As the owner of an existing business, you have the advantage of knowing your customers’ purchasing patterns, how they respond to your promotional decisions, and how they interact with your sales team.
You also have a history of inventory and cash flows, sales cycles, and supplier relationships, and an industry network from which you can draw information and intelligence.
You can support this information with market research to increase sales in two ways:
Deepen your sales. Keep your existing product and service offerings and use research to determine which marketing efforts will increase your sales.
- Broaden your sales. Conduct research required to develop new products or services to generate maximum sales and profits, or to identify new markets for your products or services.
The good news is that gathering market intelligence can start with talking to your staff, and analyzing information that your systems generate.
Get Insight From Your Staff
Your staff are an important resource when it comes to understanding your customers’ preferences and opinions. Front-line employees are your direct link to your customers and can relay information on the strengths and weaknesses of your existing products or services, gaps in your product line or service offering, ideas to improve product selection, and other valuable information.
You can also communicate and interact directly with your customers, gathering information about your customers’ buying decisions that a marketing campaign alone cannot provide (although you might only reach a small percentage of your market).
If you paid for an ad, for example, you can monitor the number of your paying customers who heard about your sale by asking the question, “Did you see our advertisement on this item?” You can use the results to adjust your marketing strategies accordingly.
Use Your Systems to Your Advantage
Your inventory and sales management systems can reveal important information about sales cycles, purchasing patterns, and seasonality. Use this data to identify cross-selling opportunities, events that might be affecting sales (up or down), when to run marketing campaigns, and areas of strength and weakness.
Network, Network, Network: Stay in Touch With Industry Insiders
In addition to talking directly with your existing customers, build and maintain relationships with potential customers, suppliers, distributors, associations, and other small business owners who know and understand your industry. Some of the best sources of information are unpublished.
You can gain valuable insights from your established industry contacts regarding which goods are popular right now, new trends and practices, new competition in the area, potential price increases, and new or pending legislation, as well as feedback on your products and services.