Posted by: DrAlanRae | June 5, 2008

Catch the next wave by asking the audience

Because we need to be always looking for new opportunities, a scalable company needs scan the landscape systematically.




If we think logically about how we can expand our company’s business, we can follow the principles of the Ansoff Matrix and plan what percentage of our business comes from




a. Selling more of our current products to our current customers

b. Selling new products to our existing customers

c. Selling our existing products to new customers

d. If we’re totally desperate selling new products to new clients.

It’s rather harder to find new customers than to find new products that our existing customers who already know us might want. However the surprising fact remains that 3 times as many companies go that way, mainly because they’re so wedded to their own babies (as it were) that they lose sight of the market realities.

So let’s think about how we can ask the audience. We can, as always, do this in 2 ways – online and in person. People make a big mystique out of Market Research but if you apply a bit of systematic commonsense you can make some real headway quite easily. (I started my business career as a market researcher for a large engineering group and am now an Associate of the Market Research Society. Research has paid the wages for the last couple of years so I do know a little bit about this)

So,  as the Owner Manager you’re ideally placed to carry out some informal qualitative work. Don’t delegate this – you need to feel what’s going on. But you will have no trouble. If YOU ring up one of your established customers, tell them that you’re interested in what else you could develop to help them more and that you’d like to come in and see them – they are almost certain to say yes.

Here’s where the fun starts – you need to be prepared. What you want is to hold a structured conversation. So create a questionnaire – I’m not talking about multiple choice tick box stuff here – what I want you to do is brainstorm with your chief collaborators some open ended questions which will tell you what things the customer isn’t getting that they want and what new trends they see emerging that they will have to deal with.

Then just go an have a conversation with them – buy them lunch and ask them if they don’t mind if you tape the conversation. Tell them you’ll get your PA just to type up the transcript for your own use. Olympus and Sony do perfectly usable inexpensive digital Dictaphones and don’t worry about them saying yes – if you have a good reason – which you have – they’ll agree. I know – I do it all the time.

You need to spread your net wide rather than deeply so I suggest you talk to 2 long established customers, 2 of your biggest customers, 2 new customers, 2 of your most adventurous customers and 2 current prospects. Aim to talk with them for about an hour. You might also talk to a couple of industry or business experts who you have reason to believe are reliable to get another perspective.

They’ll be happy to talk to you and you should then have a really clear idea of what’s current.

Online you  have 2 ways of going about it. If you are in the habit of using your web-site to collect email addresses (you should be) then you can organise an online survey using zoomerang or survey monkey. I would suggest you use this as a follow up quantitative phase to your original informal phase. This needs a little more care in constructing the questionnaire – if you need help with this you have only to ask.

The other thing you can do is use your Google ad-words campaign as a research tool to identify areas of potential traffic that you are not reaching. We’ll talk a bit more about this in the next session.

So to move onto the development phase you next have to do some systematic screening. We have some systematic tools to help you which were originally developed for the DTI’s “Succeeding in the Networked Economy”. You need to pick 2 or 3 to progress. Ones that don’t fit your development skills can either be offered for external development or bought in if suitable products are readily available.

You can sometimes (particularly in the online world)  just ask the market what it wants for a test. Our original online trading vision included testing beer for presents, food for presents, herbs for presents as well as plants for presents. It turned out that plants for presents was what the market wanted.

But you should only progress things that fit your overall brand. You don’t want to dilute your market presence. So in our case, we found that organic veg. and biological controls fitted well with our declared values and style while retailing any old gardening frippery didn’t.




  1. Some valuable words of wisdom here Alan. I look forward to the next e-book!

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