One of my goals at CEO Exclusive is to help you stay ahead of the game. With that in mind, this week we talk about market research. Market research is sexy, people. Market research will bring you fame, glory, and ice cream sundaes. Or, at the very least, bring you a deeper understanding of the environment and circumstances in which you are growing your business – making fame, glory, and ice cream all that much more attainable.
I chose to focus on market research today because having knowledge about your business environment is absolutely critical to helping you increase profit margins, develop strategies, and lead your people. On this week’s show, I talk about the kinds of market research that I think are really important; specific tactics for you to gather this information; and how to synthesize this research so it makes a real-world difference in your business. Here we go.
Kinds of Market Research
Industry trends. This one is straightforward, and I find that it’s the one most of my clients are already doing to at least some degree. You need to know what’s happening in your industry. What is happening with competitors, suppliers, and customers? This one is crucial, but basic, so we’ll leave it at that. Know your industry. Know your customers’ industries.
Macroeconomic trends. No one is impervious to what’s happening in the greater economy. Even for industries that are resistant to recession (such as healthcare) it’s still important to be aware to at least some degree of what affect the macroeconomic environment may have on your business. It’s even more important for those of you who run companies in more changeable industries.
Many of the CEOs on my show have talked about surviving the recession (check out these articles: When is the Next Recession? and Become Recession Proof) and cite macroeconomic awareness as a key to their ability to prepare for, and survive, recession.
Competitive intelligence. I’m sure you’re as curious as everybody in business about what’s happening with your competitors. This kind of information can be very hard to gather, at least to the full degree and level of curiosity you may have about what competitors are up to. I’m not saying you need to send in corporate spies, but don’t let that stop you from gathering the information you can: products, pricing, customer service, and conversations on social media are all easy to access and contain valuable information about where you stand in relation to your competitors.
Customer satisfaction. This is another hot topic for CEOs who are on our show. It’s critical for you to know how your customers perceive the product or service that you provide. This goes hand in hand with the competitive intelligence piece, and will let you know how you stack up against competitors, and where you need to make changes to better serve your customers.
Check out this article about the net promoter score featuring CEO Exclusive guest Pragmetrix. This is a very simple tool you can use to see how likely your customers are to do business with you again.
Customer intelligence. Let’s talk about win-loss analysis. Why do you win in business, and why do you lose? Having a rigorous process in place is crucial, and it needs to be more than just talking to your sales staff. It is more effective when it comes from the customer, and not just the ones who said yes. A customer who has chosen to do business with you is likely to share the reasons why they chose you – but the ones who didn’t, might not be as forthcoming. And that second category of customer has a whole lot of valuable information about what you could be doing better. Put a periodic program in place, and consider bringing in external help to gather this information for you.
Technology. This is a new one on my list, but in today’s world it’s crucial regardless of your industry. Every business today is a technology business. The taxi-cab business was in no way considered a technology business, but with the advent of the Uber app, and, in the not-too-distant future, self-driving cars, a solid knowledge of technological advances may have made a difference for cab companies. There may be technology waiting to disrupt your world, or technology that can help you serve your customers better and more efficiently. Either way, it’s time to get your nose in the world of technology.
Internal polls. Finally, it’s important to reach out to your staff and salespeople on a regular basis for information on how they see the business going. They have direct interaction with your customers, and deep insight into how the systems you’ve set in place are serving to meet customer needs.
Tactics for Market Research
Let’s talk tactics. There are a lot of ways to get this done, and here are some of my favorites.
Google alerts. This is an easy one. Set up a Google alert for the topics mentioned above. When they come in, pop them in a folder and set aside some time to review them. Even if it’s just 15 minutes a day, or even 15 minutes a week, something is better than nothing.
Connect with others. Make at least a couple of phone calls each week to others in your industry. Join trade organizations and reach out to other members. The conversations may only take five minutes, but can provide a wealth of information and insight.
Budget. Set aside some money to get the job done. Make sure you have funding for external research and reports, as well as to hire external help to reach out to your customers for feedback.
Check out the research tips in this article on not getting blindsided.
Gathering all the information in the world does you no good if you don’t synthesize it. There is no easy answer here. This takes some work and some thought.
Delegate. Someone has to sift through all of that information, but it doesn’t have to be you. Delegate to someone one on your team who will sit down with the information on a periodic basis and develop a short memo or brief on key points management needs to be aware of. This needs to be someone who understands your business and goals.
Synthesize. This is the hardest part, but it can also be the most fun. It’s something you might do on your own or with an executive team, but it is important to take the information and ask yourself some questions. What does this information mean to you and your company? Is this going to push my company in a positive direction? Is it an opportunity, or a threat?
The next step is to come up with real measures that will make a difference. Is there some technology you need to implement? Do you need to expand services to face an oncoming recession? Do you need to make a shift in your customer care? Use the information to create real-world actions that you can implement into your business.
Those of you who have been on the show and who are on the Inc. 500 are likely doing this already. This is where the gold is.
Put it into action. All the knowledge and planning in the world makes no difference if you don’t put it into action. You might need to tackle one change at a time, or it may be appropriate to make a sweeping change on a lot of levels – but be rigorous in bringing your insights into reality.
I’m going to go all cliche on you: Sir Francis Bacon said, “knowledge is power”. I use it here, because it’s true. So, go get that market research and use it to drive your company onward and upward.