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Marketing Viewpoint by Ruth Winett

When You Receive Mixed Signals:
Resolving Conflicting Evidence

When you research family history, you often encounter conflicting evidence: A friend had always heard that her grandmother landed on Ellis Island when she immigrated to the US. My friend was surprised to learn from records at the National Archives that her grandmother had actually landed in Montreal!

Harold Henderson, a genealogist and writer, provides suggestions for handling conflicting genealogy evidence. These tips will also help you resolve contradictions in business data.

Notice conflicting evidence. You are the vice president of sales at a mobile phone company. Assume that sales of a popular Android phone are increasing by 5% each month while product returns are increasing by 1%. Should you be concerned even though the product manager is not concerned?

What problem do you need to research to reconcile the contradictory evidence? The problem to research is, "Why are revenues increasing at the same time that product returns are also increasing?"

Is the contradiction significant? Henderson cautions, "Don't take a nuclear weapon to [a] dust bunny! Make sure the conflict is significant with regard to [the] specific research question." Where my friend's grandmother landed is not important as she soon left Montreal for Boston. While a growing number of product returns is significant, you should not drop products or fire staff before evaluating the apparent contradiction between sales and returns.

What other evidence can you find? To explore the reasons for the returns, request sales and return data for one or two quarters, not just one month. Look at evidence region-by-region and even by segments. If the attrition is more pronounced in Smyrna, Georgia, than in Framingham, Massachusetts, look for root causes. Speak with distributors and/or salespeople in the market that is most affected. Also speak with customers.

Analyze the data. You interview Fred, a retired first-time smart phone owner, who attended a class on using Android phones. The instructor talked about games and applications. However, Fred needed help with texting and other more basic functions. He consulted the phone's online manual, but the 200 page manual was overwhelming. Fred exchanged his phone for a more intuitive model.

Correlate (resolve) differences. You find that your staff in Framingham conducts more and better training sessions than staff in Smyrna. You also find that seasonal promotions in Smyrna obscured the increases in phone returns.

Share conclusions and develop a plan. Seek input from others, and then develop action plans.If other smart phone owners also struggled with their phones, you could conclude that a train-the-trainer program, plus a simplified manual would reduce the number of returns. You might also suggest product enhancements that would make the phones easier to use.

People have access to different data. Some may draw quick conclusions, for example, that the increased number of returns is the result of short battery life or the inconvenient size of the device. When the evidence is contradictory, you should research why, and then you should test your conclusions by speaking with others. With sufficient information, you can then form a plan. Sometimes, however, the best way to handle conflicting evidence is to wait and watch and re-assess the problem.

We wish you and yours a Happy and Healthy New Year!

© December, 2013

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