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Intuition will always have its place. But whether you’re starting a business from scratch or you’ve been in business many years, market research should be viewed as an essential element of your business plan. Otherwise you’re being guided, ultimately, by little more than assumptions.

​While there’s no shortage of ways to turn research into a decidedly expensive exercise, the good news it doesn’t need to be. SMEs can implement highly effective research initiatives for surprisingly little cost, providing they approach it with a clear idea of why they’re doing it and how to get the most out of the process.

Whatever stage of the business life cycle you’re in, research can play an integral role in making more confident and successful business decisions – especially when the ramifications are significant. Below we look at just a few of the key questions you should consider asking and also explore how research can provide answers and insights to help you make more informed decisions based on data, not assumptions.

Some questions worth asking.

Are you starting a new business? Is there actually a market for it? Who are your target audiences? What are your competitors doing? How are you positioned in your market and how appealing is your value proposition? How well do you understand what your customers need and want? Is your current business model still valid? Are you planning to enter a new market? Perhaps overseas? How are these markets different and what will you need to do? If you’re planning to launch a new product or service, have you tested it with your target audience? How likely are they to actually buy it?

5 key steps to help your research process.

When it comes to any market research the process you undertake is vital. After all, if you don’t know what questions you need answering, then it’s likely you’ll get misleading answers and that will inevitably lead to poor business decisions – the exact opposite to what you want!

For any research project you’ll need to consider:

What questions do you want the research to answer? What sort of information do you need to collect? How and where are you going to collect this information? How are you going to analyse it? What are you going to do with the results?

If you haven’t considered these very carefully before, during and after your market research it’s likely the process simply won’t deliver the results you’re hoping for, and you’ll be left using flawed insights.

Sourcing the correct data

Generally speaking there are two key methods of market research data collection: Primary and Secondary Research.

Primary Data

Primary research is when you go out and find the data and answers yourself. But don’t worry – it’s not a difficult as you think. In fact, often it’s quite simple and can be more cost effective than you think.

Online surveys offer low cost, quick, quantifiable data collection either via an email or interactive questionnaire created using survey software such as surveymonkey.com

Answers can be based on a statement, weighting and multiple-choice with some more open-ended questions. Self-administered online methods can be personalised and capture data from a wide geo-demographic pool. However, the disadvantages can sometimes be lower response rates and some inaccurate answers due to hasty completion.

Face-to-face interviews are likely to be more time consuming. But the flip side is they allow you to provide a little human guidance that will usually produce higher response rates and also capture valuable data from a diversity of questions. They can also provide an added level of credibility and control to the process compared to self-administered methods.

Whilst this approach doesn’t need to be expensive, sometimes however it’s better to engage someone outside the business to undertake the interviews as your customers may be more likely to provide honest answers to an independent interviewer.

Secondary Data

Secondary research is simply data and information that is already available – sometimes a quick search online can reveal invaluable information and insights.When was the last time you went online including social media pages to see what your competitors have been up to?

When you’re planning to do any type of research, always consider what secondary data is readily accessible, as this should be gathered first – and may even help to steer the rest of the research process. It’s a quick and cost-effective method to source pre-existing data that may have been produced for another task, available internally or in the public domain. It also determines whether primary research is required.

Internal secondary data can be obtained from balance sheets, sales data, previous research or first-hand insights from employees. External secondary data can be sourced from industry press, commercial research houses, periodicals books and white papers, channel partners, Google or government publications.

Below are just two examples of useful internal secondary research you could access quickly:

Employee Insights from recent customer visits, product order history and information from sales representatives can provide current opportunities, competitor value propositions and product trends that all contribute to a marketing audit.

Sales Data allows you to monitor any trends on purchase patterns and can help you to shape future incentives, seasonal sales activities or bespoke product development.

Ultimately, research can be as big or as small as you want it to be in your business. But the key thing is to be doing it. If you want to create the most appropriate strategies for business growth, a structured process is required to plan, implement and analyse research based on secondary or primary data sources – arming you with the insights you need to make sound marketing decisions for your brand’s future.

image source: nearsay.com

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