Posted by: Christine Adams | September 27, 2009

Conducting a Focus Group – Inexpensive Market Research

Conducting a focus group can provide valuable information from existing or potential customers. It allows you to gain insight and feedback which helps you understand attitudes toward your product, service, concept or advertising strategies. The outcome will allow you to adjust your current approach and enhance the options you provide that will ultimately increase sales by providing consumers what they want or need. They can also be used to test a product or concept you are considering launching.

Invitations:

  • Your group should be between 8-12 people. I usually invite about 15, knowing that some people who commit will not show up.
  • Choose an appropriate demographic. Invite current customers, friends of the business and people in close proximity to your business who may not utilize your services. By inviting a broad spectrum of people you are likely to engage in a more meaningful discussion.

Moderation:

  • Consider hiring a moderator outside of your business to conduct the session. This may cost you some money but it will ensure that there is a non-biased party leading the discussion.
  • If you feel you can conduct the focus group yourself in an impartial manner, feel free to proceed but be careful not to sway the conversation.

Questions:

  • Prepare your list of questions ahead of time. Carefully formulate open ended discussions that require more than a yes or no answer. The idea will be to engage the crowd in thoughtful conversation. Ask specific questions that you would like to clarify in more detail.
  • Construct a written list of questions for your participants to answer anonymously. (Specifically ask them not to place their name on the questionnaire.) Some people may feel more comfortable giving candid answers if they feel like they are not being judged by the group or the moderator.

Pitfalls:

  • Stay on topic! Often times the group will get off on a tangent that has nothing to do with the question that was posed. It is important to draw them back in to the discussion in a polite manner to keep your focus group on track. Be respectful of your participants’ time and do not allow the session to run too long. (I usually keep my sessions to 2 hours.)
  • Be mindful of your audience. When I conduct a focus group, our owners like to sit in t he back and listen to the responses. They are engaged entrepreneurs which is commendable but at times I wonder if the participants are completely honest knowing that the owners are listening.

Helpful Hints:

  • Provide some sort of incentive to encourage people to participate when you invite them. Some companies offer cash or gifts. Since I work in a restaurant, we offer food and beverage. They are typically scheduled at the end of the work day so we supply dinner and dessert for our group. It is also nice, at the end of the session, to add a thank you gift that the participants did not expect. This will encourage them to return for your next round of focus groups.
  • Take immediate action! It is important to react to suggestions right away! When the participants see their ideas put into action they will take ownership in your business and begin talking to people about their experience. This creates positive word of mouth. Repeat the sessions about 6 months after you have created change. Invite participants back along with new people to ask how they like the changes and find out if they see new opportunities that exist.

Focus groups are an inexpensive way of receiving true feedback about your business. If you would like more information on coordinating focus groups or the types of questions to ask, please feel free to comment here or email me at christineadams@live.com so I can tailor my suggestions to specific situations. I hope you have found this post interesting enough to start planning your focus group today. 

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