Monday, March 7, 2011

How Can Manufacturers Use DIY Market Research

I just gave an interview for an industrial marketing magazine and I thought I'd share my answers with you here.

Do manufacturing executives rely on do-it-yourself market research?

Yes.  Manufacturers rely on DIY market research, but not with very good results.  Since we're using the term DIY, let's make the analogy to building something.  If you're not a professional contractor -- and even if you are, you often have a drawing or a plan for what you're going to do BEFORE you purchase materials and start building.  A lot of manufacturers, have a mindset that a survey is just a series of questions.  They use the online survey tools to ask those questions and get answers, but the bigger issue is - are the answers useful?  Will the answers you get help you make a good decision?  And often times, the answer is no.

Let's use a standard customer satisfaction survey that you might have to do for ISO certification as an example.  When I review these surveys I often see questions that are entirely too general.  A basic example is something like "How satisfied were you with our service?"  Let's say the results came back and the average score was 6 out of 10.  Now, you have a busy management team sitting at the meeting or maybe a work team that's assigned to improve on this score.  Specifically, what would you do to improve this score?  You don't know -- the question is too general.  A better question is more specific such as "How satisfied were you with the speed with which your issue was handled?"  This question targets speed and service, so you know where to improve.

To use DIY Market Research most effectively, you need to talk to a marketing expert or consultant that understands research or product management and can help you design a good survey -- THEN use the online survey tools that are available to help.

Not sure where to get one of these experts -- check your local university, they always have graduating seniors who have a project to do and are supervised by a professor or need a project.  My favorite resource is LinkedIn - or -- just post a question on there and you will get flooded by wonderfully qualified people to help.

What tools do they use? How useful is DIY research? Do you have any
advice for manufacturing executives on this topic?

There are a TON of tools - but it's hard to choose a tools without understanding what you want to know and when to use each tool.  I'll outline a process that you can use and ny favorite tools to get the job done -

Figure out what you want to decide on.  The biggest mistake businesses make is gathering research to get information instead of gathering information to make a decision.  First decide what you need to know to make a decision.  Say you want to launch a new product and your analysis says that unless you can sell 50,000 of these widgets, it's not a good idea.  So you would do research to find out who might want these widgets and if there's a chance to get 50,000.

Tools and Methods: The best method to use for this is qualitative research and this is where your social media tools really come in handy.  (If you're not on social media -- you will have to spend a lot of time and money on this step, but it will be worth it).  Jump on LinkedIn and start searching for groups in your target industry, start asking questions and don't be afraid to share what you're up to -- without revealing anything proprietary.  Also search keywords that you're interested using Twitter.  I'm in the process of doing some research for Compressed Natural Gas fuel systems and have gotten some of my most useful information from my contacts in that industry.

Run some in-depth-interviews. That's the official name, I just call it talk to some people.  Call people who are in the buying center of your targeted companies and literally have conversations with them about what you're intending to do.  This is actually stealth marketing at its best.  Not only are you getting valuable marketing information for your plan, but you are also doing PR and early sales and marketing to people who might (and often are) interested in buying what your'e selling.  Keep in touch with them and keep them informed about what you're doing.

Tools and Methods: A good list is what you need with good contact names, reach out to your sales team and manufacturers reps for help.  They won't be eager to just hand over their valuable customer lists, so be sure to include them in the process.  Write an introductory or explanatory letter and have the reps send it out to the list.

Start a crowdsourcing space on the web. A lot of manufacturers are not aware of this fantastic tool out there.  I use IdeaScale from Survey Analytics, it's free and it will not only engage your customers in telling you exactly what they want and how they want it, it will create this brilliant virtual focus group space that is FREE and allows your company to comment on your customers ideas and your customers to give feedback.  The government has been using IdeaScale for years as have a lot of consumer and industrial companies.  It's a terrific way to have an ongoing improvement conversation around the things that are important to your customers.  But you have to make sure to TELL them about it and send them there often so they can see what you're up to and provide feedback.

Tools and Methods: IdeaScale, Get Satisfaction are two big names out there to try.  Visit the sites, open an account.  You'll receive a custom URL where you can send your customers.  You can also create widgets to place on your website where customers can go to give feedback.

Do an online Survey. NOW you have enough information to do an online survey.  Keep it short.  Your customers should be able to complete it in under 5 minutes.  This will drastically improve your response rates and give you better information.

Tools and Methods. Just google online survey and you will be overwhelmed with choices.  I use QuestionPro/SurveyAnalytics, but you can also use Survey Monkey.  AND email marketing tools like Constant Contact also offer the ability to manage your customer list AND do simple surveys.  So that it a great choice if your survey needs are simple.

Participate in social media. Many manufacturers think that social media tools are for telling people what you're doing.  But they are actually much better tools for listening.  If you don't have a social media presence -- get one.  Start a blog, get on LinkedIn and Create a Facebook Page - you'll be amazed at how many people are there from your industry.  Granted it won't be thousands, but there will be some that you can connect to and reach out to.  So use those tools.
So I hope that I've shown you that there's more to DIY Marketing and DIY Market Research than just getting out there and using the tools -- you have to know what tools to use to achieve the results you'd want to achieve -- and for that you need professional marketing advice.
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