10 Secrets to Good Qualitative Market Research

10 Secrets to good qualitative market research - stacy kessler wide.jpeg

Getting Started with Market Research

Doing market research is so important no matter what phase of building or growing your business you’re in. If you haven’t done it before, you’re probably wondering how to do market research, asking questions like:

What kind of market research should I do?

How do I write good research interview questions?

How do I find people to survey or interview?

But one question that people don’t often ask, but is the oh-so-important secret to doing quality market research, is how to be a good interviewer.

For small businesses, one of the best ways to conduct market research is qualitatively. Qualitative research can be as simple as having a conversation with a past client or learning from a group of people that are your ideal clients. No matter what qualitative research method you choose, you’re going to get the best information if you learn good interview tips.

Wanna know the secrets to being a good interviewer? I’m gonna dish it all.

Qualitative Research Interview Secrets

Secret #1: Choose your environment carefully

When you pick a place to interview people, you should choose an environment that will make them most comfortable for the type of interview you are conducting. Which environment is best will be drastically different depending on the context of the conversation you hope to have with them, but in all situations, you want to choose a place that will allow them to open up about the topic you’re going to discuss.

Sometimes a coffee shop, bar, or casual food joint is appropriate when the topic is light. The upbeat environment of these places can set the interviewee at ease. However, if you’re in a business that deals with a sensitive topic such as health, death, finances, or relationships, you should instead opt for a more intimate and private environment where people will feel more comfortable opening up. I only suggest asking someone to meet at your home or theirs if a relationship of mutual trust is already established.

Secret #2: Set the tone for honesty

After thanking them for taking the time to meet with you, give a brief overview of why you wanted to chat and what you’re hoping to learn. Then set the tone for an open and honest conversation by telling them that their honest thoughts are valued and that you want to hear about both the good and the bad (especially if they are a past client or are familiar with your industry) so that you can find ways to better serve people like them. Tell them it’s important that you get their unique perspective, not what they think others think.

If this person has worked with you in the past or is familiar with your industry, you now have the hard job of trying not to take negative feedback personally. Don’t get defensive and watch your body language. Seek to understand. Negative feedback is for your own good! After they’ve finished with any negative thoughts, thank them for their honesty. This ensures that they continue to remain open and honest instead of shutting down if they perceive that you are not taking their honesty well.

Need practice? Ask a family member or friend to share a hard truth with you. Practice taking the feedback well, and then, to get the double-whammy practice, ask for feedback on how you took their honest, constructive feedback.

Secret #3: Watch body language

In order to get the best engagement from the person you’re talking to, mirror their body language. If they lean back in their chair (often a sign that they are disengaging), you should also lean back. It’s a natural instinct to instead compensate for their body language, so in this example, you will likely instinctively try to lean in to close the gap and get them as excited about this topic as you are. This actually has the opposite effect of pushing them away even more. Instead, follow their lead.

Conversely, if they lean in and are super engaged, you should do the same. If you instead cross your arms, they will feel like you are not reciprocating and won’t feel as comfortable anymore. Here’s the key to this: be observant and make natural body changes, don’t be creepy and act like you’re playing Simon Says.

Secret #4: Ask open-ended questions

When people think of market research, they usually think of multiple choice questions. While these are useful in some situations, if you’re learning from a small set of people (like most market research for small business is), open-ended questions are usually going to be way more helpful to you. An open-ended question is when you don’t provide answer options. For example, the question, What challenges do you face as an entrepreneur? will be way more helpful than, Which of these challenges do you face as an entrepreneur: loneliness, getting distracted, staying motivated, or having to do everything yourself?

The latter will shift their thoughts to what YOUR hypotheses are and AWAY FROM, what could be, a super helpful insight that isn’t on your multiple choice list. You cannot solve this just by adding an other option because you’ve already conditioned their thoughts along your line of thinking. Instead, start with an open-ended question and if there is something specific that you are curious about that they didn’t touch on, you can ask a follow-up question like, Is it difficult to stay motivated as an entrepreneur?

Not sure what to ask or how to ask it? Download my free guide of feedback questions to use with all of your clients below.

Secret #5: Don’t ask leading questions

You never want to lead someone in your questioning, that is, alluding to the answer you want or think you’ll get in your question. An example of a leading question is, I’m sure it’s difficult to stay motivated as an entrepreneur, right? You might think you’re connecting with and relating to this person by posing this kind of question. Wrong! In reality, you’re assuming you know the answer and are making it more likely that the interviewee is just going to agree with you or find a way to relate to your assumption. This does not lead to good quality information for you to us in your business.

