Most small businesses owners who want to build sales and marketing muscle don’t have the budget to call in market research experts. Marketing expertise is helpful but business owners can learn a lot from doing the market research themselves.
For those without a marketing bone in their bodies, the task might sound daunting, but the payoff from doing the primary research yourself can save you money, and the results are instantaneous.
If, for instance, you are considering introducing new products or services, a sure way to fail is to do so without determining whether there’s an actual need or desire for your new product. That’s basic business. So an easy, cost-efficient method of research is to simply talk to your existing clients as well as potential customers to measure their interest.
This may mean telephoning people you don’t know very well, a challenge for nonsales types; but by polling these clients about whether they want or will use the proposed product or service, you’ll have instant market information from a particular user group on how its members feel about your idea. Their feedback will help you determine which direction to go with it. Talking to customers also works well for businesses owners who are trying to determine their company’s position in the market.
If you do decide to do this yourself, there are a few things to keep in mind. The person from your business who is conducting the interviews or leading the conversation must listen to what people are saying. Remember, you asked for their opinion, and whether they are critical of or excited about your new product, you need to pay attention to what they are saying. Maintain a certain cheerfulness and professional tone even in the face of criticism. Clients often have good ideas, but you must listen with an open mind.
Whenever you poll, you are bound to encounter people who do not want to answer your questions, but those who do respond can offer helpful information about the market and the perception of your product or service. With that information, you can redevelop sales material or pick a new tact for how to go after the market.
Testing the market directly with your product is another way to gauge whether your idea makes sense. For instance, a personal trainer who produced a weight-training video thought marketing his program in sports stores was a good idea, but a limited budget meant he needed to be sure before launching into a major distribution program. He found an expert, although he could have easily done it himself, to seek out a few key stores that would allow interviews with customers about whether they would buy his product. Sports stores, it turns out, weren’t a good fit, so he went another route, avoiding a costly in-store sales effort.
If you are trying to expand into the Midwest, call 50 stores in the Midwest and see if they want your product.
Sometimes the marketing objective is more complex than getting a product into a store, but personal research can help in these situations, too. For instance, when a small plastics company that manufactured a recycled edging and irrigation product wanted to open up in markets across the country, its owners decided to analyze the green architecture industry. Through their research, the company recognized industry trends that provided insight in deciding intelligently where and when to expand.
The bottom line: Don’t let a lack of budget hamstring you when it comes to market research. Be creative and self-sufficient about using the resources at your fingertips, such as clients and customers who are familiar with your goods and services. Then you’ll be on your way toward a smart marketing reconnaissance plan than can help you grow your business.