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A Simple Guide To Doing Marketing Research For Your Business

Marketing research is a great tool marketers can use to find out which types of products or services can bring a profit.

If you already have products or services available, marketing research will help you determine whether or not you’re meeting your customers’ expectations and needs.

Your research will let you know whether you need to tweak your delivery methods, change your package design, or if you should think about offering additional services in your business.

Failing to do thorough market research before starting your business (or even during operation) is a bit like trying to drive from New York to Texas without street signs or a map.

You won’t know which direction you need to travel, or how fast you can go.

Why Market Research is Vital

A well-executed market research plan will show you who your customers are as well as where you can find them. It will also tell you when those customers are most likely to buy your goods or services.

The results you get from market research will either help you create a business plan, develop a marketing strategy, or you can use them to measure the success of the plan you currently have.

That’s why it’s vital to ensure that you’re asking the right people the right questions in the right way!

Poorly done research can actually steer your business in a totally wrong direction. So use the steps outlined below to conduct your marketing research properly and avoid costly mistakes that will affect the future of your business.

Conducting Market Research in 5 Easy Steps

Step 1: Define Your Customer Avatar

Defining your customer avatar (or buyer persona) is the first step in conducting proper market research.

Before you can dive into the way your customers make their buying decisions, you first need to understand who exactly your target customers are.

This is where your primary market research begins.

A customer avatar is a fictional, generalized representation of your ideal customer. It helps you to visualize your audience and streamline your communications. With a well-developed customer persona, you’ll be able to better inform your marketing strategy.

Some of the key characteristics you need to focus on when creating your avatars include:
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Location
  • Income
  • Family size
  • Job title(s)
  • Family size
  • Major challenges

The idea here is to use these personas as your guideline for reaching and learning about your actual customers in the industry.

As you well know, no business can survive or thrive without an in-depth knowledge of their customers. I’ve written posts on this blog on how you can create your buyer persona.

Check them out if you haven’t already done it, and get started on that right now.

It’s important to note that your business may lend itself to multiple personas, and that’s fine.

Just be sure that you put careful consideration into the specific persona that you’re optimizing for whenever you plan your content development and your marketing campaigns.

You now have a clear picture of who your ideal buyers are.

The next step is to find a representative sample of that group of target customers so you can gain a deeper understanding of their actual characteristics and challenges as well as their buying habits.

These should be people who recently either made a purchase, or the ones who purposefully opted not to buy your products or services.

You can connect with them in various ways such as:
  • Using an online survey
  • Through email
  • On social media
  • Individual phone or Skype interviews
  • And so on…

If possible, you can even meet with them in person via a focus group. Just choose whatever works best for you and go with that.

When choosing which of your buyers to survey, it’s vital that you start with the ideal characteristics that apply to your customer persona.

The people you decide to engage for your marketing research will vary for different businesses, but the guidelines below will apply to pretty much any scenario:
  • Select at least 10 participants for each of your buyer personas. It’s a good idea to focus on one persona at a time, but if you really believe that it’s essential for you to research more than one persona for your business, then go ahead and do so. Just remember to recruit separate sample groups for each one.
  • Choose people who interacted with your business or brand recently. This can be a couple of weeks, six months, or even a year depending on the length of your sales cycle. Just remember that you’ll be asking very detailed questions, so it’s important to ensure that their experience with your business is still fresh in their minds.
  • Aim for a diverse mix of participants. Include people who bought your product, those who bought your competitors’ products, and some who decided not to buy anything at all. Your own customers are going to be the easiest to locate and recruit, but having different sources of information will help you in developing a balanced view.
Step 2: Engaging Your Marketing Research Participants

Big marketing research firms have pools of people that they can select from whenever they need to conduct studies, but that is a luxury most of us individual marketers don’t have.

But that’s not a bad thing. In fact, time spent recruiting participants exclusively for your own study often leads to better participants.

Guide your efforts with this simple recruiting process:
  • Make a list of customers who recently made a purchase. As previously mentioned, they are usually the easiest group of buyers you can recruit. If you are using a CRM (customer relationship management) system, simply run a report targeting deals that closed in the previous six months, then you can filter it for the exact characteristics you’re searching for.
  • Find those customers who were in active evaluation, but decided not to make a purchase. This should be a mix of those who didn’t buy at all, and those who bought from your competitor.
  • Call for survey participants on your various social media networks. Reach out to the people that follow you on social media. There’s a very good chance that the majority of them will be willing to talk to you and tell you why they did or didn’t buy your product.
  • Leverage your network. Tell everyone from your colleagues, former colleagues, friends, and LinkedIn connections, etc. that you are conducting a study. Even if your direct connections may not qualify, some will likely know a co-worker, family member, or friend who will make the perfect participant.
  • Choose an incentive to motivate people to join your study. Time is precious, and someone has to feel that they’re not wasting the 30 to 45 minutes that it’s going to take them to complete your study. If you’re on a tight budget, you can reward participants by giving them free exclusive access to content on your site once the study is complete.

