Who me? Do my own marketing research?

In my experience, many business owners particularly those who have built a successful business feel they are doing “perfectly fine, thank you” without conducting marketing research.  I even run across those who are contemplating a new start-up who feel that this step can be rushed through at best, or skipped completely, at worst.  From the small to medium sized business owner in Grey Bruce to the large multi-nationals – marketing research is fundamental to sustaining and growing a healthy business or brand.

Business decisions, be they strategic or tactical are best made when the decision maker is armed with the facts.  But many feel that it is too costly, too time consuming or too reliant on external expertise to get this vital information.  This does not have to be the case.   Instead of being the business owner who relies solely on instinct, why not be the one who takes an appropriate amount of time to address key business questions (because realistically you can’t take much time off driving the bus to do regular maintenance and ‘upgrade’ on the bus, can you?)  What makes your business tick?  Why is it as successful as it is?  What can your customers and suppliers tell you that might inspire new ideas or new, more profitable ways of doing things?  There is no question that the most successful companies are the ones that do ‘their homework’.

So, how can you make this happen?  I have a few practical suggestions that might help you incorporate regular marketing research into your planning cycle.

1.  Set aside a coffee break to sit down and think about the key questions you feel would be most interesting to have answered about your business.  I say “interesting” because if you are interested in knowing the answer, chances are there is something there you don’t already know (for sure), but might help you make more informed decisions.  Jot these down as “I wonder” statements.  “I wonder if I have the right mix of items on my menu?” “I wonder what people think of my website?” “I wonder if my sales team is emphasizing the right features and benefits of my product/service when calling on customers.”

2.  Select one or two of these interesting questions (just the most compelling – save the others for next year) and determine if there answers would most likely come from primary research (information that comes directly from the source such as potential customers, suppliers, employees) or from secondary research – information that is sourced from published statistics, reports, and studies that are made available from places like Stats Canada, trade associations and Owen Sound and District Chamber of Commerce, to name a few.

3.  Budget some time to follow-up on this.  For primary research, you should think about setting aside 20-30 hours, as a rough ball-park, over a period of 4-5 weeks to set up a survey or conduct the in-depth interviews or focus groups that might be required to dig into your question(s).  Cost?  Well, there is plenty of free online survey software out there (check out surveymonkey.com) and you can easily conduct a lunchtime focus group with customers, prospects or employees if you are prepared to offer some nice hospitality.  You’d be surprised at how many people will turn up for a focus group if you plan it in advance, make attending an interesting experience for everyone involved and feed people! Another very effective way to do what is known as qualitative research (focus groups and in-depth interviews), is to partner with another Grey Bruce area business owner who does not complete with you. Why not conduct a focus group on his/her behalf and ask the same of them in this co-operative venture?  Sometimes a neutral third party can get more unbiased feedback from your customers and clients than you can.  Who might you partner with to undertake this?

4.  What if your “I wonder” question requires secondary research?  The good news is that there is plenty of information available for free to business owners and entrepreneurs.  You just need to know where to look.  Start with the library (either at Georgian College or the Owen Sound and North Grey Public Library).  Reference librarians are there to help and can quickly update you on the many data bases and search engines available to you.  You helped pay for these subscriptions, why not use them?  Also, check with your trade association and Stats Canada for publications that are relevant to your research question.  How much time?  Probably 10-15 hours of your time should suffice, again as a rough idea.

5.  Schedule this marketing research activity just prior to some other regular event that occurs in your business cycle.  Why not come armed to your annual visit with your accountant or banker with the answers to your most burning business questions?   You’ll be amazed at how much value you receive out of this exercise, not just from the learning that comes out of the research, but in the kinds of discussions it will spark with the support professionals who know you and your business.  Getting everyone thinking about how to move your business forward can only have a positive outcome.

6.  Next year, start at step one and repeat!

Diane Mackie
Principal Researcher
Ideaspace Research

Barrie, ON
(705) 722-3020

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