How Do Groups Make Decisions?

“Who plays a role? What are the points of entry?”

One afternoon, Willow Research took an hour, sat down on our
office couch, and discussed what research means to us, how we have seen
it used, and what it can do for our clients. No jargon, just
conversation and good stories.

Here we talk about how groups make decisions: from companies
purchasing B2B services to jurors deciding a high-profile court case.

And what happens when the client has to come to a group decision about what to do with the research results?


Can you talk about how your clients use jury research?

Sara Parikh:  Sure. For example, [we have a client who is a] trial lawyer, and his client was a world-renowned violinist, really a protégé, named Rachel Barton. She had been injured, she was riding a local commuter train in the Chicago area, and she got her shoulder and her violin stuck in the train as the doors were closing. She ended up getting dragged by the train about 250 feet and lost one leg and part of the other.

Our client had her civil lawsuit against the railroad. It was a very high-profile local case, and he really wanted to know what was the best
strategy for communicating the case to a jury. You can’t change the facts, but you can change how you present it, what emphasis you play and
so forth.

We did a series of focus groups and a mock trial to help him hone his arguments. And he heavily used that during his opening and closing statements and, in fact, his strategy for the entire trial. And he ended up with a $30 million award for her.


You mentioned that you use jury research techniques to look at B2B decision-making…

SP:          In juries, you have all these different decision-makers, and they have to come to some consensus.

We use some of the same jury research techniques when we look at B2B decision-making, it’s a combination of exploring the process, how they’re coming to a decision, the dynamics of power in the room, and who is really influencing the decision.

Vandana Razdan:  You get to see firsthand how the group dynamics unfold and the interplay. There may be stronger individuals, there might be more passive individuals.

SP:          And they might have different roles, which is often the case.

For example, we were examining the decision-making process among hospital executives for a financial services company that sells into the C-suite. And we brought together decision-makers from within the same organization, the same hospital, to get their reaction to our client’s

And you could see that there are people who had expertise in certain areas, like patient collections, and they were deferred to on certain aspects of the product.

VR:         Right, because they brought their own points of view to it, that maybe the CFO or the COO did not have any first-hand knowledge of, or any frontline knowledge of.

SP:          It wasn’t all hierarchical. People had specific roles in the decision, and that was really important for our client to understand. So, part of it is understanding the process, and part of it is also helping to understand what are the real drivers that help them decide…what are the main factors that help them decide on a particular product or service.

VR:         And it helps the client unpack the messaging points that will resonate the most and with whom. Point of entry. The client might be thinking, “We need to target our sales to the CFO.” But really you need to get in with the frontline user and work your way up.

Sometimes you can’t predict those things ahead of time, they just reveal themselves as part of the research. So, these are surprises that become uncovered or revealed as we go along.


What happens if the clients themselves have multiple stakeholders, multiple decision-makers. How do you make sure they canact on the research? Is there a way to be sure of that?

SP:          There absolutely is. When there are multiple stakeholders with multiple goals, we’ll often do a work session, which is both strategic and tactical. We sit down with the entire internal client team, and we’ll review the research in great detail, covering all the objectives we’ve tried to accomplish. And then we’ll spend maybe a half day or a day, depending on the project, helping them brainstorm tactics and prioritize, because often there’s multiple
ideas that will be generated by the research.

So, they’ll develop tactics and we’ll work with them, and we’ll keep coming back to the data. They should walk out of there with a number of priorities and tactics to act on from the research. And our clients will oftentimes develop working groups to execute the learning from our research.

VR:         And we make sure we frame the findings in an actionable way, to crystallize it for them. They’ll always know how they can move forward.


Ultimately, how do you know a client has gotten what they need?

SP:          They can act on our research.

VR:         [Laughs] And they’ll tell you if they can’t!

SP:          And honestly, it should never get to the end and they go, “Oh, I didn’t get what I needed.” It’s not a black box. The whole process is collaborative and transparent. The client should be engaged. If they’re not getting the answers they need along the way, we adjust. And so, they should always get what they need in the end.

VR:         Sometimes one study is a stepping stone to a deeper study down the road, because of our findings.

SP:          Yes, but they should always get what they need.

Betsy Kniffen:  What they need is more research!

©2021 Willow Research. All Rights Reserved.