What’s Happening in Your Marketplace?

Entrepreneurs just starting out, owners of growing small businesses, corporate marketing managers – business people in general – need a clear understanding of what’s happening in their marketplace:

– of what customers want, what’s frustrating them, and what makes them happy

– of what customers like and don’t like about you and about your competitors

– of the forces creating changes in the marketplace, and what will be their impact

Gaining objective, fact-based answers to questions like these – and using the resulting insights to drive better decisions – is Marketing Research, the key to making any business stronger and more successful.   

Whether your Marketing Research budget is large, small or hardly there at all, here’s what you need to know to get smarter about the market environment you’re operating in, and how to use that knowledge to guide your business to greater success.

Plan Your Project:  A little forethought will assure that your efforts are focused on the issues that really matter – that you get ‘the most bang for your marketing research buck’.

1. What big problem or opportunity are you facing?  What sort of information would help you face it better?

Not getting enough customers through your doors?  Want to attract more?

– What do potential customers know about me – and just how many potential customers are really out there?

– How do they learn about products and services like mine? 

– What do they really care about, and what really upsets them?  How do I measure up?

Wondering about introducing a new product or service?

– Why will customers care?  What’s bad and good about what they’re using today?

– How dissatisfied are they today?  Upset enough to spend real $$$ to change to your new offering?  How many would likely buy your new product, and for how much?

– How will your competitors react?

Worried about competitors eating your lunch?  

– What do customers like about you, about your competitors?  What have you done to make them mad?

– What do customers really think about your competitor’s latest ad campaign / new product / expansion?

2. Methodologies – What types of information will be most helpful in solving your problem?  What sorts of people are most likely to have the information, and what’s the most efficient way to get the answers you need?

Who has the info you need – not just your direct customers, but anyone else who influence their decisions and anyone who has a bearing on your success for failure.  Ex-customers or people who decided not to buy from you are often your very best source of ideas for improvement.

Different questions require different data, and different data implies different methodologies …

“Should I stock red, blue or green?”  A simple survey and simple statistics will tell you how many customers prefer which color – and what else they might like or dislike.

“How do all the players in a complex value chain interact to make or break a new product?”  Better have deep, searching conversations with a number of people who make decisions up and down the value chain.

“What’s the right price for my new product?”  Ask directly and you’re likely to hear numbers you don’t like, but some special techniques and analyses can get your very close to the truth.

3. How much is solid, comprehensive understanding worth?  How painful are the potential consequences of not knowing?  How much should you invest in getting it right?

What would it be worth – Dollars and Cents – to have 25% more customers?  What’s it worth to know the best way to attract them … and what ways would be ineffective?

How expensive and damaging – Dollars and Cents – would it be if your new product fizzles out after you introduce it? 

Execute Your Project:   The big question “Pay someone else or do it myself?” doesn’t have an easy answer.  A ‘hired gun’ consultant can bring special methodologies, they can usually get things done more quickly and efficiently, and they they’re less likely than you to look at the marketplace through those ‘rose colored glasses’.  But then, there’s that out-of-pocket price tag.

Engage a consultant when you don’t know the specialized techniques or just don’t have the time; when anonymity will help get unbiased answers and results; when your issues are complex and the stakes are high

– Carefully agree upon the scope of work before you begin.  Most problems with consultant projects result from a mismatched expectations that could have been avoided.

– To make sure the project stays on course, be actively engaged during the project – but think long and hard before you substantially change direction.

– Challenge your consultant to give you not just the facts, but interpretation and recommendations.

DIY works just fine when the questions and analyses are simple and straightforward; when the consequences of uncertainty are not so high; or when the value of enriching your relations with customers outweighs the potential value of the answers you gain.

– In person or on surveys, phrase your questions in neutral language – don’t subconsciously lead them to the answer you want to hear

– In your conversations, ask open-ended questions that invite discussion.  Practice ‘active listening’ and follow up questions.

– Keep surveys short and simple.  Test ahead of time to make sure customers won’t be confused.

Most consultants will be happy to talk through your options with you, without any fee or obligation.

Apply the results:  Any research is too expensive if you don’t put the results – even results you don’t like or didn’t expect – to good use.

Forty percent of your customers like ‘blue’ but only 20% like ‘green’?  Make sure that store shelves and your production run aren’t overloaded with ’green’.

Customers like to rely on sales reps for product info and recommendations?  Consider less consumer focused advertising and more support to retailers and distributors.

Customers mad because your deliveries are too slow, even though you met your 3-day promise?  If 3 days isn’t good enough, then you’d better figure out how to do it in 2 or 1, of kiss those customers good bye.


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