What you can learn from focus groups

When Wendy Marron was testing an audio program developed by her company to help people overcome their fears of public speaking, she gathered eight people and ran a focus group — and she learned that people get stressed out about talk in situations she hadn’t even imagined.

One participant revealed she got nervous during phone interviews, said Marron, a partner at consulting firm High Performance U. Another confessed to avoiding engaging in conversations with strangers — a habit that can do jobs. social drudgery.

“Everyone who’s afraid to speak has their own weird little fear,” Marron said. Uncovering new issues that affect potential customers has shaped his company’s marketing messages. “The results that came back from the focus group really helped us and really surprised us.”

Focus groups can be extremely useful to business owners, says Jill Matthews, whose marketing consultancy Bright Cactus LLC hosts focus groups and works with consumer packaged goods manufacturers and restaurants across the country. world.

“Focus groups really help you understand the why — the why behind customer decisions and actions,” Matthews said. “They help you understand your customers, the mindset of your consumers, how they feel, what motivates them…and how they perceive any new idea.”

Getting feedback directly from customers has unique advantages over feedback from experience as a business owner or employee, said analyst Brad Schaefer of Sageworks Inc., which does financial analysis and reporting.

Insiders “become so familiar and so drawn to how it’s done or how it works now,” he said. “It’s hard to get out of that view to see what the customer sees.”

However, when you need measurable, projectable data or key facts, focus groups probably aren’t the answer, Matthews said.

Marron learned this from the focus group she developed. It included surveys of participants before and after trying the audio program. “In the end, we didn’t get usable numbers because everyone was all over the map,” Marron said.

Matthews said professional focus group facilitators like herself offer the experience of structuring and running many focus groups a year – and listening to participants. A professional moderator can pick up on attitudes towards the economy or different products and services as they arise in multiple focus groups.

Before starting a focus group, you need to know exactly what you want to learn, Matthews said. Identifying this “critical learning objective” can help determine not only how to structure the focus group, but also who needs to be included – current customers, lapsed customers, people with certain demographics or with certain attitudes and beliefs.

Another key is for business people to approach the focus group process “with open eyes, ears and minds,” Matthews said. “Listen to the verbal language; watch body language. Customer reviews will often surprise you; the structure of the focus group and the immediacy of feedback allow you to dig deeper into those findings, she said.

Schaefer suggests taping the events so you don’t miss what could be critical feedback. And while companies should have an agenda for the focus group, let attendees guide you through that agenda, he said. For example, if you’re testing a new product or service, talk about the idea generally and get feedback from attendees before showing a prototype or giving more details.

“Don’t talk a lot in focus groups, because the goal is to get feedback from the other person,” Schaefer said. “The more you talk, the more they refine their comments.”

Mary Ellen Biery is a Research Specialist at Sageworks, Inc.

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