How to Conduct Customer Research for Your Business Plan
How green is your business plan? To paint a clear picture of your customer when developing a business plan, undertake research activities. Your efforts may involve highly customized efforts tailored specifically to your business clientele, or they may rely on available market analyses, called secondary research, which you can apply to your business situation.
Research approaches and budgets vary widely. What never changes is the need to know exactly who is apt to buy from your business, how to reach those people, and what to say when you have their attention.
The better you know your customers, the more success you’ll experience in your marketplace.
Large companies spend huge budgets conducting customized market research. Fortunately, simpler and cheaper ways to obtain a picture of your customers are available. Consider the following ideas:
Stop, look, and listen. You can discover plenty simply by observing customers. If you’re in the retail business, watch where customers go inside your store and what products they linger over the longest. When you go to an industry trade show, watch which booths and exhibits attract the biggest crowds. Conduct informal surveys, asking prospects about their reactions to various products, services, and features.
Create a dialogue. If you’re thinking about improving a product or developing a service, invite your best customers to become part of the creative process. Ask what they like and don’t like about existing offerings. What would they change? What features would they add?
Additionally, use your website or social media pages to request input. Consider offering respondents a small gift, membership in your company’s VIP club, or a future discount, for their opinions.
Go virtual. If your customers are far-flung, consider a virtual focus group by arranging for selected customers to meet in an online chat room to discuss a particular aspect of your product or service. Your social media networks are a good place to issue invitations. As in a traditional focus group, involve a moderator and offer participants some token of thanks for their time and ideas.
Supplement your customer and prospect knowledge with secondary research:
Contact your industry association and the major media groups that serve your industry to obtain their analyses of the consumers in your market arena. Study the findings to discover more about the profiles of the people who buy products like the ones you’re offering.
Search the Internet for customer responses to everything from the latest bestsellers to the most sophisticated new offerings on the market. Publishers and authors can track which books are selling well. Winemakers can follow which vintages customers are snapping up. Consultants can research the hottest business topics. Digital gadget makers can survey customer reaction to cutting-edge technologies.
To tap into a wealth of consumer opinion, visit review sites used by customers in your arena and read the range of rants and raves to learn what people love and hate about offerings like yours. If you aren’t sure which sites to study, enter the generic term for your business, along with the word “ratings” (example: hair salon ratings). In the search results, you’ll likely find a number of sites where customers post opinions. When you find such sites, visit regularly for useful information.
Visit the reference area of your public or university library, which most likely has copies of the SRDS Lifestyle Market Analyst and the CACI Sourcebook of ZIP Code Demographics. Both resources can help you locate geographic areas with concentrations of residents who match your customer profile, helping you pinpoint regions for business expansion.