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# 1: How Well Do You Know Your Company

Most business owners think they know their company pretty well - how they do things, what their image is in their market, how their customers rate them, and so on. Occasionally, they are right - but only occasionally. So before you spend another dollar on sell sheets, advertising, networking or promotion, you might want to explore the possibility that that dollar might be wasted.

Unlike the big guys, most independent companies do not hire outside companies to do market research for them. They think they can do it themselves. Most of the time they’re wrong.

Surveys, questionnaires, interviews are all far more complex than one might imagine. If you want to know if your service meets a customer’s expectations, you cannot simply ask the question. First you have to know what those expectations are; then you have to find out in what specific ways you meet, fail to meet, or exceed those expectations. Without those specifics, any information you gather is useless.

If you cannot have an outside firm handle your research entirely, then consider hiring them to help you design your questionnaire or interview questions. If even that is out of the budget, then keep in mind that information is only valuable to the extent that it is actionable. In other words, if you don’t know exactly what to do when you get the answer, then you might as well not ask the question. Once you create a question, ask yourself,

“What changes would be or could be made for each possible answer?”

For example, suppose you want to find out whether your customers are happy with your delivery times. Simply asking the question won’t help you. Suppose they say, “No.” Even if you give them a range - Happy 4 3 2 1 Unhappy - you don’t know what to do with the answer. Instead, be sure you ask specific questions such as,

When do you expect to receive your merchandise?
_____Less than 2 days _____ 3-5 days _____a week or longer?

Did you select a shipping upgrade?
_____Yes _____No

How important is delivery time to your business function?
Critical 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 Not important

Questions such as these get to the meat of the matter. You find out what the expectations are and whether they are willing to pay extra to meet those expectations. (Incidentally, for an excellent example of a follow-up questionnaire, buy something from a company on the web.)

There are lots of books on creating questionnaires, but nothing can replace the skills of a really deft research firm.

A small investment in services can save you bundles in wasted marketing efforts.

Copyright © 2001 [SBMA]. All rights reserved.
Revised: July 04, 2008 .



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