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What do customers want? Find out with market research

Finding and retaining more customers is key to a successful business, so working out what it is your customers really want or need to spend their money on is the 'holy grail' of doing business. The best way to find out is to ask them with some simple, cost-effective research.

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Finding and retaining more customers is key to a successful business, so working out what it is your customers really want or need to spend their money on is the 'holy grail' of doing business. The best way to find out is to ask them with some simple, cost-effective research. The best businesses know their customers and use it to their advantage – you can do the same. It does not have to be expensive. Often, time spent thinking and asking questions will deliver the valuable insight you need. When should you use research? Market research is a good basis for ALL marketing and sales activity as it tells you more about who your customers are, what influences and motivates them to buy, what problems they're trying to solve and where they are. It can – and should – be used if you're considering: Entering a new market Developing a new product or service Selling more to existing customers Deciding where to invest money in marketing or advertising Making any substantial change to your business. By regularly collecting feedback and research, you'll be armed with up to date information to be able to confidently make informed judgements about the future of your business. Research to improve your marketing Finding out more about your existing customers can help you find new customers. If you know where your business comes from and why people choose to do business with you then it is easier to know where to target your limited marketing resources. Ask new and existing customers how they originally found out about you will help you track if your marketing activity is working. Also ask what makes them buy from you, i.e. customer service or high quality products to find out which benefits to communicate to potential new customers. Four ways to carry out research Face to face feedback – If you meet or speak to customers regularly simply talking to them can give you instant qualitative feedback about what they do and don't like. Surveys – A more formal way of getting feedback and insight from a larger number of people. Survey software like Surveymonkey and Polldaddy is often free for the first 100 responses, making this a cost effective option for small businesses. Focus groups – Get a group of five to ten current or prospective customers together to talk around a table about a specific subject or product. This can help to generate ideas for new products and market opportunities. Third party research – There's already a lot of published research out there that you can use to inform your decisions. Your competitors may even have done some! But beware that it will have produced for a different purpose than your own, so only use it to inform what you're doing rather than using it chapter and verse. If you have quite complex research needs, it may be more economical to employ an agency or freelancer to help you collect and analyse the data. Advanced members of the Forum can access a short guide to market research for businesses, as well as guides to other areas of marketing. To download them, log in to MyFPB and click on my subscriptions. To find out how the Forum can help you grow your business, call us on 0845 130 1722.

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