You may have a great idea for a product or service, but before you go any further, first make sure there's a market for it. So you have a great idea for a product, something that's bound to capture the hearts and minds (and wallets) of consumers everywhere. Or perhaps you have stumbled on a service that isn't being offered by anyone else, one that is desperately needed. This is your opportunity! Don't hesitate . . . don't look back . . . jump right into it and--- Wait! Before you shift into high gear, you must determine whether there really is a market for your product or service. Not only that, you need to ascertain what--if any--fine-tuning is needed. Quite simply, you must conduct market research. Many business owners neglect this crucial step in product development for the sole reason that they don't want to hear any negative feedback. They are convinced their product or service is perfect just the way it is, and they don't want to risk tampering with it. Other entrepreneurs bypass market research because they fear it will be too expensive. With all the other start-up costs you're facing, it's not easy to justify spending money on research that will only prove what you knew all along: Your product is a winner. Regardless of the reason, failing to do market research can amount to a death sentence for your product. The companies that do the best are the ones that do their homework – research. Market Research Methods In conducting your market research, you will gather two types of data: primary and secondary. Primary research: Is information that comes directly from the source--that is, potential customers. You can compile this information yourself or hire someone else to gather it for you via surveys, focus groups and other methods. Secondary research involves gathering statistics, reports, studies and other data from organizations such as government agencies, trade associations and your local area. Secondary Research: The vast majority of research you can find will be secondary research. While large companies spend huge amounts of money on market research, the good news is that plenty of information is available for free to entrepreneurs on a tight budget. The best places to start? The internet. Going Online These days, entrepreneurs can conduct much of their market research without ever leaving their computers, thanks to the universe of online services and information. Start with the major consumer online services, which offer access to business databases. You can find everything from headline and business news to industry trends and company-specific business information, such as a firm's address, telephone number, field of business and the name of the CEO. This information is critical for identifying prospects, developing mailing lists and planning sales calls. Here are a few to get you started: If you don't have time to investigate online services yourself, consider hiring a market research company to find the information you need. Consider market research an investment in your future. If you make the necessary adjustments to your product or service now, you'll save money in the long run. Determine your target market: A target market is the group or groups of people you will be promoting, advertising, and ultimately selling your product to. To find your market, you should begin by answering some simple questions: What are the demographics of the area you are competing in? Who will buy your products based on price? What is the age range? Males or females (or both)? Are they single or married? Do they have kids? What kind of lifestyle does your product relate to? Is it everyday use, specific to times of the year or to specific activities? If you don't know your customer, then you don't know your business. You won't know how to respond if you see changes in your sales patterns. And because it's so hard to hang on to customers you don't know intimately, you will forever be chasing new ones. Unfortunately, though most business owners like to think they know their customers, many are really only guessing. And when it comes to forecasting sales -- in fact, when it comes to virtually every aspect of business planning -- an empirical understanding beats gut instinct almost every time. Now is the time to get the facts. Professional market researchers generally divide their work into qualitative studies (interviews and focus groups, with free-flowing and open-ended discussions) and quantitative studies (usually surveys). In a perfect world, you would probably do both, using qualitative research to create a survey, the results of which might in turn be interpreted using another focus group. Given limited resources, though, it generally makes sense to go quantitative. Sometimes you will want to study specific customers. If, say, sales are flagging, you might study lapsed customers. "Identifying characteristics of your attrition market may help you develop new customers and clients Decide on a Format There are basically three ways to administer a survey: one on one, by phone, or online. A highly personalized letter is best when the survey population is hard to reach (doctors, say, or senior executives). A phone interview serves well for complex and probing questions that demand interaction between interviewer and subject, but it normally requires professional assistance. Most businesses, though, will do very well with an online survey. Many survey companies (Zoomerang.com, for one) offer inexpensive tools and complex branched questions, in which a specific response to one query generates a specific follow-up. And they are fast -- you can see results in real time. Experts say that a written survey should take from five to 15 minutes to complete. Divide your questions between customer satisfaction and customer demographics, weighted toward the former. And keep it short. It forces you to think about what's important. Be personal, and begin by praising your customer and highlighting the importance of the survey. At the end of the survey, you should offer some sort of reward or incentive -- the longer the survey, the more generous the reward. Probe Customer Satisfaction When writing survey questions, take care to avoid introducing a bias that telegraphs the answers you hope to receive. Avoid trade jargon or abbreviations, or at least make sure they are well defined. · Ask open-ended questions: These let respondents ruminate about what they like about your company and what might improve the relationship. Allow space for lengthy responses. Follow these with a multipart rating question and a corresponding multipoint scale to review your business's specific processes. Respondents more easily understand descriptive words (excellent, fair, poor, etc.) than a numbered scale. · Calculate your net promoter score: Ask respondents how likely, on a scale from 0 to 10, they are to recommend your company, product, or service to others. The net promoter score is derived by subtracting the percentage of "detractors" (customers who rate the business from 0 to 6) from the percentage of "promoters" (who rate the company 9 or 10). The greater the difference, the more likely that your company can convert the enthusiasm of current customers into new customers. Sites like Net Promoter (netpromoter.com) offer more information about these scores and comparisons with leading companies. Or simply view your score as a useful general indicator of your customers' feelings about your product or service. Ask for suggestions: Ask questions like “What could we do to make your next experience with us extraordinary?" "It stretches their mind and your mind," he says. "It's going to help you think of things you haven't thought of before." When your customers are businesses, you want information about their size by number of employees and revenue. (If your customers are reluctant to share that information, formulate the responses as a series of ranges.) Test the Survey First Before you make the survey available to your customers, ask family members and friends to test it for time and clarity, and whether the questions mean what you intend them to mean and are free of bias and the like. Using the Data Once you tabulate the results, patterns should emerge. If you have 20 answers, and you don't see definite trends, then you probably don't have enough data. You could try to resurvey, using the existing results to write more probing and targeted questions, or you could convene a focus group. Focus groups are also useful for interpreting the results. Focus, Focus, Focus For focus-group testing, it is smart to engage experienced marketing consultants, who will be adept at moderating the conversation. For one thing, your subjects will probably be more reticent if you or your top sales executive is conducting the session The Discovery Moment Once you have collected all the data, find one or two newly discovered ideas and implement them immediately. Make sure they're visible and that they impact the greatest number of people in a positive way. Common Marketing Mistakes Using only secondary research: Relying on the published work of others doesn't give you the full picture. It can be a great place to start, of course, but the information you get from secondary research can be outdated. You can miss out on other factors relevant to your business. Using only web resources: When you use common search engines to gather information, you get only data that are available to everyone and it may not be fully accurate. To perform deeper searches while staying within your budget, use the resources at your local library, college campus or small-business centre. Surveying only the people you know: Small-business owners sometimes interview only family members and close colleagues when conducting research, but friends and family are often not the best survey subjects. To get the most useful and accurate information, you need to talk to real customers about their needs, wants and expectations. In any business you want to embark upon, seek the face of Allah (SWT), pray and fast about it. You can also do istikhara to seek direction. May Allah (SWT) reward all our efforts. Amin.