Step 3: Time to Prepare Your Market Research Questions

Whether you’re doing a focus group, Skype interviews, or online surveys, one of the best ways to get the most out of the conversations you’re about to have is to be very well prepared.

You need to craft a discussion guide which is going to help you cover all the top of mind questions, and ensure you use your time wisely.

Important Note:

Don’t make this a script. Try to make the discussions as natural and conversational as possible.

This means you’ll probably have to go a bit out of order sometimes, and probe into particular areas whenever necessary.

Make sure that your discussion guide is in an outline format, and that it has a time allotment as well as open-ended questions allotted for each of the sections. Open-ended questions are the golden rule of marketing research.

It’s vital that you never lead your witnesses by asking ‘yes or no’ questions. There’s a risk that you may unintentionally sway their thoughts when you lead with your own hypotheses.

Here is an example of how you could structure a 30-minute interview of a B2B Buyer:
Background Information (5-minutes)

Ask them to give you a little background on their title, how long they’ve been with the company, etc.

You can ask a fun question here to warm things up, such as their favorite restaurant, last concert they attended, favorite vacation spot, and so on.

Consideration (10 Minutes)

You can now get into the specifics of how and where they researched the various potential solutions available to them. You’ll likely have to interject quite a bit here to get more details.

Awareness (5 Minutes)

This part is to help you understand when they first realized that they had a desire or problem to be solved. Do this first, before you get into whether they knew about your brand yet.

Decision (10 Minutes)

This is where you find out which part of their research led to their ultimate decision to buy or not to buy.

You must find out which of their sources of information was the most influential for driving their final purchasing decision.


Here you’re wrapping things up, and learning what part of the overall process could have been better for the customer.

Ask them what the ideal buying process looks like to them, and how it would be different from what they actually experienced.

Allow some time for more questions from their end and don’t forget to thank them for their time.

Step 4: List All Your Primary Competitors

Understanding your competitors is just as important as understanding your customers.

But it’s important to keep in mind that this part isn’t usually as easy as Company A versus Company B. You may find that at times a company’s division may compete with your main product while the company’s brand puts more effort into an entirely different area.

For instance, Apple Music competes with Spotify over its music streaming service, but their brand is actually better-known for its mobile devices and laptops.

Looking at it from a content point of view, you may compete for inbound web visitors with a blog, a YouTube channel, or other similar publications – even though their product or service doesn’t actually overlap with yours.

When you conduct a Google search for industry terms describing your company, what comes up?

You’ll probably be shown a mix of blogs, magazines, product developers, and more. Now compare those results against those buyer personas that you created earlier.

Examine the likelihood that each of the publications you found through the search engines could steal away valuable web traffic from you.

In other words, is the content on their site something your ideal customer would love to see? If so, then that site is a potential competitor.

Add it to your list.

Step 5. Summarize Your Findings

By this time, you’re probably feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the information you’ve been gathering and the notes you’ve been taking.

The next step is to start looking for common themes to help you tell the story and come up with an actionable item list.

To make this process even easier, you can use your presentation software of choice to make a concise report. This will also make it easier for you to add in some diagrams, call clips, quotes, etc.

Use the outline below to help you create a clear summary:
  • Background

These are your goals as well as why you piloted this study.

  • Participants

The people you talked to. A table will work well here since it allows you to break groups down according to persona, customer, or prospect.

  • Executive Summary

Describe the most interesting stuff you learned and what you plan to use the information for.

  • Awareness

Describe the most common triggers for people to enter into an evaluation.

  • Consideration

What main themes did you uncover? What are the detailed sources buyers used during their evaluation?

  • Decision

Clearly show how customers make a decision. Include the people who have the most influence as well as any information or product features that have a determining factor in the deal.

  • Action Plan

This is where you outline any campaigns uncovered by your analysis that you can run starting now to get your business in front of customers earlier or more effectively.

You can come up with a list of priorities and a timeline. Make it clear what impact this will have on your business.

In Conclusion

As you can see, conducting marketing research will prove to be an extremely important, eye-opening experience that will help you take your business to the next level.

Even if you think you already know your business, customers, and competitors well, this is something that can still uncover new opportunities to help improve all your interactions.

Feel free to post your comment below.  An email address is required but it will not be shared with anyone, put on any list, or used for any kind of marketing, just to alert you if there are any replies. Thanks and happy hunting!


Updated: Originally published March 27th 2019

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