Women's Business, Volume 6, Issue 9, June 2004

Know your customer, grow your business

Barbara Bix and Melissa Josephson

Did you know that while companies consider market research to be expensive, they can’t afford not to do it?

Done well, market research can help companies drive sales by:

• pinpointing the most promising prospects
• determining the products and services that customers need
• identifying how to attract customer attention.

Savvy firms optimize their market research investment with careful forethought by specifying their information requirements first; then, they determine the most cost-effective methods to obtain this data.

Start with customer data to find your best prospects

Use your internal marketing research to create a “best customer profile” and target companies with similar characteristics.

1. Segment customers by common characteristics such as location, size, industry, and products purchased.

2. Note the shared characteristics of the groups that were most profitable.

3. Look for patterns that yield information about buying behavior. What events trigger purchases? Is demand seasonal?

Use secondary research to understand your competitive advantage

Firms can purchase industry reports that describe the market size, share, and trends. Use this research to determine the opportunities for growth--at the expense of your competitors.

Leverage primary research to understand customer needs

Now that you have specified what information you need, you can obtain it efficiently using a variety of primary research methods.

Customer advisory boards may be the least expensive way. Gather your customers together to obtain direct feedback on new product development, desired features, and changes in service. Their perceptions yield selling propositions that you can use to attract other promising prospects.

Look beyond customers, as their needs and wants may differ dramatically from the needs and wants of individuals and firms that you do not currently serve. Broaden your questioning to the world to ensure that you don’t miss more promising prospects.

Have one-on-one conversations with a mix of informed observers such as industry experts, employees, customers, and those that you would prefer to do business with—but who have never purchased from you. Design open-ended questions and follow the respondent’s train of thought, rather than push for answers to your questions. You may get ideas and leads that would never have occurred to you. Ask questions such as:

• Tell me about a typical day
• What’s your largest unresolved problem?
• What is your current solution?
• How would you improve upon your current solution?

…and then sit back and listen. Based on what you learn, you may be able to adjust your offering or message to get a better outcome next time.

Later in the process, use structured focus groups to refine decisions and understand preferences on items like pricing, packaging, and messaging. Give the group “forced choice” situations and ask them to discuss why they made their choices. Their responses will guide the efficient development of products and services features and programs to communicate the value of those products and services.

Incorporate market research results into your business

Customer feedback and observation can direct you to increased sales opportunities. Use this information to:

• Replicate your success with your current customer base to attract new prospects
• Position your company against the competition
• Create marketing programs and sales tools that really speak to customer needs, not your product or service benefits
• Identify and then measure new product development opportunities against the size of market they would create, and identify how closely new products/features/services fit with your company’s strategy

Use and leverage your market research to drive sales, provide your customers with what they really need, and grow your business.

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I needed to find and evaluate specific information very quickly. Using her extensive contacts and knowledge of industry information sources, Barbara was able to get me everything I needed and more within just a few days."
Thomas Grape
Managing Director

ADS Senior Housing Division.

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