Archive for September, 2009

Why is my Marketing Research Useless?

September 30, 2009

Many companies know the importance of doing marketing research.  Yet many do not know how to do it or why they are doing it.  This often leads to market research that is conducted for the wrong reasons, conducted unnecessarily, or conducted incorrectly.  In any of these events, the data you capture and the conclusions you reach will be useless.

When you need to conduct marketing research, always make sure you have a specific, well-defined problem you want the research to solve.  You might notice that sales are falling in a particular territory.  So you immediately try to do a survey to see what might make customers and prospects in that region buy more of your product.  But is declining sales the problem?  Or is it a symptom of another problem?  You need to rule that out before you try to tackle it.

To define the problem appropriately, you need to do some basic exploratory research.  Your business problem then is: “to discover why sales are falling in Territory X.”  So you talk to your sales manager and sales agents in that region.  You might find out that the competition in Territory X is more significant than in your other territories.  Or you may find that  customers in Territory X are likelier than those in other territories to report product defects, that they’ve stopped buying your product.  There can be other reasons.  But once you’ve identified the real problem, you can do the marketing research that helps you address it appropriately.

Another reason marketing research produces undesirable results is that your organization may have too many stakeholders with an interest in the research.  As a result, company politics influences the research that’s done, the questions asked, the vendor selected, and a host of other things that should be handled exclusively by the marketing researcher.  This is a recipe for research disaster.

One prominent association I used to work for wanted to conduct a survey of professionals who used and/or purchased its publications.  The publishing department wanted to understand what the needs of these professionals were, so that they could know what enhancements could be made.  So far, so good.  But the problem was that so many other departments had a hand in the process.  The sales department wanted to know about competition and purchase intent; the content writers wanted to know about satisfaction with specific features of the publications; and the business development department wanted to know the markets in which they had the best chances of success.  As a result, we ended up with a survey questionnaire that was so long, convoluted, and tedious that many respondents abandoned the survey or chose not to take it.  To date, the association has not acted on the findings of the survey, and that’s been a couple of years.  The moral of the story: keep the survey’s objective to a single purpose.  It’s better to do several short surveys on singular topics over time than to do one big omnibus multi-themed survey.

To ensure your marketing research efforts produce insights you can act on, always define your problem clearly and keep a tight focus on the research objective.

Small Businesses Can’t Afford to do Marketing Research? They Can’t Afford NOT To!

September 21, 2009

How many of us would go on a road trip without first determining the optimal route to our destination?  Or locating the lodging facilities, restaurants, and service stations along the way?  Yet, why is it that when it comes to running our business, many of us don’t take the time to research the route to our business’ success?

Marketing research is a key component in developing effective marketing and business plans.  Marketing research helps us understand who our customers are, what their needs and wants are, and how they perceive our companies and our products vis a vis our compeition; marketing research also helps us ascertain how viable the market is for our products and services, the degree of competition, and the trends within our industry; and marketing research helps us establish goals and choose courses of action.

Yet many small business avoid doing any marketing research because they perceive it to be very costly.  However marketing research exists in several forms, many low cost or even free.  There are two types of marketing research data: primary and secondary.  Primary research is information you collect directly from the customer through surveys or focus groups.  Secondary research is information that has been collected and published by various organizations such as government agencies, trade publications and associations, and chambers of commerce, for various purposes.   Secondary research tends to be the least costly of the two, so it will account for the vast majority of market research a small business conducts, and most often will be all it needs.

Doing Marketing Research on a Shoestring

How can a business do marketing research on a low budget?  There are lots of great secondary research sources available, often for the nominal cost of a trip to your local library or an Internet search.  One of the best sources of marketing research data is the U.S. Census.  The Census Bureau provides demographics and population estimates, as well as social, political, and economic data.  The Census Bureau also conducts an Economic Census every five years to measure industrial activity.  The Economic Census breaks statistics down by industry and region, enabling you to size up your competition.  You can find out how many firms are in your territory, how big they are, what their revenues are, etc.  You can even find out how much of the industry’s sales are controlled by the top companies.

Besides the Census Bureau, you can find inexpensive data from your chamber of commerce, your trade associations, your vendors, and even your customers.  Check out the Encyclopedia of Associations, by Gale Research, at your library.  This source can help you identify associations relevant to your industry, as well as associations your customers might be members of.

