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How can your business use research to gain new customers?

Most organizations can name a lot of reasons why their customers like them… and they’re probably right. This gets reinforced when they talk with their customers and when they survey them. Customer feedback, by its nature, is more complimentary than critical, because customers choose their suppliers in the first place based on factors that were important to them. More importantly, they continue to like their suppliers well enough to keep buying from them over and over.

But what about prospective customers who have heard of an organization but choose not to buy from them? If those companies really understood why they could effectively do something about it. Maybe the company has a poor reputation, either deserved or rooted in customers’ misperceptions. Or, maybe they aren’t doing anything wrong except being unaware of their competitors’ superior tactics for winning new customers.

Often, a well-designed research project can help pinpoint what’s driving perceptions and provide the insight needed to address concerns.

Consumer research

For consumer businesses, gaining insights can be as simple as an internet survey. Once questions have been developed, large panel research companies make deploying the research quick and cost-effective. They offer access to millions of pre-screened consumers willing to participate in online email surveys. Plus, most are able to refine the research participants based on your audience criteria (e.g. homeowners under 40 who live in the Midwest.) 

Here’s an excellent example of how consumer research helped identify issues for a major hospital. By executing an online survey of 400 households in the hospital’s multi-

county service region, there were very different opinions among respondents who’d been treated at the hospital vs those who had not. Nearly all of those who had been treated rated the quality of care they received very highly. In contrast, people who had never used the hospital rated it lower and were unaware of most of the hospital’s excellent departments outside of two well-publicized specialties. With this knowledge, the hospital began actively marketing its other specialties, which resulted in attracting new patients.

B2B research

If your potential customers are businesses, to gain the best insights, it’s ideal to look at your competitors’ customers. Unlike consumers, businesses are not likely to respond to an online survey, so the best way to get information is to talk with them directly. mHow you do this depends on the product or service involved and the person’s role in his/her organization. It is relatively easy, for example, to talk with distributors, contractors, middle managers, and trade show attendees, who will often share their opinions about different companies, including yours.  

If you don’t have existing contacts to tap into, you may need to generate a list. LinkedIn can be an excellent (and free) source to locate prospective customers; or lists are available for purchase through companies, such as Dun & Bradstreet. Be warned; cold calling companies for any reason is always a challenge, possibly requiring 10+ calls to reach one who’s willing to speak with you. Strive to make the call beneficial to them, such as sharing new industry trends or technology, before requesting the information you want.  

One such example was for a client that manufacturers forklift trucks. By interviewing warehouse managers across the country who were using a competitive brand, we learned not only what they loved about the competition, but they also divulged specific policies of our client that they disliked. By understanding how this was tarnishing their reputation and impeding sales, our client was able to institute changes that made them more competitive and enhanced their name as a more customer-friendly company.

It’s human nature to want to dwell on the positive. Many companies that believe they have a good reputation often only talk to their own customers. The only way to really know if something unknown or untrue has been hurting your reputation is to research yourself as a competitor in your own market.   

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Evelyn Greene

Market Research Director

Evelyn offers more than 25 years of experience designing, managing and performing market research in most major industries. She utilizes a strong business background to guide companies towards sound decisions and effective solutions as the result of outstanding business research.