Consumer Insights That Don't Cost Much

In a tough economy, it's more important than ever to tune into prospects and customers to understand what motivates sales and repeat purchases. But when budgets are tight, spending marketing dollars on consumer research may not seem like the best use of resources. Especially if you want to invest in learning what customers do instead of learning what they say they might do, which is often the output of typical consumer research.


Here are a few ideas for getting almost-free consumer feedback that is closer to the point of sale:

Chat up your sales force.

Sales people are built-in customer feedback receptors, and they're already on the payroll. They hold a wealth of up-to-the-minute customer knowledge because they talk to prospects and customers all day long. They feel the pain of purchase barriers and know how to jump those hurdles. They understand how marketing conditions the prospect for the sale - how it helps and how it hurts. And they typically have some great ideas on how to move the prospect down the path to purchase.



It's pretty simple to schedule a monthly focus-group style session with a handful of sales reps. You want to be prepared with a discussion guide, employ your best moderating skills (sales reps are usually a vocal bunch!), and look for a few key insights that will help inform your marketing (the sales people will have lots of suggestions, but not all relate to marketing).

Also, you'll want to take a longitudinal view of your Sales Rep research -- if you're doing this every month you may want to keep some themes consistent and change others according to buying season.

Interrupt them.

The point of sale is often the best time to get insight about what drives consumer behavior. The types of questions to ask can be relatively simple such as: why did you decide to purchase from our company? Why today? What other brands did you consider? How long did you think about this purchase before today?

Maybe even more important is asking questions of prospects who didn't purchase: Why didn't you purchase today? What other brands are you considering? What could we do to cause you to purchase today?

You can execute surveys like this either on the phone by selecting every nth caller, or on your Web site by developing a pop-up survey.

Dig deeper into your blog.

Keeping an eye on your blog and other blogs in your competitive set can be a source of coveted consumer feedback. Monitoring feedback on a regular basis to look for common themes, complaints, praise, and suggestions can provide insight into not only your marketing, but also your products and customer service.

Whether you choose to explore one or all of these ideas, keep in mind that just because these methods are low-cost doesn't mean they're not important. You'll want to treat them with the rigor you would treat a research project for which you would normally pay thousands of dollars.

3 comments about "Consumer Insights That Don't Cost Much ".
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  1. Jon Last from Sports and Leisure Research Group, February 11, 2009 at 9:36 a.m.

    While I can certainly appreciate the desire to find cost efficiencies in a challenging economy, recognize that the old adage, "you get what you pay for", certainly applies with do it yourself marketing research. As the current national president of the Marketing Research Association (MRA) and the owner of a full service research firm that strives to deliver exceptional market insight at fair pricing, I have to caution organizations that try to cut corners in gathering consumer feedback to make business decisions.

    Good marketing research is a combination of art and science. MRA has rigorous educational offerings for its members and has established the only accredited certification program in the industry. Professional researchers understand the pitfalls that do it yourself efforts often fall prey to. Professional researchers know how to ask the right questions that get at true insight, in the proper contexts and environments that bring real feedback (rather than just the answer your customer might think you want to hear). They can properly identify representative rather than convenience samples, and even more importantly apply analytical techniques that get past the "obvious" and identify true opportunities to build a business. Garbage in equals garbage out. Caveat emptor!

    Jon Last
    Sports and Leisure Research Group

  2. Theresa Chiueh from Continuum, February 11, 2009 at 11:37 a.m.

    These on-the-ground market research suggestions can help a company with their short term sales and marketing issues especially if the company doesn't have a consumer insights team or isn't leveraging their consumer insights capabilities well.

    But for long term innovation and category disruption, these ideas won't deliver the insights that one would need to radically innovate in one's industry.

    I would ask the question: why are you doing market research? to improve today or to find tomorrow?

    If it's for today, then try it out, but as Jon mentioned in a previous post - do you know what kind of information you're getting and how it's being interpreted?

    If it's for tomorrow, then go to more generative open ended market research techniques and experts.

  3. Kern Lewis from GrowthFocus, Inc., February 11, 2009 at 7:02 p.m.

    I agree that you get what you pay for, as John Last says, but what you pay includes your time. It can be quite cost-effective to measure trends and check innovative ideas using electronic techniques to survey your customer base. If your customer base is big enough, and it matches well with the prospects you are trying to attract, it can serve as a reliable sounding board for useful data.
    I have used the inexpensive survey tools available online to do this myself, with actionable results that helped refine my marketing planning and programming.

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