Who to

The most important single fact that market research can supply is verification that enough people want a product like the one you envisage to justify its creation.

However, there is a catch-22 situation here. Who exactly are "the right people?" The people who use the product are not necessarily the people who make the purchasing decision; and neither the user nor the decision-maker is necessarily the person doing the buying.

Usually, it is the end user who sets the ball rolling (though it may be shrewder, if the program will benefit the whole organization, to approach the decision-maker first and set up a "Look into this!" directive from on high). The people who actually do the procurement are either accountants or professional in-house buyers. By and large, accountants have a strong power of veto. Professional buyers justify their existence by trading quantity against price, so be warned.

Where the product will be a corporate purchase, it is important to find out from the purchasing manager/CFO what protocols are required. There's no point in having customers eager for your offering only to find out that most of them are barred from using it because it doesn't comply with a state law such as being Y2K, ISO9001, or Euro currency compatible. Whenever you are in doubt about whom you should approach, conduct a pilot study by testing the water on a few dozen prospects, not the most important ones, of course, yet typical ones nevertheless.

To this quality dimension there is also a quantity dimension. The quantity dimension is like a series of concentric rings, with 20 percent of clients accounting for 80 percent of the turnover in smaller operations and 10 percent of the clients accounting for 90 percent of the turnover in larger ones. These are surrounded by a core of strong potential users, with secondary prospects on the fringe.

The trouble at the start is that you cannot know who will be your best customers. Interest among secondary prospects may be stronger or weaker than you anticipate. Your definition of strong potential users may, or may not, need an adjustment. Better indications may alter the priority you will later have to give to market sectors and necessitate some revision of product features.

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