Market research tips for busy business owners
There are plenty of ways to conduct good research without breaking the bank.
Market research doesn’t need to be expensive or time consuming – there are plenty of ways to conduct good research without breaking the bank.
Here are some of the common types of surveys and their related benefits and potential pitfalls:
One-on-one discussions allow for deeper questions to be asked and more varied, open-ended responses to be given. An interviewer can drill down to get more details on specific responses. Interviews can be done on site (for instance at a product demonstration kiosk) or at point of sale (in your own storefront). This method also encourages a relatively high response rate. On-site interviews can be done at any time and are great when you wish to gather immediate feedback about your customers’ experiences.
In-depth individual interviews can be expensive to implement. They may also be time consuming for both the survey administrator and the respondent. Respondents are unlikely to spend much free time responding to an interviewer unless they receive compensation.
A focus group (an organized gathering of consumers or potential consumers) has many of the same benefits as interviews. It can also be free flowing, where the group interaction and discussion may produce richer and more unexpected results than individual Q&A interviews. An administrator can help guide the discussion to help elicit honest responses (interrupting the group tendency to be overly positive).
Focus groups are time consuming and expensive to organize. Both administrators and participants will likely have to be compensated for their time. You will possibly have to pay for a venue and other expenses.
With a telephone survey, the administrator can guide the conversation and get more detailed responses. The survey administrator can clarify any misunderstandings the respondent may have. You are likely to get higher response rates than you will with e-mail or written surveys. Questions should be brief and to the point, showing respect for the respondents’ time,
Telephone calls, particularly unsolicited ones, are invasive and can turn off potential customers. There is legislation restricting telemarketing in Canada due to consumer complaints, including the National Do Not Call List (DNCL). Try not to make the mistake that frustrates most people – calling around dinner time.
Through e-mail you can reach an almost unlimited number of customers quickly and cheaply. These surveys are best when you have a dedicated online following, and be sure to use shorter questions that will likely result in a higher response rate.
Unsolicited e-mail is unwelcome and, in many cases, illegal. The federal government is currently considering a new anti-spam law. Responses are also voluntary and will not be as representative as a scientifically selected random sample. Responses will be limited as the format does not allow open questions.
Written surveys can be administered directly, perhaps at point of sale, or distributed in a non-invasive way. This can be through the visible placement of customer feedback forms or questionnaires at your place of business or within mailed invoices. These can be inexpensive and non-invasive ways to target your existing customers when they are immediately engaged with your business. The surveys can be ongoing and are not time sensitive and allow for customers to spend more time detailing their feedback.
With a voluntary written survey there may be a low response rate. If the survey is restricted to customers there will be an even more narrow range of respondents (limited to existing customers who take the time to complete a survey).
If you maintain a website you can also incorporate multi-level surveys for customers at little or no cost. There are numerous online options available for do-it-yourself surveys. Many of them are free, although paid services will generally have richer features and will allow deeper analysis. Links to the survey should feature prominently on your homepage and in email and other correspondence with your customers.
You’ll gain the most from your research efforts if they are an ongoing part of your business process, not just a one-off effort. Make a habit of collecting your customers’ feedback and rendering it into data. Keep a close track of customers’ preferences and complaints. This will give you a data set from which you can start drawing conclusions that will help you execute a successful strategy.