If your business planning research requires questionnaires, focus groups, or phone or in-person interviews, consider bringing in specialists to help you maintain objectivity and convey professionalism throughout the process. Contact research firms, marketing firms, and public-relations companies for help.

Another good resource is your Small Business Development Center. To find a nearby center, visit the Local Resources listing of the Small Business Association website.

Method Purpose Advantages Challenges
Questionnaires and surveys Obtain general information Anonymous, inexpensive, easy to analyze, and easy to format and conduct in person or online Impersonal, feedback may not be accurate, and wording can skew results
Interviews Obtain information and probe answers Develop customer relationships, are adaptable to each situation, and access fuller range of information Time consuming, reliant on good interviewers, and difficult to analyze
Observation Document actual buyer behavior Anonymous, immediate findings, and relatively easy to implement Can be difficult to interpret findings and to target which behaviors to monitor
Documentation review Study factual history of clients and transactions Readily available, not disruptive to operations, not subject to interpretation Time-consuming, research may be incomplete, and research is limited to previously collected data
Focus groups Find out about and compare customer experiences and reactions Convey information to customers, collect customer impressions Requires expert facilitation and advance scheduling; difficult to analyze findings