Market research is a critical component of any marketing strategy. There are many expensive sources of customer information available today. But, if you don't have a large marketing budget for market research, what can you do? There a four easy and inexpensive ways to gather marketing data by using your existing customer base.
You will start with the commitment to collect data constantly.
1. The Constant Thirst for Customer Information
Every customer and every prospect represent an opportunity to discover what your larger market wants and needs. But you have to be on your toes! In addition to selling your product, you need to be focused upon collecting data also. This will only happen if you understand and value what customer data can do for you.
Every time a prospect or client talks to you on the telephone or visits your web site, use the opportunity. Prompt customers or visitors to tell you more about their needs. Make certain you have a feedback form that is easy for them to use. It should also have an incentive attached so they will take the time to provide you with valuable information. That incentive might be a discount off a next purchase or an entry into a drawing for one of your products.
When you are given the opportunity to be in direct communication with a customer (on the telephone or in your store), you need also to develop the skill of asking open questions.
2. Ask Open Questions of Everyone
Most people who claim to be in sales or marketing don't practice one of the fundamental skills of sales, using open questions. They typically ask questions of prospective customers that can be answered with a "yes", "no" or grunt. Those are called closed questions because they close down your customer's ability to elaborate with useful information.
If people aren't talking to you, that's the number one reason!
So, learn a new skill if you want to gather customer information and increase sales. Learn to use reflective questions (also called open questions). Reflective questions are questions that begin with "Who", "What", "When", "Where", "Why" and "How".
How can you learn to ask reflective questions? Start by writing out a "script" for your next call to a customer. Then check how many of your questions are truly closed questions. Then rewrite them. Now, practice, practice, and practice some more!
Using your newly found skill of asking reflective questions, ask prospects and customers what they need and want from your product and your company. Ask customers how they use your product or service and what would make it even more useful.
Asking customers questions will certainly result in a wealth of data you didn't have before you asked. But observing customers with your product will add even more.
3. Observe Customers With Your Products and Services
By watching customers with your product, you can gain a wealth of experience concerning what they like about your product, where your product is hard to understand, and what else they might want your product to do for them.
This observation will identify any problems that occurred for the customer and lead to new and improved products. These same insights into your customers' needs and problems can also drive your marketing.
So, where can you observe customers interacting with your products? Get a booth at a trade show. Set up hands-on demonstrations at your place of business or other establishments if your business is strictly an online business. Conduct free seminars where people can test your products. You can even have family and friends look at and use your products.
There is a wealth of customer information to be gained by observing customers and even more can be gained by listening to the questions they ask you.
Prospects and customers ask you questions. Each question should be like a big, red neon sign to your brain. Every question is telling you of a need your customer or prospect has concerning your product. It might be a product use, product enhancement, other product, or service need associated with the product. This is all great information for your future product decisions, and certainly critical to your marketing efforts!
Learn to listen to your customers. Many of you are only focused upon this potential sale right before you. Instead, become a data-gathering master. You will still be making a sale but you will also be listening and recording all the wealth of information each interaction is capable of delivering to you.
In summary, if you want to ensure repeat orders and the continued growth of your business, keep focused upon your customer's and prospect's needs and wants. That data collection process is your responsibility. Learn to use the easy and inexpensive methods we've discussed here and you will be well on your way to business success.
Michele Schermerhorn calls herself a "Corporate Freedom Fighter" dedicated to freeing cubicle prisoners to experience their own successful online business. She has over 30 years experience in the business world and over 12 years running her own successful online businesses. She is President of Online Business Institute Inc. (http://www.obinstitute.com), authors a sassy marketing blog (http://www.imarketblog.com), and regularly conducts free online seminars. Online Business Institute Inc. exists to "Create Successful Online Business Owners One Person At A Time".