Marketing 101: How Do I Get Started Doing Market Research
Last updated: 6/16/2002; 10:20:40 AM
 
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Marketing 101: How Do I Get Started Doing Market Research

This article came directly from a reader, who will remain nameless.  Here was his question exactly as he posed it to me:

I am in the process of developing an ASP (application service provider) and would like to solicit the input of potential customers. I intend on writing a letter discussing what the product is all about, what they would get in return for their efforts, and what it would entail… I am doing this because for the most part the product feature set is based on research and educated guesses. Do you have any thoughts or ideas related to this approach?

<DIGRESSION>

Here’s the first suggestion:

Drop the term ASP.  Use MSP or “Managed Service Provider”.

High tech business is fundamentally trendy.  And you always want to follow the latest trend.  The term ASP was in vogue 2 years ago but now has been supplanted by “MSP”.  Pretty much the same thing as I can tell.

</DIGRESSION>

Now, back to the scheduled lecture currently in progress…

This is what’s called market research or, more specifically, I’d describe it as “customer centric market research”.  Here’s how I would handle this:

  1. Identify Risks and Rewards.  Getting detailed input, by definition, involves “opening the kimono”, telling people what you are doing.  This can be risky.  So here are the risks and rewards in general:
    • Risk - give away your ideas
    • Reward - make your ideas significantly better

What you need to do is what any businessman does – assess these risks and rewards and make the right decision.  For myself, I like to do market research as stealthily as possible, but I am a touch paranoid in this regard. 

  1. Understand the Power of Voice, Not Email.  For things like this I really, really, really, really prefer a voice conversation.  Here’s why: Copy and Paste | Forward | IM to a Competitor & You Get Better Input.  Specifics:
    • Voice gives you much better bandwidth
    • Voice lets you ask real questions and probe for answers without the normal ensuing blizzard of emails.
    • People are much, much less likely to write up a transcript and send it to someone else.  Who has the time?

Make the right choice for yourself but never forget that a ten minute phone call gives you a lot more information than 20 or 30 emails.

  1. Pick the Right Audience to Approach.  When I was in college I took a wonderful class on surveying people and this is really what you are doing.  My professor, who ran the human resources surveys for GE’s Apollo hiring (yes, the Moon landing, when GE was building components) hammered one point home: _ You don’t need big surveys if you pick the right audience to survey _.  What you need is a representative audience that closely matches the people you want to sell to. 
  2. Make it EASY for them to Respond.  A constant theme in my writing and my beliefs is “make it easy”.  People are busy today and if you don’t make it easy for them, they’ll just pass on giving you input or give you bad input.  This might mean a webform to capture input, a mailing list, a dedicated response address like “survey@ somedomain.com” or something else.  Whatever you do, make it easy.
  3. Write the Letter or Script.  You are now at the point where you have enough “homework” done to figure out what to write.  This can be a letter, an email or even a script (highly useful for a voice call).
  4. Test the Letter on a Friend, Not the Audience.  Before you ever go close to a potential customer you need to test it.  The best audience is a friend or colleague with some knowledge applicable to your target market.  If that’s not available to you then try your spouse, girlfriend or significant other.  “Why??? What???” you ask.  No, I’m not insane.  Here’s the logic:

  5. Most people really aren’t stupid.
  6. When you are doing basic market research like this you just won’t have the opportunity to drill into highly technical materials.
  7. Going by the theory that “opposites attract”, most tech folk seem to end up with non-tech folk.  This means that if they can honestly understand your geeky idea, then you might be ready to go live with it.
  8. Rewrite the Letter.  Trust me – you’ll end up rewriting it.  Always happens.
  9. Re Test the Letter.  Yup.  This is a loop from steps 6 to 8.  Repeat until fixed.
  10. Understand that You Don’t Need to Reward Them If… This is a little bit of psychology here:

  11. People like to feel important.
  12. By asking them for input you have put them into an important position e.g. why would you ask them for input if they weren’t important.
  13. You’re polite.
  14. You listen.
  15. You take notes (they’ll notice you taking notes by pauses in the conversation, even if you think they won’t).
  16. You say thank you at the end.
  17. You follow up in a few days time with a more formal written or emailed thank you.

 

 
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