Bob had a different approach in mind: He thought the primary research effort might yield more actionable results if the team invested first in reviewing secondary sources. His thinking was along these lines:
- A thorough understanding of publicly available data may allow the team to undertake primary research from a much more informed vantage point, eliminate concepts that may already have been market-tested, and formulate (more) specific program concepts for testing.
- Primary research that builds on recent and validated foundational knowledge may stimulate participants to be more thoughtfully engaged compared to primary research conducted in a vacuum.
- Secondary studies are less costly than primary research and may enhance the value of follow-on investment.
Secondary research isn’t appropriate to address every business question and, as with any methodology, Bob needs to consider the downsides including:
- Sources may not be timely, especially academic or scholarly resources with long lead times to publication.
- Sources might reflect publication bias, that is, the tendency of researchers to publish only significant or positive results.
- Sources may present data that answers a slightly different question than what a researcher really wants to ask.
- Researchers won’t know whether appropriate data actually exist until the search begins, and resources that carry a price tag may sound good but ultimately be disappointing.
- Secondary reviews add time to the process when research organizations are frequently under pressure to provide answers now.
Bob decided to take a chance: He built a few extra weeks into his timeline and found a partner who had time to look at recent news from the national trade association representing the health insurance industry and white papers from trendsetters in the benefits consulting arena. These sources referenced particular vendors of interest, and so he looked at what they were promoting on their Web sites and from the conference podium. He noticed the investment community had taken notice of one upstart vendor in particular that was profiled in the lay press. Organizations like the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Commonwealth Fund had created demonstration projects in partnership with federal agencies that were likely to be mirrored soon in the private sector. Armed with this information, the team was able to hone their program concept to better meet customer needs and leapfrog the competition before they invested resources in speaking to potential customers.
The bottom line is that secondary data may well be sufficient to answer general questions, develop a “temperature check,” identify broad market factors and trends, or assess a specific market feature. And what about Bob? Now he plays a broader leadership role on the team and is well-regarded in the organization for saving his company money and delivering market-winning insight.