Market research is a challenge for many small businesses. The data that you may need to conquer your corner of the world may not exist in a tidy database, yet marketing strategy should be well informed with real information.

One of the best methods of market research available to the small business in my opinion is the customer or prospect survey. Picking up the phone and calling your best customers from time to time to dig in and really understand what you do well, what you do that is unique, what you could do that no one else does is essential for creating a marketing strategy and message that has impact.

Further using free and low cost tools like Survey Monkey, Survey Gizmo or the survey feature from an email service like iContact is a great way to assess product viability, product features, product names, service names or any other aspect of your business. People like to be asked for their opinion and committing to gathering consistent feedback and research is a great way to move your business in the right direction and monitor the health of your customer relationships.

I spent a few minutes chatting with Barry Jennings, Market Research Guru for Dell. Dell has invested tremendous in recent years getting out and talking one on one with customers and doing very small businesslike research.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • Hi John, Just writing to say that I couldn’t agree more with the content of this post. I run a strategic marketing consultancy over in the UK. ( Typically we work with SMEs providing advice on long-term marketing strategy development and almost without fail the most critical and beneficial activity we undertake is to conduct some primary research with customer groups to provide real evidence as to customer needs & drivers and perceptions of what makes a good supplier in the minds eye of our customers’ customers. We typically look at talking to ‘good’ customers, ‘declining customers’ and ‘lapsed’ customers as a part of this process and most of the gold nuggets come from latter 2 groups. Happy customers just tend to say everything is great. The evidence we get from this research nearly always contains some real eye openers for our clients and helps provide real direction to the strategy development process.

    Great blog by the way & will be adding you to the blogroll on our blog site –

    Best regards,


  • John,

    You might also take a look at for the survey software. We use it after using Survey Monkey. The biggest thing for us is that its attractive (which may seem stupid as a reason, but when an interface is nice to look at, you [or at least I] tend to spend more time in it).

  • John Jantsch

    Ben – I don’t think that’s stupid at all – good looks, coupled with great navigation, count for a lot when you are asking people to provide information. I have used Wufoo in the past for creating all manner of online forms too.

  • I really enjoy your blog, John, and this post definitely resonated with me. As a former market researcher for a large consumer products company, I’ve seen the value of customer insight firsthand. But, I also feel really strongly that that sort of insight shouldn’t only be available to enterprise-sized clients. While most small- and medium-sized companies don’t have $20,000 to spend on a study, there are powerful, lower-cost tools that can provide very valuable insights when questions are well crafted and results are closely tracked.

  • Why not include social media in this mix? I can’t think of a better way to garner feedback than to create a Facebook page and send such surveys out to your fans, or to mine the social media space for conversations about your brand and the issues/opportunities you have.

  • John,

    Great idea about using iContact’s survey option. We used iContact for our email marketing but have never researched the survey tool. Thanks for the tip … as always!!!

  • The only way to figure out what works the best, what customers would like to see and how customers experienced your service delivery, etc is to do your regular follow ups.

    Combining your after sales follow ups with a simple questionnaire can give one tremendous insight into what customers require. Having dealt B2B for many years it has never ceased to amaze me how many extra orders one would also get from these follow ups.

  • The truth of the matter is that no matter how big a company gets the key is in finding out what your customers and clients enjoy about dealing with you, and what added features they might be able to suggest.. Keeping up with the desires of your market makes them feel appreciated.. small businesses already have the advantage of a more personal touch over larger organisations and this can be further improved by constant market research and delivering on the wants of the clients.
    Great post John… As per usual..

  • Martin Baker

    Couldn’t agree more, it really helps to ask your customers for their opinion. I would add two other pieces of advice which are to keep the survey as short as possible on a single page and to totally avoid those silly multiple choice questions with “unlikely/quite likely/very likely”. That’s what the big companies do and it’s a big turn off.

    Instead ask simple questions that require people to give their opinion rather than just make a choice. You will be amazed at the insight you get including many things that you weren’t even asking for.

  • I think that going to the customer is a great idea and if it’s done right, it’ll foster brand loyalty. However, getting web-analytics-savvy is another great way to track what customers like and don’t like about your site – every click a user makes is a vote, as I keep hearing lately. One of the things I like about Amazon’s Webstore is its robust reporting features. Not only does it provide information, it’s actually easy to understand!

  • Hi John – Long time reader, first time poster. I really enjoy your postings and insights. I can not agree more with your Marketing Research thoughts. I run a marketing research firm and am often telling clients and prospects to do whatever it is that they can afford to do in order to touch their customers and prospects. Research is often very expensive. Conducting a formal focus group costs a lot of money, but not talking to your target can cost clients so much more – the launch of a new product or service that misses the key requirements and fails to sell, a new ad campaign that doesn’t connect with the target, all examples of why you need to talk to your target market. That all said, using the free tools online, or even simply just calling up a current or past client and asking them for feedback are all great alternates and are often much better than doing nothing. Only thing, be careful how you ask what you ask, and how you look at the results. Jumping into something new based on using the data from 3-4 phone calls or a free online survey with 20 completes may not be the safest bet. Use the data like any other tool, as a piece of data to be used along side of your other tools and techniques. Best of luck to all !!

  • TA

    There will soon be more powerful tools for market research on Facebook and LI, see:

  • I appreciate the labor you have put in developing this blog. Nice and informative.

  • I chanced upon to view your blog and found it very interesting. Great … Keep it up!

  • neeraj10781

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