Using data to understand your customers

In her own words, marketing veteran Jane Frost’s colourful career has taken her from “selling soap to the great unwashed to selling oil to the Saudis” as well as working for the BBC, HMRC and Department of Constitutional Affairs. 

Now the head of the Market Research Society, Frost says that evidence is an important way for businesses to get a grasp of the fundamentals issue of really understand what it is that your customer wants. Data is useful not just for increasing sales but also for securing finance. 

“Bank managers fundamentally want to know how strong is your case for the consumers wanting your product,” Frost says.

The business of evidence is garnering increasing attention as digital data collection has taken hold – Frost says that the industry is worth £3bn per year and is an important export product for the UK.

Market research can seem like a complicated and expensive avenue to go down for SMEs, but you don’t need complex computer software and a team of researchers to carry out useful observations. 

“First of all, if you’re in any environment with people, it’s an information gathering opportunity,” she says. “I don’t mean hassle people at dinner parties, but observation of how people do things, and respect for that, is a good starting place.”

Data is useful not just for increasing sales but also for securing finance. 

“Bank managers fundamentally want to know how strong is your case forthe consumers wanting your product,” Frost says.

There is also a wealth of free data available on the internet. From google to census results and think-tank research, it’s never been easier to find the kind of data you might need, without resorting to DIY.

If you need something a little more specific then online surveys and other software could do the trick. Frost says it might be worth paying a little for some basic help with asking the right questions.

“Just bunging something up on Survey Monkey could be as dangerous as not doing anything at all,” she says.

Asking the wrong question can produce bad data which is misleading. For instance it’s not enough to simply ask “Would you like this product/service/feature,” as many customers might say yes even though they wouldn’t be willing to part with extra cash for it, for instance. 

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