After conducting thousands of marketing research studies and asking hundreds of thousands of questions, I have come to understand one thing: There are no bad questions, only irrelevant ones.

In other words, the majority of questions asked are irrelevant. That is, they don't result in answers that lead to actions.

Marketing research has only one purpose: to provide marketers with information that leads to actions that, in turn, lead to making more money. While interesting information might be food for the intellect, it is usually a brutal waste of money unless it leads to action.

The challenge in getting the absolute most out your marketing research dollars, therefore, is in asking questions relating to areas where action is possible. The trick, of course, is knowing what questions to ask.

Here are six steps to take that will put you on track to finding the right questions:

1. Don't be lazy. Marketers are amazingly lazy when it comes to marketing research. They find it less mind-numbing to ask lots and lots of questions, in the hope that at least some will be the right ones, than to struggle through a winnowing process to determine which ones are pivotal. Long, rambling, expensive questionnaires feed the common wisdom that asking every possible question means asking at least some that are relevant.

Getting lots of answers isn't itself the problem. Rather, the trick is knowing the ones on which to hang your marketing dollars—and maybe even your job. A little bit of anticipation when planning your research projects will produce far fewer and far more meaningful questions.

2. Understand leverage. Leverage speaks to the essence of meaningful research. Is your greatest opportunity for growth in selling more to current customers? Trying to recapture lost customers? Attracting new ones? Is it in energizing your current sales people or enlarging the sales force? Is it in adding new products or services?

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image of Robert Kaden

Bob Kaden is president of The Kaden Company and author of Guerrilla Marketing Research. He can be reached at