The following are some suggestions for gathering information from your customers or potential customers. Other great sources of information are your own employees as well as suppliers and vendors. They may be able to give you insights into what sells, what doesn’t, and why.

Conducting Surveys and Questionnaires

Step 1 Prepare a questionnaire that includes any important information the customers should know before they can formulate a response. For example, respondents may need a short description of the product or service they are evaluating prior to answering questions.

Step 2 List the questions, providing only a multiple-choice format when possible (rather than essay responses) to make it easier to record answers. Select key questions that will give you valuable information for your research. Questions should ask about customers’ needs, their preferences on product or service features and benefits, pricing, location, marketing sources, and buying behaviors.

Use a five-point rating scale. Ask questions that can be answered along a spectrum of responses. For example, a customer’s definite affirmative response would receive a 5, a customer’s definite negative response would receive a 1, and in-between responses receive in-between ratings.

Lay out and neatly type the questionnaire. Graphics and pictures should be used if available since they will help clarify the subject.

Step 3 Decide which method is best for collecting the data you need. If you have a small number of people to reach, perhaps twenty or fewer, you might choose to conduct surveys or interviews by phone or in person. If you want to reach more than twenty people, you may consider conducting a survey by Internet or fax. However, the sample size and complexity of the questions will determine the best method for gathering information from your target market.

If questions can be directed by how customers respond to previous ones, then surveys conducted over the Internet work well. For example, if you seek feedback on customer taste preferences, you could establish a survey site that allows customers to post comments about products, or they could respond to an online survey/questionnaire. Depending on how they respond to specific questions, the software pulls up the subsequent questions.

If reactions to a product or service should be visible, then you need in-person contact. For example, a live taste-test booth could be set up in a shopping area where customers could sample products and provide feedback to a researcher.

If conducting personal interviews, make suitable copies and put them on clipboards for respondents to complete the questionnaire; if using a mail technique, be sure to include a stamped, self addressed envelope in the mailing; if using a telephone technique, the personal interview format can be applied.

Step 4 Determine how many completed surveys are needed to be representative of the group you are surveying. For example, if you have 5,000 customers and survey ten, that is not enough to assume the information is representative of the entire group. If you obtain completed surveys for ten out of forty customers, chances are much greater that the results are representative.

Step 5 Summarize and evaluate the information gathered. Determine if similar responses indicate a trend within your target market. Many times survey or interview information may not be accurate because respondents are not committed to purchasing the product but merely giving their opinions. Also, since most surveys and interviews are very brief, it is not possible to collect in-depth information.

Focus Groups

A focus group is a simple but effective way to obtain in-depth customer information. This research technique is used to collect information from a group of people instead of using a one-to-one approach. Follow these steps to prepare for a focus group:

Step 1 Develop questions to ask participants and an agenda for the focus group(s).

Step 2 Invite focus group participants who have demographics and psychographics similar to potential customers.

Step 3 Plan the logistics.

  • Schedule the focus group meeting at a convenient time for participants. A typical focus group takes one to two hours.
  • Find a meeting room or relaxed atmosphere to ensure an informal discussion of participants’ opinions and feelings.
  • Find an unbiased, skilled moderator to lead the group. The moderator asks broad questions at the beginning and then focuses the group discussion on the specific information you want to obtain. Moderators can skillfully probe the group, stressing the importance of sharing different points of view and emphasizing that there is no right or wrong answer.

Step 4 Use a data collection source that doesn’t interfere with the discussion. It is best to record or videotape the focus group discussion rather than taking notes. Findings can then be analyzed to interpret feedback from participants and relate it to the business.

© 2006 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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