A focus group is a small group of people in your target market who meet for a guided discussion about your business idea. A focus group can:
- Go beyond numbers to reveal how real prospects react to your idea
- Show you whether there is a market for your idea and how much customers will pay for it
- Reveal potential competitors you may not have thought of
- Help fine-tune your product or service to better position it for success
How can you ensure your focus group is successful?
State your goals.
Since focus groups typically last about two hours, which isn't much time, it's important to narrowly focus your goals. What do you want to learn? For example, you might assess a prototype of your product, your prospective business name and branding, your product packaging or your pricing. It's important to have something tangible for focus group members to discuss, such as product samples or a website.
Find a representative group of target customers.
The ideal number for a focus group is between eight and ten people. You can use social media to find focus group members or ask friends, family members or colleagues to recommend people. (However, don't use anyone you know personally.) A cash stipend is the best way to get people to participate.
Develop a script.
To get good results, you'll be conducting more than one focus group, and you want to consistently ask the same questions. Create a script or checklist of questions that you want to cover in each focus group. Once the group gets started, it will become a conversation rather than a straight question-and-answer session, but the script helps keep the discussion on track.
Choose a location and recording method.
Choose a comfortable location where the group won't be interrupted and people will feel relaxed and able to speak openly. You can have someone other than the moderator take notes during the focus group and/or record the session on audio or video. Video is ideal, since it allows you to capture facial expressions and body language.
Focus on the customer.
During the session, try not to focus on your business idea. Startup business owners often use a focus group to justify their own ideas, rather than actually listening to participants’ input. Instead of talking about your product or service’s features, ask what benefits participants want from similar products or services. Try to elicit participants' needs, wants, pain points, budget and purchasing process.
For example, instead of asking, "Would you buy this?" or "How much would you pay for this?" while showing them your prototype, you could ask them what products they currently buy to solve the problem, how much they pay for the products, and what they like and don't like about the products. By focusing on your target customers' needs, you can tailor your product or service to fit them.
This is not the time to check your email on your smartphone. Listen and watch carefully. You can often learn more from what isn't said during a focus group than from what is. Take your own notes to jot down impressions, even if someone else is recording the session.
Get professional help.
It's worth hiring a professional moderator to oversee your focus groups. A moderator will set up your location and recording methods, recruit participants and make sure they show up, and most importantly, lead the discussion in an objective way to ensure all points are covered within the time allotted (usually two hours or less). Hiring a moderator leaves you free to absorb the lessons of your focus group instead of sweating the details. Find a moderator by searching for "focus group moderator" or "qualitative researcher" online. You can also search for one through the Marketing Research Association (MRA) or the GreenBook directory.
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