By Kevin Leahy, Executive Director, CEDR & CCC SBDC
We meet with many businesses during our advising sessions for our Clatsop Community College Small Business Development Center, and host many training workshops throughout the year. One of the major topics that is discussed is how to bring more customers to their business. It does not matter if it is a service business, professional business, manufacturer, retailer, restaurant, hospitality or any other type, every business wants and needs new customers while remaining engaged with the core, loyal customer that every established business has.
Many businesses “think” they know who their customer is, but the reality may be something completely different. How can a business really understand who their customer is, and focus all efforts to attract and retain that customer? Market research and analysis serve as a tremendous resource for any size business in defining the core customer.
A definition of market research is a systematic and objective way of determining who your potential and actual customers are and obtaining information to gain an understanding of their needs, desires, and their behavior. Market research often helps define who wants to buy a product or service, who can afford to buy a product or service and who actually spends the money on a product or service. Your business needs to “specialize” in what is offered. You cannot sell everything to everyone as that business model is basically throwing darts at a wall to see what sticks, and investing your dollars in a little of this and a little of that is meaningless, especially in this age of Internet on-line buying, and the growth of regional and national chains in our market.
An inexpensive and effective tool is to create a survey for current and potential customers.
For your current customer base, start with a staff meeting, and discuss “talking points” and a survey that customers will be asked to fill out. Let your staff be very involved in crafting the questions and ensuring the questions are brief, to the point, and actionable. A simple form or survey can be given to the customer when they are in your business, and can be filled out on the spot, or an email survey can be sent to your customer list. Some suggested questions:
- What do you like the very best about our store/business?
- What would you like to see us do, or offer for sale, that is not currently being offered?
- How is our customer service? Would you recommend your family and friends to shop/do business here?
If the answer is no, can you explain with comments? (Your response will be confidential)
For potential customers, these questions can be asked:
- What image do you have of our store/business, and how did you develop this perception?
- What would you expect to purchase at a business like ours?
- What do you like best about where you currently shop/do business?
- What do you like the least about where you currently shop/do business?
- What is your greatest motivator when buying? Customer Service? Selection? Quality? Price? (Try to downplay pricing, but don’t ignore it) Ease of location? Convenient Hours?
Potential customers are ones that are coming into your location for the first time, or have never made a purchase. They can also be reached through advertising in the local newspaper, radio station, word of mouth through organizations like the Astoria-Warrenton, Seaside, and Cannon Beach Chambers of Commerce, the ADHDA (Astoria Downtown Historic District Association) SDDA (Seaside Downtown Development Association), and Social Media, like Facebook and Instagram.
Give all the customers a motivator for completing the survey, like an entry for a gift card, or a small gift for completing.
Make sure you are also taking a serious look at your competition to gain an understanding of the business environment, market forces and long-term trends. Look at their strengths and weaknesses, and learn from that. There are several ways to learn more about competition. You can do a visit to their place of business and introduce yourself while doing a “competitive analysis”. This is delicate, but if you offer your “partnership” in sending customers to their business, they may reciprocate. Study their marketing, and who they are directing their marketing message to.
Sign up as a “fan” of their Facebook page. See if they have a website, and whether or not there are reviews (pro and con) on Yelp, or other social media sites that specialize in customer comments or reviews.
There are also many demographic and market research tools and sources through our Oregon Small Business Development Center Network, that we can assist businesses with.
This can be broken down by industry, region, city, population density, age, income, race, and many other factors, and can be discussed in an advising session, always FREE and CONFIDENTIAL.
Once you really know your business from your customer and potential customers’ perspective, review your operation, be open-minded, check your ego at the door, and most importantly, take action.