Introduction to Primary Research

Primary research is data collected specifically for your business. It is obtained by observing or communicating with customers or competitors. Primary research data could be collected through surveys, interviews, focus groups, or direct observation of potential and existing customers, and similar businesses in the industry. The information can provide insights into customers’ needs or perceptions, the benefits of a product or service, packaging or delivery options, or other information you need.

Some entrepreneurs hire market research firms to conduct this research. Since primary research involves watching or talking with a number of people, tabulating results, and then determining insights, outsourcing the task might be costly. You might prefer firsthand knowledge of the data as it is collected. You can conduct primary research yourself. Instead of paying someone else for the time and know-how, you can develop your own research tools, initiate contact with potential participants, and perform research tasks.

Here are some primary research techniques you may want to use:

Surveys – A common, inexpensive, and effective way to collect primary research data is by using customer surveys. They give feedback about a product or service through questions people answer in person, over the telephone, by mail, by fax, or via the Internet. You can survey customers to learn about their needs, problems, and opinions regarding your proposed product or service. The information you gather using this technique is current and helpful for determining whether a market for a new product or service exists. Also, surveys can result in future sales by giving potential customers a preview of the product or service.

Interviews – Conducting interviews is similar to using customer surveys and is usually done over the phone or in person. Individual interviews are usually no longer than thirty minutes, although they may be longer if participants are willing. Because interviews involve more dialogue between the researcher and participants, this research technique will provide you with in-depth responses and the most relevant information.

Focus groups – Focus groups can provide marketing insights while identifying the hidden needs of potential customers. This popular research technique is used to collect information from a group of people instead of using a one-to-one approach. Focus groups allow you to collect more information in the same amount of time at a fairly reasonable cost. You also get different data due to the interaction among participants than through individual approaches.

You can benefit from using this research technique, especially when identifying niche markets and learning more about a specific group of customers. You can also gain valuable insights to forecast future markets. Keep in mind, however, that the viewpoints of a small number of people in a focus group may not always reflect attitudes of the market as a whole. Be sure you include a large enough cross section of your market in the focus group.

Observation– The observation research technique is used to collect customers’ reactions and behaviors without actually talking with them. This technique is most valuable when you want to learn how customers approach products or services without the potential bias of a researcher. Customers react normally because they think no one else is watching. For example, if customers in a restaurant were given a complimentary slice of cheesecake to try out a new brand, research observers could record initial reactions when customers taste the cheesecake that indicate whether or not they seem to enjoy it. Observation was the basis for the popular television show, Candid Camera, in which customers were exposed to a pre-determined scenario or situation while being videotaped.

© 2007 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. All rights reserved.

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