“What do you mean you can increase my sales?”

Filterati and UX Director Robert Lasker has heard this question from more clients than he can count when he explains how they’ll benefit from high-quality user research. Though more and more companies are investing in the research that underpins effective UX, he says, “it’s still one of the first items to be struck from the product development budget. Stakeholders aren’t making the very real connection between user research and their bottom lines.”

Many companies see research as a nice-to-have or a superfluous spend, Robert explains, and not as the concrete investment it really is. In reality, the outcome of good UX research is always quantifiable — and that means it needs to be approached as seriously as any other part of the project. In a nutshell, this industry veteran says, “it’s not art — it’s business!”

On that note, let’s dive into three high-impact ways to get the most out of your user research budget, and to make sure your investment delivers the measurable results you need. Together with our UX Filterati, we’ll show you how to take research out of the silo in which it too often exists, and position it where it belongs: at the heart of your business strategy.

1. Test Your Hypotheses Early — and Be Prepared for Them to Fail.

“Surprise!” is the last thing you want to hear when your product is already in the design and development stages— or worse, once it’s been released. We’ve said it before, but considering that 72% of failed products are attributed to poor user adoption, it bears repeating: user research is absolutely critical, and it needs to happen as early as possible.

“Learn fast, fail fast, adjust fast,” Robert advises. “Without first developing a clear understanding of their users, teams often make decisions based on pet ideas that aren’t backed by facts.” The problem will rear its head later on, with frustrating and costly results.

Fixing the product gets exponentially costlier and more difficult further along in the product development process. As Filterati and UX Researcher Michael Perry explains, “Research can identify problems before you spend money on coding, before your initial users have poor experiences, before your brand is tarnished.”

Be an early bird: invest in research up front, before you even touch design and development. Take stakeholder assumptions and personal opinions out of the equation at the start of the project; your team, your users, and your budget will thank you.

2. Understand the “What” and “Why” of the Main Research Methods

One of the biggest frustrations we heard from the professionals at UXPA is that their companies and clients don’t fully understand what they do and why their work matters. The results of this disconnect are many: insufficient research budgets, difficulties getting stakeholder buy-off, hiring missteps, and significant delays in the product development process.

User research is a complex discipline that’s constantly shifting in light of new insights and technologies — so leave the planning and implementation to the experts. However, developing a baseline understanding of the main types of UX research, and the business value they each provide, can go a long way. Take a step toward bridging the communication gap. “That way,” Robert says, “when your UX team makes a research recommendation, you’ll know why they came to that decision and what value you’ll get out of it.”

Everyone benefits when stakeholders and team leaders have a better sense of the time, resources and talent that will be involved in their user research efforts — and most importantly, why this work matters.

3. Hire a Researcher Who’s Also Your Partner in Business

There’s a big difference between a UX researcher who can perform the required tasks and one who blows it out of the water. An ROI-maximizing researcher is laser-focused on quantifiable results — and becomes a true partner in driving the project toward your business goals. “User research can be expensive,” Michael says, “so prioritize finding a UX researcher who will help you get real value out of the studies.”

The most effective UX researchers think in terms of the big-picture and are passionate about helping your company succeed. Many research professionals love their work because they’re empathetic “people people” — ultimately, it’s the measurable end result that should drive every one of their decisions. Hire an individual who doesn’t just generate information, but who has the analytical mind, business savvy, and communication skills to translate it into an actionable strategy.

“The most important part of the job ,” Michael explains,” is leveraging that research to influence others in the company to make better, more user-focused choices. Look for someone with a relentless focus on using the research outputs to affect design and business decisions within your organization.”

Looking for a crash course (or refresher) on the main types of UX research and what they mean for your ROI? Here’s our pocket guide for the non-researcher.