Category Archives: Analysis

People-based market research

In our last post we shared methods to conduct business research using a variety of market reports. In this post, we continue the discussion and focus on methods to conduct market research based on input from people. As this approach often means collecting original data from sources it can typically be considered primary research.

Collecting data from individuals can require a large number of data points to arrive at a sound conclusion and therefore often takes a substantial investment in terms of time and effort. We’ll cover five approaches, each with its own drawbacks and benefits, that can applied depending on the key questions at hand.

Cold calls: You can use a combination of LinkedIn and Google to email and call industry experts and customers. If you can establish a social connection (e.g. you went to the same school or lived in the same city) about 15-30% of them should be willing to speak you. Analysts are also a good target for short calls to clarify report findings.

Expert networks: If you have the budget, expert networks, like Gerson Lehrman Group (GLG) or Guidepoint, are a great way to line up calls with several industry experts in a short amount of time. Company policies and client provisions may stipulate the exclusion of certain individuals, e.g. those currently employed by a direct competitor of the client.

Offline surveys: In addition to expert interviews you could conduct a large-scale survey to better understand the customer. In-person interviews have the advantage of much flexibility to collect quantitative and qualitative data. Also experienced interviewers can assess the reliability of responses. However, this likely is the most expensive surveying option and mostly used to capture a very specific set of customers. Alternatives include phone interviews or sending questionnaires by mail.

Online surveys: Conducting surveys online can help you reach a large audience at a cheaper price point. Tools like SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang help users build and conduct surveys as well as find potential respondents. You can typically decide if responses are only accepted after a personal invitation or if the questionnaire is open to the public. In the latter case, keep in mind that results may be skewed because of a biased, self-selected audience.

Mystery shopping: Test purchases can be conducted to learn about customer service, product features and company recommendations. Typically this approach is used in a business-to-consumer (B2C) settings and while traditionally used in physical stores the approach works for online sales as well. As the shopper obscures his or her real intentions, company policies may include restrictions or guidelines for this method.


Aploris offers standard software the enables users to employ Microsoft PowerPoint more effectively. Consultants and other PowerPoint business users benefit from Aploris Charts for designing data charts that follow corporate design requirements and highlight insights. Besides regular graphs like pie or bubble charts advanced types, e.g. waterfalls and Gantt charts, are supported. Existing charts and other PowerPoint content can be managed using TeamSlide to access relevant corporate knowledge directly from PowerPoint.

Methods to help collect business market information

As we discussed in our last post, defining a market is a critical first step in developing a strategy. In this post, we’ll focus our attention on methods to collect information required to help define the market.

Methods largely fall into two categories:

  • Based on existing reports – Depending on the size and maturity of your market, reports are an excellent source to quickly grasp market trends.
  • Based on people input – While it can be tedious at times, speaking with industry experts and customers provides a level of detail and color that can help bring numeric data to life.

In this post we will cover the approach based on existing written sources.

Analyst reports: Many markets are well covered by analysts at either a research organization or at an investment bank. For example research houses like IDC and Gartner publish a large variety of technology reports. These reports, however, are expensive and can easily cost $10,000 and more. “Initiating coverage reports” by investment banks tend to have the best market data. These too are expensive but at times at quick Google search may reveal some of the main points/charts being publicly available.

Company reports: Mandatory publications like 10-Ks in the USA and public marketing material can provide in-depth company financial data, capability overviews as well as general market trends. These are free and typically available through a companies investor website. Depending on local legislation mandatory reports can often be obtained from a public register. This is particularly helpful when data of competing players in a market is needed.

Official and statistical publications: In many countries supervisory and statistical bodies (e.g. the PRA in the UK) collect data from market players which is published in detailed or aggregate form. Trends and background information may be shared as well. Because the relevant institutions are public bodies reports are typically freely available. Though depending on national regulations, the availability can be expected for industries with a strict governance due to a high public interest. This often includes financial services, healthcare, telecommunications, transportation and food industry.

Industry associations: Leading market players often establish lobby groups. Among others these mostly publish qualitative and quantitative reports on market development and trends. However, because the associations must keep neutrality towards their stakeholders and assessment or rating of individual companies cannot be expected.

In the next post we will consider options for collecting market insights from the ground up without relying on existing quantitative data and analyses.

At Aploris we develop tools for more efficient use of Microsoft PowerPoint for consultants and other PowerPoint business users. Aploris Charts for data visualization allows users to build column, line, waterfall and bubble charts as well as Marimekkos, which are specifically powerful to display market segments. TeamSlide is our knowledge management suite that facilitates effectively sharing content in teams and increasing quality and productivity.

Questions to help define a business market

The first step in developing a business strategy is understanding the markets the business/product participates or wants to participate in. While the Aploris founders were working as management consultants at Bain & Company, the initial stages of many projects included a thorough assessment of the client’s market. While time consuming to execute, accurately defining a market provides a powerful platform to help hypothesize the impact of a strategy.

Across a variety of projects, there were always a handful of key questions that were consistently used to define markets:

  • Who are the customers? (age, income, location, education, motivation, pain point)
  • Who are the primary competitors? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • How large is the market and how fast is it growing? What are the typical financials?
  • What disruptions can the market expect over the next 3-5 years?

Aploris develops productivity tools for consultants and other PowerPoint users. Our data visualization plug-in for PowerPoint, Aploris Charts (www.aploris.com), allows users to build Marimekko charts, which can be used to effectively communicate market segments and size.