
- Emphasize the value in the learnings. Having done the research in the first place saved the company from moving forward with an idea that was potentially destined to fail. It prevented a costly misstep that could have caused a blemish on the company’s reputation. The learnings from your research gives them the opportunity to make vital improvements prior to a successful launch!
- Consider retesting. After revisions have been made, run the research project for the revised idea and use the initial test’s results as your benchmark. Consistency is key here, so be sure to run the research project for the revised idea just as the initial project was run (same sample specs, quotas, questionnaire, etc.).
While it is difficult to relay bad news, it is just as difficult to receive it—perhaps even more so! Keeping these tips in mind while preparing and presenting your research results should go a long way in softening the blow while building confidence and trust from your colleague. In the end, you’ll all come out smelling like a rose!
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