Your public library will also have sources like The Thomas Register of American Manufacturers and the Harris InfoSource All-Industries and Manufacturing Directories, which can help you target businesses in a certain industry, learn more about competitors, and find companies to manufacture your products.

If you’re looking for company-specific information, your library may have an online subscription to Hoover’s, which is owned by Dun and Bradstreet.  In fact, D&B also furnishes its Million Dollar Database, which provides addresses, key officers, sales, and number of employees for almost 2 million U.S. and Canadian organizations, both publicly traded and privately owned.

Secondary information can also be obtained from colleges and universities, community organizations, and other government agencies.

And this list is far from comprehensive.

Given all the secondary information at our fingertips, the question is no longer whether small businesses can afford to do marketing research, but whether they can afford not to.

Comcast: A Case of Customer Satisfaction “DON’Ts”

September 19, 2009

I write a lot about customer satisfaction market research.  Yet, no amount of customer satisfaction research can replace common sense.  Every business knows that a satisfied customer is a returning customer.  Except Comcast.  No customer satisfaction survey will ever provide you with useful feedback if the quality of your customer service is blatantly bad to begin with.

Yesterday evening, my high-speed Internet access went out.  And because I have both phone and Internet access through Comcast, I also lost dial tone on my landline.  From my business phone, I called Comcast to report the outage.  And from that point until a few minutes ago, the textbook example of customer service “Don’ts” emerged one by one.

DON’T Keep Doing Things that Don’t Work!

It was Friday afternoon, almost 5:00.  The customer service agent attempted to reset my modem remotely.  That didn’t work (in fact, in the five times my Internet connection has gone out over the past year, that approach has never worked).  The result: A technician was going to have to come to my home to fix it.  Wonderful.  That leads me to the next “Don’t:”

Don’t Inconvenience the Customer

These days, almost everything runs on Internet or phone.  I realize the weekend was on, but a company should try to get these matters resolved quickly.  The soonest Comcast could send a technician would be Sunday, at 8:00 a.m.  Not only is that unresponsive, it ignores that fact that households may have church obligations.  And at 8:00 in the morning?  Anyone who’s not in church is probably sleeping in. 

Fortunately, my Internet service and dial tone came back on an hour later.  I decided to wait until Comcast called to confirm the appointment to tell them not to come.  Then came the next Don’t:

DON’T Call the Customer Just to Put Him/Her on Hold!

Around 1:30 this afternoon, my cell phone rings.  It’s a recorded message saying to the effect: “This is Comcast calling about your scheduled service.  Please wait for an agent.”  Huh?  If you are calling a customer, make sure you have someone ready to talk to the customer when he/she answers the phone.  Would you call your friend and say: “Steve, this is Alex.  Hold on for one second until I’m ready to talk to you”?  But even that wasn’t the worst part:

DON’T Annoy the Customer

That recorded message played over and over again!  After six or seven repetitions, I hung up and decided to call Comcast directly to cancel my trouble call.  And then more Don’ts:


It took about 4 minutes to work through the customer service menu items.  And then…


First of all, make it easy for customers to call in and report their issue and set, adjust, or cancel their trouble calls.  Second, make sure you have adequate staff to handle calls.  People calling customer service are likely already frustrated.  Long hold times will only agitate their frustration.  It was almost 10 minutes I was on hold.  I finally spoke to the agent and then cancelled the trouble call.  I thought that was the end of it.  But a new don’t emerged:

DON’T Use Automation Technology if it’s Not Working Properly

Less than 20 minutes after I hung up with the Comcast agent, my cell phone rang.  It was Comcast again.  Calling with that same recorded message, telling me to wait for an agent.  10 more times I heard it.  Shouldn’t Comcast’s system have recorded my cancellation in real time?  I was annoyed and decided to wait for the agent, and when she came on the line I told her how annoying that message is.  Her reply brought me to the final don’t…


The agent acknowledged that many customers complained about that infernal recording and it was “reported to management”.  Reported to management?  Why hasn’t management done anything about it?  If Comcast had given me a customer satisfaction survey at that point, the scores would have all been the lowest I could give.

Too bad Comcast has virtually no competition in my community.  After a couple hundred disgruntled customers defected to other phone/cable/Internet providers, Comcast would get the message and respond nimbly to customer dissatisfaction.  Until then, they have Carte Blanche to be a textbook case of customer service disasters.