Secret #6: Pay attention to what they’re avoiding

If you ask a question and notice that your interviewee is avoiding the question, not really answering it, or changing the topic, you know you’ve probably touched on something that is important. Another cue to this is if their body language suddenly changes to be less engaged (leaning back, moving away, crossing arms, avoiding eye contact, trying to distract you, etc.).

The natural thing to do is to want to let them cocoon up and move on. DON’T DO THAT! Instead, try to ease into it by asking the question in a different way or moving on to something related and circling back when the time feels right. While something may be difficult to talk about, this is usually where you can get the best learning and insights

When in doubt, you can ask Why? or, Tell me more about that. or Does anything else come to mind?

Secret #7: Be comfortable in silence

That brings me to my next tip, which is to be comfortable in silence. This is not easy. When you ask a question and someone doesn’t immediately respond, do NOT ask it again, rephrase it, or move on. Some people are slower processors and take longer to find their words (but often times have the best responses if you let them). If you jump in during silence, you disrupt their thought process and may miss the good stuff. The same goes if someone is telling you something and there are long pauses in their response; do not try to guess what they are going to say next. Instead, give them the time to tell it in their own words.

And let’s be real - silence is uncomfortable for everyone (except between really close family and friends), so if you don’t end the silence, they will. When they do, it’s possible that the only thing they can think to say is maybe what they are hesitant to say and you may learn something new that would not have surfaced otherwise.

Being comfortable with silence will also allow you to be more present in the conversation. Practice fully-engaged listening so you can have an organic conversation. If you are always trying to think about the next question to ask, you are going to miss key opportunities to dive into important stuff. Instead, listen fully and when it’s time to move on, feel comfortable taking a few seconds to glance at your notes for a follow-up question or consult the discussion guide you brought with you. You never know when these few seconds will lead to a follow-up thought from your interviewee that turns about to be important.

Secret #8: Take good notes

There are two parts to this. The first is to take note in THEIR words verbatim, not your interpretation of them. In order to best connect with the people you want to serve, you want to use their language in your messaging, so take note of that as often as you can.

The second piece is to write down observations. If you notice patterns in their answers, body language changes, how they interact with their environment, or something about them as a person or the things they have with them, write this down. All of this helps you better understand who they are as a whole person and make sense of the between-the-lines information.

Secret #9: Reflect ASAP

When you leave the interview, find a place to reflect on what you just learned as quickly as you can. Sometimes it’s hard to piece together the patterns in the moment because you’re trying to stay engaged in the conversation, but looking back at your notes while the interview is still fresh in your mind can help you do just that.

There are likely ideas and ah-ha moments that will surface as well and you want to give yourself time to process these and capture them before they slip your mind. If a partner was in on the conversation with you, first individually reflect before debriefing. We all see things through our own lens and you want to be sure that your thoughts and observations aren’t influenced by the other person’s recollections.

I suggest you do this after every interview, but also do this after you’ve completed all of your interviews so you can find commonalities across them.

Secret #10 (for group market research): Avoid group-think.

There are some benefits to group research (it just depends on the situation), but be careful to avoid group-think. This is the tendency to go with what the group thinks instead of expressing your independent thoughts and ideas. When you’re doing research with a group, the group-think tends to get dictated by the loudest, most talkative person in the group.

A few ways to avoid this are to have each person individually write down their thoughts before you discuss it as a group. If you find that someone has a minority opinion, ask them to talk before the others. You can also ask a different person to respond first to each question.


10 Secrets to good qualitative market research - stacy kessler square.jpeg

In a nutshell…

the secret to good qualitative market research is…

Be a good interviewer.

10 SECRETS to be a good interviewer are…

Secret #1: Choose your environment carefully

Secret #2: Set the tone for honest

Secret #3: Watch body language

Secret #4: Ask open-ended questions (and remember to download my free list of feedback questions to ask your clients).

Secret #5: Don’t ask leading questions

Secret #6: Pay attention to what they’re avoiding

Secret #7: Be comfortable in silence

Secret #7: Take good notes

Secret #9: Reflect ASAP

Secret #10: (for group market research): Avoid group-think

So there you have it! The secret (+ 10 tips) to conducting quality qualitative market research. Whew! That’s a mouth-full! Now go work on your interview skills and do some market research for your business! You don’t need to have some big fancy setup - just a list of questions and some people to talk to (hint: your ideal client).

Ready for my list of client feedback questions?

If so, download it for free below:


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stacy kessler - pathfinding strategist

Hey There!

I’m Stacy, an entrepreneur, strategist, and adventurer dedicated to helping you craft your dream business out of your skills & passions. Why? Because I think you should love your life and that’s kind of hard to do if you don’t love your work.

You are meant to do important and amazing things in this world and I’m here to help you do just that.

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