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.
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