Will Market Research Benefit Your Small Business?
By Ray Silverstein
Wouldn’t you love to get inside your customer’s head and take a good look around? To see his or her wants and needs revealed in stark clarity? To view your products through his or her eyes, unclouded by your assumptions?
As entrepreneurs, it’s our responsibility to understand and anticipate our customers’ mindsets. It’s what keeps us in business and allows us to grow.
That is the essence of market research. Over the last 60 years, market research has evolved into a powerful marketing tool. But while big companies embrace it, many entrepreneurs tend to steer clear. Yet there are aspects of market research of great value to small businesses, if we’re open to them.
For this reason, my company, PRO, recently sponsored a workshop, “The Guerilla Approach to Knowing Your Customers.” Our presenter was Bob Kaden, a long-time market research expert and author of the Guerilla Market Research books. Bob gave us a lot to think about, some of which I’m sharing here.
Market Research in a Nutshell
In short, the objective of market research is to get as close to the customer as possible, so you can understand and influence their buying behaviors, maximizing your opportunities for success.
There are two types of market research: primary, which focuses on your particular business, and secondary, which focuses on information available in the public domain.
Every time you read a business publication, visit a competitor’s website, or search an industry topic online, you’re engaging in informal secondary research. You can learn about your market, industry, and competition this way, while staying up to speed on consumer trends. We should all be engaging in some secondary research daily.
Primary research is a different animal. It’s personalized and proprietary. It may take the form of focus groups, interviews, or surveys, but however you conduct it, you do so with a specific goal in mind, targeted to a specific type of customer: yours.
When Do You Conduct Primary Research?
The time to conduct in primary research is when you want to learn something specific about your market. Maybe you need clarity setting your product development strategy. Maybe you’re about to rebrand your company. The bottom line is, you have to be ready to take action as a result of what you learn, or the research isn’t worth doing.
In addition, you have to be open to whatever the results reveal. We all have pet theories. If you’re not willing to let them go—which isn’t always easy for entrepreneurs–now is not the time to invest in research.
How Do You Conduct Market Research on a Budget?
Big companies use big market research firms, but that’s not the only alternative. If you want to have a pro do the work for you, look for a one-person firm or perhaps a local professor. They’re more affordable.
And more small businesses are engaging in DYI market research. If you have the temperament, you can conduct your own focus groups or interviews. Or, you can use Survey Monkey (SurveyMonkey.com), or ask simple questions via social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. But if you are going to do it yourself, take the time to learn how to do it right.
Maybe market research makes sense for you; maybe it doesn’t. The bottom line is, business is more competitive than ever, and we need to be open to new ideas. When you become aware of a tool that’s available, consider it objectively. Never say never, to market research or anything else.
Biography: Ray Silverstein is president of PRO, President’s Resource Organization, a network of entrepreneurial peer advisory groups in Phoenix and Chicago. His recent venture is 2 Small Biz Guys business radio show, specialized for emerging businesses, solopreneurs and those who want to achieve more. He is author of “The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses,” and “The Small Business Survival Guide.” You can reach Ray at 1-800-818-0150 or firstname.lastname@example.org.