Quantitative research — including surveys and customer questionnaires — can help small firms to improve their products and services by enabling them to make informed decisions
Quantitative research is about asking people for their opinions in a structured way so that you can produce hard facts and statistics to guide you. To get reliable statistical results, it’s important to survey people in fairly large numbers and to make sure they are a representative sample of your target market.
And market research should also inform your internet marketing strategy — everything from the design of your website to email newsletters, SEO and social networking on sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
If you are unsure about whether you need to do quantitative research, you can read our guide to the top 20 questions that research could help you answer.
Quantitative market research typically includes customer surveys and questionnaires. These can be conducted face-to-face with a clipboard and pen, over the telephone, via post or email, online or via your website. Survey questions have to be carefully considered so that the results will provide meaningful data. So don’t just ask if people know about your business, ask how often they visit, what products they buy and where else they go to buy the same products and why.
Answers on a structured questionnaire are usually closed — in other words they require respondents to choose from a specific selection of answers and do not allow for the respondent to qualify their answer or elaborate. So a garden centre owner might ask, “How often do you buy plants and gardening supplies?” and respondents would have to choose between five options: never, once a year, 2-3 times a year, once a month, every week. A semi-structured questionnaire will ask one or two questions where the answers are open-ended.
By asking lots of people the same questions, it’s possible to build up a clearer picture of how customers behave.
You can also use quantitative research to compare sub-groups of customers. For instance, if you run a local café or deli, you will probably find that you are catering to a range of different customers, all with different needs — from mums meeting for coffee to local workers popping in for a sandwich to ethical shoppers that buy your Fair Trade products to keen cooks that are looking for specialist ingredients. It’s worth using surveys to find out about your customers so that you can analyse the results of each group. Make sure you speak to a good number of each type of customer so you get the clearest view.
Moreover, if you repeat your surveys regularly, you can monitor how opinions are changing and how your new initiatives are being received. Try to keep some of the questions the same so you can make true comparisons with previous research.
Choosing how to conduct your survey is another important issue. Face-to-face works well if you need to explain anything or show a product to the respondent. Telephone surveying can also be very effective but it can be hard to catch people when they have time to talk. If you are sending out surveys by post and email, you may find you have to offer an incentive in order to persuade people to take the time to fill out the questionnaire.
A good time to ask a customer to fill in a questionnaire is when you have finished a job for them. A customer satisfaction survey gives customers the chance to point out any quibbles they might have and also to praise good work. It can be a good way to gather positive testimonials that you can use in your marketing. At the same time, take the chance to gather contact details and add the customer to your mailing list so you can get in touch with them in the future (make sure you get their permission).
If you want to survey a large number of new prospects and don’t know how to reach them, you can contribute questions to an online Omnibus survey. These are general surveys that are completed by large groups of pre-selected consumers online. By adding two or three questions of your own to the survey you can tap into that consumer panel and get some useful feedback. This kind of exercise is ideal if you are thinking of going into a new consumer market.
Collecting data is just one part of the research task. You have to collate it and analyse it as well. With a complex survey, this can be a specialist task in order to extrapolate all the findings and drill down into the data to see how different groups have responded. However, a simple survey can be very effective and highly revealing and small firms can always benefit from asking their customers what they think.