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market researchSmaller businesses often ask themselves whether they can afford to do market research. Yet large organisations are more likely to ask “can we afford not to do market research?” They
ask themselves this because they know:

  • Understanding the customer (not working on assumptions) is crucial.
  • Development and refinement of products and services is increasingly driven by customer needs.
  • Consumers and business customers are becoming increasingly savvy about the marketplace. You only need to look at consumer blogs, price comparison sites, and product review sites to see that consumers are networking and empowering themselves to make better-informed purchasing decisions.
  • Customer needs are evolving faster than ever as they get better and better at seeking out added value.

Large organisations have always had the budget to explore customer needs, via exploratory research, customer satisfaction, and testing of new products and services. Market research budgets are as staunchly defended as advertising or PR budgets, and research is viewed as a necessity rather than a luxury in all but the most inward-looking large businesses.

For smaller businesses there is one significant barrier to investing in customer research – cost. Few company owners would pass up the chance to learn more about their customer base – but there is a commonly held view that professionally-conducted research is too expensive to consider, and is a luxury reserved for the big players. It’s true that large-scale market research studies can be very expensive. However there are other options available within the budget of the typical SME.

Here are some of the ways to engage professional researchers without breaking the bank:

  • Online quantitative research using professional tools – it’s fast, cheap, and much more interactive and visually engaging for respondents than it used to be.
  • Online bulletin boards – a way to canvas opinion from a large number of people in a naturalistic setting (in the comfort of their own home or workplace).  People are more and more likely to feel comfortable communicating on web forums, and are often more likely to share their views openly than in face-to-face research.
  • Remember that ad hoc market research can be scaled up or down to suit your budget. Whilst no one would recommend basing business decisions on one focus group or 10 quantitative interviews, meaningful feedback can be gained from a relatively small sample, provided that it is relatively uniform in structure.
  • If money is really tight, you might conducting your own research online using a web template, but get professional researchers to check the questionnaire. Most agencies will be happy to charge out one of their executives on a day rate.

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