How to conduct an effective voice of market study?

5 min read


Strategic business decisions are made on more than just quantitative data. To obtain deeper insights and gain an edge on the competition, many companies choose to conduct a voice of market (VOM) study, often outsourcing this work to a specialized firm that can produce highly targeted and impartial results.

A voice of market study provides actionable feedback on how to better satisfy customers by using primary research techniques to gather qualitative data directly from market participants and answer key questions informing a product or market strategy. VOM projects are popular because they provide detailed insights—such as information about key purchasing factors, decision makers and pain points—that can help guide your strategic decisions moving forward.

If your company is considering a VOM project, it’s important to understand all the steps needed to correctly execute a VOM study that meets the expectations of your stakeholders, offers sound conclusions and provides the depth of analysis needed.

Here, providing a high-level overview of the VOM research process, so you can understand each step required for a successful VOM project and best practices to follow.

1. Develop a Clear Research Objective

The first step to initiating a VOM study is identifying a problem area and considering what information is needed to support strategic decisions guiding improvements. For example, a company may be working to develop a new innovative product for the US market but is looking to minimize the business risk associated with this product launch. To help ensure the new product will gain favor in an already crowded market, the company seeks targeted voice-of-market insights to gauge the potential acceptance of the new product by key end-users and purchasing decision makers.

2. Define the Scope of Your Project

Once you understand your research objective, the next step is to define the scope of the research. As you do so, consider the following key elements:

  1. Product or service – Identify the product or service that is the focus of the research. Define the scope of what products are included in the research. What technical parameters define whether a product is in or out of scope?
  2. Geographic segmentation – Define the region of the world you want to focus on and determine the level of detail you need. Consider how you want the data to look at the end of the project. Do you want to know market forces and preferences at a high-level (a global view), or do you need to know how buying preferences differ at a regional level? For example, a company might need to know how the US market preferences for paper towels differs from the European market, or how the window material and preference selection in the Southern US differs from the Northeastern US.
  3. Target constituent groups – Who are the key targets for research? What node of the value chain do you want to target? Consider every step in the value chain, including competitors, customers and trade partners. Think about what roles and responsibilities you are interested in, and if multiple personas are warranted. Decide which groups you need feedback from to gain a holistic understanding of the topic.

3. Gather Information and Engage Stakeholders

After you outline the scope of the project, collect all the internal information you have related to the question you are investigating. Research projects work best when internal knowledge is communicated upfront, and key stakeholders are engaged from the beginning.

If you are looking to improve an existing product, gather feedback from sales reps first. Discuss the research objectives with product managers, purchasing managers, engineers, executives and other internal stakeholders to better understand the problem and identify the potential points of resistance.

Pull technical parameters reflecting key markets and related information to define the specifics around the product or service improvement you are investigating. (Reflect on how these specifics relate to your scope. Revisit whether the products are in scope, and what parameters deem a product or service out of scope.)

As you collect internal information, be sure to include the viewpoints of internal stakeholders early on. Consider who you want involved on the project. Those you plan to present to at the close of the project should not be introduced at the final presentation because they likely have a slightly different view of the scope or purpose of research.

4. Build a Foundation of Secondary Research

Primary research should always be supplemented with secondary research available through industry models, published market research reports, company annual reports and presentations, industry publications, past primary research, trade data, government data, press releases and a wide array of information that is publicly available. Before initiating interviews or surveys, gain an appreciation for what information, trends and topics may come up during primary research.

5. Create a List of Research Questions

Next, identify a short-list of key research questions, the answers to which are essential to completing this VOM effort successfully. Start by gathering feedback from your internal team to get everyone’s viewpoint on which questions are most important to the objective of this project.

Prioritize questions that are need-to-know versus nice-to-know. Don’t necessarily cut the nice-to-know questions, just deprioritize them, or bucket them under a core question as supporting information. Get all stakeholder’s buy-in on what is most important. This step is complete when you have a list of 6-8 core questions that will guide the results of research. Consider the depth and breadth of questions on this list and consider any potential follow-up questions.

6. Carry Out Primary Research

Primary research based on in-depth interviews and surveys should be impartial, unbiased and representative of your target group in order to result in the best concrete insights on the back end. This is where the rubber meets the road, and you start getting realistic, real-time, actionable feedback.

Typically, in-depth interviews are the best means of eliciting the knowledge needed to inform a VOM study. Based on the number of calls and constituent groups, a more thorough VOM typically runs anywhere from 4-12 weeks, depending on the contacts per vertical.

Primary research is a key phase of the project, consisting of several steps, as follows:

  1. Write the interview guide (or survey).
    • Interview guide development is at the core of VOM research. The interview guide is not a questionnaire or script to be recited on every call. Conversely, the interview guide is a master list of all the questions that must answered through in-depth interviews.
    • Interview guides are tailored to each constituent group targeted during the project, based on the viewpoint of the respondent, structure of the industry or organization and sensitivity of the subject matter.
  2. Build the prospect list.
    • Depending on the scope of the project, the prospect list may be hundreds of respondents long, covering multiple constituent groups.
  3. Conduct in-depth interviews per constituent group.
    • The number of interviews required depends on project specifics, such as the magnitude of the scope, level of detail sought in key research questions, and level of segmentation by which the VOM results will be presented.
    • All interviews are reported anonymously, including a general title and company name, while the respondent’s name is concealed to ensure their anonymity.
  4. Reach out again when needed.
    • Oftentimes, in-depth interviews require speaking with the respondents more than once, or with more than one role, to complete an interview.

As calls are completed, corroborate current assumptions and understandings with new information to identify trends, consensus, inconsistencies and conflicting viewpoints as they relate to the role interviewed and industry vertical.

7. Write the Voice of Market Study

At the close of the project, the deliverable is a comprehensive report answering every question identified and agreed as key research questions.

A VOM report contains:

  • Introduction
    • Includes restatement of scope and objective, and anonymously reported primary research participants
  • Executive summary
    • Highlights the most important results of research
  • Synthesis of findings
    • The report body including verbatim quotes from in-depth interviews, and conclusions answering key research questions.
    • Findings are organized in a wide variety of structures and presentation styles, depending on prescribed segmentation and results of the research.
  • Appendix (as applicable)
    • Especially in the case of a survey, the appendix would include a collection of tables detailing survey results in a clean and compact manner.

8. Adjust Strategies Based on Findings

The final step of every successful VOM study is taking the conclusions from the report and making strategic decisions guiding the future of your business and implementing actionable changes.

A Note on Collaboration and Project Management

The nature of the research process is to gain an appreciation for your target markets you weren’t aware of previously, and often that leads to more, deeper questions to be answered beyond what was laid out at the project commencement.

Finally, as you consider the scope and key research questions of your VOM project, there will likely be project elements your team needs assistance in defining.

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