New Product Development: Construction industry benefits from qualitative research methods in new product development

Survey Magazine - July 2013Qualitative market research techniques are gaining an ever increasing foothold in the construction industry.

Typically, manufacturers and distributors of products conduct very little research, with the exception of Customer Satisfaction Measurement (CSM).  CSM typically uses quantitative, statistically-meaningful techniques to develop a scorecard.

More and more firms, selling in the construction distribution channels – from manufacturers, to distributors, to dealers, to contractors/end users are becoming even more interested in the why.  Qualitative research is the most efficient process to gain this why understanding, which is particularly important in new product development.

Many firms that seek to develop new products have discovered that when they use qualitative market research in the process, the target market helps them with the development.  This market-back approach, rather than factory-forward approach, to new product development can substantially increase the odds for success, since actual buyers have been involved in the development process and supply the development team the what and the why.  Manufacturers and qualitative research consultants team together to assure confidentiality and that the most efficient qualitative techniques are used during the process.

There are countless stories about hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars being spent on retooling or investing in steel and concrete, only to have the product flop when introduced to the marketplace because market research was not utilized.

Through innovative qualitative techniques such as ideation sessions, ethnography, on-line and traditional focus groups and one-on-one individual interviews, the new product or service is honed to fit market needs.

There are also cases where some construction industry professionals feel they do not want to make a decision based on what eight people say in a traditional focus group setting.  However, it is rare in the new product development process to only conduct one focus group or deploy only one qualitative research technique.

More recently, the hybrid method of conducting this product development research has gained favor and has offered insights to enable cross-functional teams to create products and services for which the market is willing to pay.  Hybrid methods may incorporate qualitative and quantitative methods or a combination of individual interviews and focus groups, mixed with ethnography.  It just makes sense to deploy more than one method in such new product development since none is a “magic bullet” by itself.

If company sales, marketing, engineering and operations personnel, however, are not all on the same page and in sync with the market, sales become more difficult and strife is accentuated between company disciplines.  Smart companies are utilizing involvement of all teams in the research process.

Clearly, if a sales person sits in front of a potential buyer with a proposed new product, the buyer will in many cases give the product at least a luke warm rating for success.  They don’t want to offend the sales person. Also, if the product engineer accompanies the sales person to the interview, the engineer actually explains everything about the product and does a “sell-job” on the potential buyer.  This process really accomplishes nothing other than making the team of interviewers feel good about what has been created.  Also, the why is generally not understood from the potential buyer.  Professional researchers can help companies achieve better results because they know not to directly ask why, but utilize techniques to get to the why with the interviewee voluntarily.

The construction industry is evolving in its use of proper market research.  The factory forward days for new product development are sun-setting rapidly.  Utilizing the hybrid cross-functional teams approach to new product development will reduce research and developmental costs.  When customers design the product to fit their perceived need, it’s tough to fail.


John Cashmore

John Cashmore is a member of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) and owner of Opinion Dive Market Research & Consulting, a full service market research firm with 32 years of experience in industries including building materials and construction, industrial products, heavy equipment, lawn and garden and agriculture. The firm’s goal is to create cost effective market research techniques to assure actionable information for clients. QRCA is celebrating 30 years of leadership in Qualitative Research, 1983-2013.