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When working with a market research company, your project's success can be sabotaged in a number of ways. To get the most out of your efforts, avoid these ten pitfalls:

1. Setting fuzzy objectives. Successful studies begin with clear and specific objectives. Advertising research pioneer Sherwood Dodge said, "No research technique is so sharp that it can answer a fuzzy problem." If, at the beginning of the project, you can look ahead and envision how you'll use the results, you're on the right track.

2. Not telling the researchers what you plan to do with the results. Researchers do a better job of designing a project for you if they understand what you hope to accomplish. Benefit from the research company's expertise; they have probably faced situations similar to yours and can plan accordingly.

3. Designing the questionnaire by committee. When it comes to framing objectives, it's equally important to avoid creating a "Frankenstein's monster" questionnaire where different groups supply questions that are all bolted together just before lightning strikes. This development process can increase design time and create a disjointed survey instrument. In addition, when too many masters are to be served it's impossible for re-searchers to identify every important issue and connection in a project.

Another consequence of committee development is an inflated questionnaire that frightens off respondents. Lower response rates result in bad information and lead to bad decision making.

4. Assuming respondents are as interested in your survey as you are. Respondents are doing you a huge favor by answering. Remember, they're not nearly as interested in supplying you with information as you are in receiving it. As a result, keep your survey short, to the point, and easy to complete.

5. Asking "interesting" questions. The interesting question (as in "I don't know what we'll use that data for, but I'll bet it will be interesting") contributes to lengthy questionnaires and low response rates. Common examples of "interesting" questions include standard demographic queries (age, gender, marital status, etc.) when there is no action plan for data use at the back end. As mentioned earlier, frivolous questions inflate the price of a survey and can sacrifice high response rates.

6. Not following sample selection instructions. This pitfall is one of the most costly, yet one of the most easily avoided. The research company should provide your data people with explicit instructions of how to generate the sample from your files. Creative alternatives to proper sampling procedures can lead to unusable data.

7. Being penny-wise and pound-foolish. Attempts to reduce out-of-pocket expenditures by eliminating return postage on the reply envelope, avoiding the use of some kind of incentive, or offering the incentive only if a reply is received.

8. Rejecting the results when they don't match your preconceived notions. When research uncovers facts contrary to what clients think or want to hear, their first reaction may be to reject the research. Before tossing the report out the window, it would be prudent to make sure that there was no mistake in research design or execution. After confirming that the data is sound, it's important to realize that the research really does reflect something that you ought to factor in with what you already know.

9. Not using the results. For whatever reason — inconclusive results, "negative" results, personnel turnover — a disheartening proportion of research reports end up sitting on the shelf, collecting dust. Clearly, there is no surer way to squander your research investment than to consign it to oblivion. To help ensure this doesn't happen to your project, confirm why you're conducting the project in the first place and share that knowledge with your research partner; involve those who are most likely to use the results; keep the survey focused; and don't overlook the details such as a sample selection.

A research project requires a significant investment of time and money. Avoiding these pitfalls will help ensure a solid return on your research investment.

Cari Brennan and Dick Rogers are with Readex Research, Stillwater, MN.

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