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Information Technology
Many facets of IT — II

Cost-conscious tips help research for better sales


Information & Technology

Clarify your research objectives, and decide on a reasonable budget.

By M. Shahbaz Alibaig
Aug 07 - 13, 2000

Invariably, businesses employ two methods for bolstering profitability.

Strategy No. 1 is to reduce costs. This often is an easy — albeit reactive — way to meet the targets set by the company's management.

Strategy No. 2 is to increase sales in a manner that boosts the bottom line.

However, success in growing sales volume often lies in preparation — finding out what perceptions potential customers bring toward one's products or services.

Two ways to accomplish this research are through surveys and focus groups. Luckily, you don't need a Ph.D. in marketing to take advantage of either.

Surveys don't have to be expensive, formal or time consuming to offer value. A simply structured survey enables you to get feedback from your customers.

Here are some cost-effective tips on conducting surveys:

Telephone interviews: This is an inexpensive and fast way to obtain small quantities of impersonal information from your customers.

Keep your questions simple and brief; most people don't like to spend a lot of time on the phone answering questions.

Direct mail interviews: If you want to increase the base of your survey, this method is effective.

Your survey can be simple as a postcard or as elaborate as a cover letter, questionnaire and reply envelope.

I recommend that the questionnaire be kept within one page, and ask no more than 15 questions. Use Yes/no" or Agree/disagree boxes to facilitate responding easily. It should not take more than five minutes for your customer to fill out the survey.

Customers hesitate to fill out questionnaires that take longer than five minutes.

Fax, e-mail interviews and Web survey forms: The technology of today allows us to find information faster than ever before.

Many of the same principals that apply to direct mail also apply to fax and e-mail surveys. However, never send an unsolicited fax or e-mail that is more than one page long.

Give clear instructions on how to respond, and be appreciative in advance for the data you get back.

Web forms on the Internet allow you to get data from visitors who come to your Web site. In addition, creating Web forms is easy; most of the new Web designing tools allow you to design forms and surveys using built-in templates.

New software called Survey Pro allows you to create all types of surveys that can be used via direct mail, fax, e-mail, and even through Web sites. This tool allows people to create survey forms that automatically create a database to store your data.

All you need to do is enter the data once you receive it into the database forms created by Survey Pro.

Next, you can use the many analysis tools and graphs to create your reports.

Focus groups: Bringing people together is an effective way to get in-depth information, generate new ideas, test new concepts or products, or simply measure your business against perceptions about your competition.

These groups usually consist of eight to 12 individuals brought together to discuss a particular subject. Sessions usually take between one and two hours, and are always taped or recorded.

When conducting focus groups, hold the session in a central location, provide name tags, encourage an open ended flow of ideas and provide a neutral facilitator.

Whether you use the survey approach or opt for focus groups, keep several tips in mind.

Clarify your research objectives, and decide on a reasonable budget.

Staying on target is important, and a budget will help you keep the scope of the project in sight.

Decide whether you will do the research or hire a professional. By doing some homework in advance you can accomplish this task on your own. However, if you feel uncertain — or simply do not have time to run the operation on your own — you can contact market research firms or individual consultants in the Fox Valley.

Ask for relevant information and stay consistent with your questions. Ask questions that will give you the information you need. Also, stay consistent with your questions. Ask the same questions to all the customers, this way you will get consistent feedback.

Test market your research. Before surveying a large audience, test your survey and its results from a small test audience. This way you can identify your mistakes and correct them in advance.

No matter what market research you conduct, none of the feedback will be worth a hoot if you disregard the responses and don't apply what you learn.

After all, the real excitement in doing market research comes from making a genuine revelation — finding something you didn't expect or hadn't anticipated.