9. Beware of Gathering the Wrong Market Research

IMG_1971In my last blog entry, I talked about how easy it is to gather market research from your current customers. I want to emphasize that this is always a good practice, and that gathering that information is important for two reasons:

  1. Customers who feel that they are heard feel respected and think better of your organization.
  2. The information might actually help your business.

“Did she just say MIGHT help my business?”

Yes, because gathering the information is only the first part of the process of market research. The second part is the harder part — interpreting the information you get. Not all feedback is constructive or accurate.

Every year, I would spend months planning an annual dinner for the company shareholders. I would sweat every detail of the site, linens, centerpieces, menu, favors and entertainment. Every year, things went smoothly. Every year, there were 2 people who complained about something: the rolls were too hard, the seats were too close, the server was too tall … These people are “always complainers.”

Whether they do it because they like to be heard, they had a bad childhood, or they are just very unhappy people doesn’t matter. What is important is that those 2 people should not sway the decision-making for the event. I would still solicit the feedback (see #1 above), but I would be cautious about whether I would act on it.

(Hold on — I’m about to get a little geeky here.)

In market research (as in all research), you need to separate the trends from the outliers. This means you should do more research before you act:

  • Get more data. Set a timeframe (say 2 weeks) to see if that feedback comes from anyone else.
  • Get more background if you can. Is there something unique to this customer that would make this feedback only true for him or her?
  • Do more specific research. Design an open-ended question about this particular piece of feedback, and ask your employees to use it for those 2 weeks.

One more thing to think about: if you are a sales type, the temptation to act on the feedback of one customer (especially if it is a very impassioned piece of feedback) will be very strong. Trust me when I say: that way leads madness. Making changes to your business should be measured, strategic and aligned with the market you want to serve.

Be careful you aren’t designing your business for a market of one.

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