DIY CI Research Tips (part 3 of 3)Posted: June 24, 2015
April 24, 2015
In the prior two blogs, I have touched on starting your own CI research and on time as an issue. Now, I want to get into the weeds. How do you plan to conduct your own research? (Yes, you should plan. Getting started without a plan is like deriving your car without a destination.)
Look at the questions you generated. Then look at your potential research sources organized in some sort of groups or clusters. We use the broad categories of Government & Non-profits. The Private sector, and Media to encompass vast numbers of specific resources under a few headings, but you can make up your own. Just make sure that all potential sources, both secondary and primary, are included in one of them.
If something triggered your research, such as an article in a trade publication or a report from a salesperson in the field, start there:
With respect to the article, read it again. When was the article published? From there, determine when the reporter or news service had to have gotten the information in the first place. You now have an idea of how old that information was. Use the article as a kickoff point: if you can contact someone who was quoted in the article, even if her/his contribution was peripheral to your concern, start with that person – call them, or e-mail them. What you are looking for is not just information from them, but also a lead to somewhere, something, or someone else. If you cannot call an interviewee, can you contact the reporter? As a reporter is not likely to give up information without an exchange, now or in the future, from you, exercise great discretion in making such contacts.
If your source for the information that led you on your research chase was a report from a sales representative, contact that sales representative. Was there anything else that she heard, saw, or even suspected? Again you are looking for leads beyond her. If she mentioned that she heard this information from a store manager, ask if she will do you the favor of going back to the store manager. Remember, you are simultaneously trying to build up a network of good contacts, so always be prepared to help out those who help you.
As you go along, look at each piece of data that you collect as being not only an element in building up an answer to your question, but as a way to find other sources of data. For example, if you find a reference to your problem in a trade publication, which is not one usually covering your industry, research elsewhere in that publication. They may have covered this particular topic, target, or problem earlier.
Never be afraid to ask someone who says they “cannot help you” to suggest someone who might be able to do so. If they do (a) thank them, (b) get as much contact information as you can, and (c) ask if you can use his/her name when you reach out to the new source. If you can, it often means the difference between getting a lot of cooperation and getting very little.
Here are several ways experienced researchers manage their research:
- Make sure you at least tried to access some resource in each of the large groups that we’ve given you or that you have created. It is not that each group will always have the data you’re looking for, but without digging into each one, you cannot be sure that you have looked at every particularly useful source of data.
- Stop about halfway through your research. Look at, either physically or in your mind, where you have gone. Have you found that interviews have been much more useful than secondary research? Has what you been looking for been disclosed, at least in part, by filings with federal, state or local governments? Use these insights to reset the balance of your research.
- Look at your research sources. One effective rule is that if you keep coming back to the same resources, such as particular government agencies, individuals, public records, trade associations, etc. you have probably exhausted the sources that can help you. It is time to shut down the research and begin the analysis.
When writing up your analysis, there are drafting tricks which you can use which I will cover at another time. Each of them requires that you have been disciplined in recording your research and analysis somewhere, rather than relying on your memory to retain everything. This is a critical point and should not be overlooked. Do not keep everything in your mind – always make and keep complete notes. And make those notes as soon as possible after interviews and other research steps.