Pay Wisely for Market Research - dummies

By Alexander Hiam

Most mid-sized to larger businesses hire market research firms to gather information for them. This approach is not dumb, but as a first step, it usually isn’t the smartest because it guarantees an expensive, thick report when you probably just want a few clear answers.

Instead of doing a full-blown study of your own, try inserting a few questions into a panel — a regular survey of a group of people. A lot of vendors offer this option, including (in the United States) Darwin’s Data, PaidViewpoint, BzzAgent, Viewpoint Forum, tellwut, Opinion Outpost, MyView, KidzEyes, OpinionPlace, and Panelpolls.

Browse the latest lists of survey panels through a Google search, which ranks polls based on feedback from users, and then collect price points and proposals from several before choosing one to run with.

Working online, you can design survey questions, select a sample design, and (using your own database or, increasingly available, a sample arranged by the host site) send out your survey, collect data, and tabulate it. Does it make sense? Are you wiser as a result? Well, not every time.

It takes practice and persistence to figure out how to extract useful findings from tables of survey responses, but at least it’s less expensive to trial balloon some questions through these sites than through traditional full-service survey research firms.

If your website gets at least a few dozen visitors a day, it can produce free survey results for you. A question with general appeal (something everyone’s invested in or curious about) may actually boost visitors at the same time it generates useful data for your marketing decisions.

For instance, you could ask, “Should consumer product packages display honest information about the cost and environmental impact of the package?” A strong “yes” vote may really shake up packaging and display practices in your industry! The question would certainly attract interest from customers, bloggers, and the media in general.

Before you put out a request for proposals from research firms, ask yourself whether you can get your key questions answered in the same way you currently make your sales.

If your customers order via a website, post questions for them there. If they talk to a call center, script some questions for the call center staff. If customers receive visits from salespeople or reps, brief the sales force about your questions and how to ask them without pressuring customers.

However you currently talk to customers, use that channel to ask them helpful questions. It’s the easiest way to gather market research for free.