Don’t Overlook the Most Important

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So much of the energy expended by businesses are centered around producing, labelling, shipping, buying, selling, recording, managing, identifying, cataloguing and quantifying…… every aspect of the business operation. The weighted emphasis placed on the ‘How of Things’ can shift management’s perception of what the business actually is and does. In some cases, your business becomes what you perceive it to be, not necessarily what it actually is in fact.

Let’s add people back into the business equation. Not necessarily your production or administrative staff, but in this instance, your most valuable human resource: your customers! You are glad to have them as they add to the bottom-line and give your business purpose to exist. They are a fickle group behaving like a herd at times, veering off one path to another. Taking it for granted that your customer base is forever stable is to invite disaster.

One of the traits of successful businesses which have endured years or decades of existence is the fact that their clients are not taken for granted. A continuing effort is expended to maintain close connections to their client’s needs and issues so that their clients won’t “Love their competitors more than them”. The constant effort to analyze business performance and monitor customer preferences and purchasing patterns is essential to the longevity and vitality of your business.

This is where market research comes in to assist you in maintaining your client base, or discover who, where and how you might be able to add to your current list of clients. Information to benchmark your operation against your competitors, your industry, or with your past performance can be found through a good market research program. Accumulating and using market research data is an important tool for your use in making business and investment decisions, as well as for understanding the changing interests of your clients.

Market research works with two kinds of data. The first is secondary research, or historic data that is compiled from tax return and industry information. This information is aggregated and made available through commercial databases and is extensive and best for businesses wanting consumer profile information. This data is less reliable or robust for businesses wanting information on other businesses.  The second area, or primary research, is current data collected through direct engagement activities with targeted groups of people that are likely future customers. Examples of this are focus groups and customer surveys. This type of data can be expensive to collect and interpret. Some of this data can be collected from current customers while they are accessing your services or goods by your own staff while they are visiting your business.

Regardless of how you plan to collect information on your market and clients, the fact that you are, or are planning on, using a data-based approach to market retention or development is an important strategic decision that could benefit your company in many ways. Having a factual or well researched approach to business development is a great way to stretch out precious investment resources. Knowing what your customers look like, where they are, and how to communicate with them can save a lot of money, time and effort on your part. Catching trends or having a deeper understanding of your customers buying habits can be a great advantage in a competitive marketplace.

The Oregon SBDC Network hosts the Market Research Institute (MRI) which compiles and presents market information to businesses throughout the State. It has capabilities for market identification and expansion throughout North America. The MRI also conducts some primary research projects for selected client needs, with surveys being the most common form of primary research carried out by the MRI.

Regardless of whether you are searching the internet for information, for engaging in a secondary research project or funding a primary research project, the fact that you are working to build the information needed to make a rational market-based decision for your businesses continuation or expansion is a bold decisive action. Having this information in hand to use can set your business up for continuing success in the years to come.

Marshall Doak is the Director of the Southern Oregon University Small Business Development Center and a huge supporter of innovation and the community that forms around innovation in the economy. In private practice, he works with businesses that plan to transition to new ownership within the next five years, assisting them to build value that can be converted to retirement income when the business sells. He can be reached through: or 541-646-4126.

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

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