The way that you conduct your field research will have a significant impact on the quality of the results. Below are the key points to remember when conducting your research and interpreting your results.
Ask the right questions
If your questions are badly phrased then they may produce misleading results. Avoid closed questions which encourage the answer "yes" or "no". A stationery shop that asks customers if they intend to buy pens in the next year will find out just that - but they won't discover what type of pens, eg specially engraved pens or cheap biros.
Talk to the right people
A survey at a railway station, for example, will get answers from commuters, but if you're targeting people who stay at home with young children, this won't be representative of your market.
Talk to enough people
A survey, for example, of two people won't get you enough information. Some market research professionals suggest asking at least 150 people in order to get a complete picture.
Keep research impartial
It's easy to encourage people to give the answer you want. For example, by asking leading questions or smiling at the 'right' answer. Discussions, where you're not working from a list of set questions, are particularly easy to distort. And in a focus group, individuals with strong opinions may influence the views of others.
Interpret results with care
You need to make sure you draw the right conclusions from your research. Bear in mind that people may distort answers in the hope of affecting what you do. For example, they might say they would be interested in a product "if the price was lower". Qualitative research - where you're investigating feelings and attitudes - can be particularly difficult to interpret.
It can be tempting to pick out results that confirm what you want to hear, and ignore the rest. But ignoring negative results could damage your business. Be prepared to modify your plans if necessary.
If you don't have the time or skills to carry out research yourself, consider using a market research agency.