Market Research 101

Primary Research

When conducting primary research using your own resources, you must first decide how you will question your target group of individuals. There are basically three avenues you can take: direct mail, telemarketing or personal interviews.

If you choose a direct-mail questionnaire, be sure to do the following in order to increase your response rate:

  • Make sure your questions are short and to the point.
  • Make sure questionnaires are addressed to specific individuals and are of interest to the respondent.
  • Limit the questionnaire's length to two pages.
  • Enclose a professionally prepared cover letter that adequately explains what information you want.
  • Send a reminder about two weeks after the initial mailing. Include a postage-paid, self-addressed envelope. Postage-paid envelopes are available through the post office and use special reply-permit indicia.

    Unfortunately, even if you employ the above tactics, response to direct mail is always low, sometimes less than five percent. Phone surveys are generally cost-effective and yield a higher response. Speed is another big advantage of telephone interviews; More experienced interviewers can get through up to 10 interviews an hour, although five to six per hour is more typical. Phone interviews also allow you to cover a wide geographical range relatively inexpensively. Phone costs can be reduced by taking advantage of cheaper rates during off-peak hours. One-on-one, personal interviews are the most effective way to survey consumers, although they cost more to organize and conduct. But once you have the person on the phone or in the interview room, what will you ask him?

    Your questions will depend largely upon the product or service you offer. It is typical to note the interviewee's age, sex, levels of education and income and marital status. You may want to know whether the prospective customer owns a house or rents. Ask how knowlegeable they are about your product or service, and what features are most important to them.

    Asking what publications your targeted consumers read and what radio or television stations they tune in to can help you form your advertising strategy. And people are usually eager to tell you what new products or services they'd like to see offered in their communities.

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This article was originally published in the April 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Market Research 101.

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