Market research is often the key to a successful business but many small businesses wrongfully assume it is something only for more sophisticated organizations. Not true! Market research can help any business gain actionable data to help identify new opportunities in the marketplace, better target customers with marketing campaigns and uncover problems with the business that may not come up otherwise.
The easiest form of market research is to go to the source: your customer base. Asking a target customer about how they meet the need your products and services aim to fill, their willingness to pay for it, and their decision-making process can offer huge insights. Small business expert (and BizLaunch founder) Andrew Patricio explains several quick and easy ways to access customer’s insights including surveys and focus groups. Other resources include government data and doing some secret shopping.
Surveys are a great way to quickly ask a lot of people questions about your business. While you can certainly perform telephone and in-person surveys, free online resources like SurveyMonkey can prove significantly more efficient since you can quickly email your survey to thousands of people or link it to your website and get actionable results right away. And SurveyMonkey has terrific reporting capabilities that make it easy to understand the responses you’re getting.
Patricio also recommends conducting a focus group to get more in depth feedback that you just can’t get from a survey. Focus groups are more involved and can be expensive but given the valuable insights that may be uncovered, they can easily prove their value and ROI.
Before starting down the focus group road, be sure you understand what information you’re trying to get and frame questions in a way that encourage unfettered conversation. It’s in the free flow of ideas that generate key insights. Also, don’t host groups in your place of business, and pick a moderator that is neutral and unbiased in order to get honest feedback.
If you’re a data hound, doing competitive analysis, or looking to expand your business to a new market, the U.S. Small Business Administration has a plethora of useful data for specific markets, industries, competition, compensation, and sales data. It’s a must-use resource for anyone looking to expand or conduct a competitive analysis.
Another way easy way to conduct customer research is to observe them in your store or on your website. For e-commerce businesses, Google Analytics can help give you initial insights, but to get a true sense of what your potential customers are doing, you may find doing in-home visits quite telling. Understanding triggers, external distractions that lead to cart abandonment, and other behaviors can help you create better marketing messaging and improve sales.
With a few simple tools, anyone can understand their customer and competitors better in order to improve their business.