How do you know people want to buy what you want to sell?

   Don't ask your cat what they think about your new product or service. Chances are they won't be really objective.

   Don't ask your cat what they think about your new product or service. Chances are they won't be really objective.

A quick guide to running a low-cost customer focus group

How do we really know that people want to buy what we want to sell? It’s an interesting question that many small businesses struggle to answer. Modern marketing is no longer about formulating an offering (product or service) and then finding customers, it’s about finding out what people want and need, and then creating your product or service accordingly. One of the easiest ways to make sure you are selling the right thing to the right people is to run a focus group.

A focus group is where you pull together a group of people that you believe could be your target audience.  The goal is to let them touch, sniff, taste, experience, discuss and query your offering. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Ask around for volunteers – you are looking for people to take part in a two hour session at a nice local café, or borrow someone’s office board room (I don’t recommend doing it in your home).  You can do this via social media platforms, a small ad in your local paper, posters in shop windows etc.  Parish magazines and noticeboards can work well too.
  2. Offer an incentive to come – this could be a goodie bag filled with locally made produce, or £20.00 voucher for a well-known retailer. In some cases cash can work – I went to focus group run by a local radio station who gave everyone who came £20.00 in cash as soon as they arrived which was an interesting approach.
  3. Offer some nice refreshments - Pizza and beer works well. Tea and cakes also work well. The more pleasant and relaxing you can make the setting, the more likely people will be to open up and be honest.
  4. Prepare a list of questions in advance – work out what you want to know from people.
  5. Let the conversation flow – if people get chatty, let it flow. I’ve picked up some very valuable information by sitting back and listening.
  6. Get people involved in the experience of your product or service – if they can touch, feel, taste, see or hear the product/service – then let them experience it.
  7. Record the session – if you’re a dab hand with a video camera, then that always works. Personally I always just do audio. If neither of those options appeals, then co-opt a good friend to take notes for you. It’s important that you can get involved in leading the discussion.
  8. Write a thank you note – a nice card or letter to everyone after the event.

This sounds a bit rough & ready – and it is. Large market research firms would laugh at it. But if you don’t have around £10,000 to spend with a big research firm, this can yield some very good results and can really make a big contribution to how to develop your offering.  I’ve used this approach many times and it’s never disappointed. You could get some fantastic feedback for under £100.00.

Give it a whirl, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you learn.

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