Making customers happy is the lifeblood of any business, so learning what they want is an important key to success. There are several ways to seek this knowledge, one of which is the use of focus groups.
Focus groups are a method to discovering demographic-centric data through interactive group sessions run by an experienced facilitator. Rather than a traditional written survey, administered online, in the mail or in the shop, a focus group encourages participants to speak freely about ideas presented while offering their opinions in ways designed to accomplish the goal of the research study.
As with anything, there are pros and cons of focus groups. Benefits of such research methods include that they:
Level the playing field of various demographics, since every participant is asked the same questions
Widen the geographic reach of inquiries using technology
If done thoughtfully, focus groups can be fun and creative
Offer a level of privacy, although more so online
Are a cost-effective way to research customer needs and desires
Allow for in-depth discussions based on participant’s comments
Focus group negatives
The primary disadvantage of focus groups is that they tend to portray only a sub-section of a demographic’s views. Even though great care may be taken to create a diverse group that represents several different components of a demographic, the group itself is just a small sample. So, while gleaned information may be valuable, it still only represents a small portion of a demographic.
Furthermore, the outcome of a focus group can be altered depending on the facilitator. Strong, persuasive leadership can impact the expressed opinions of weaker members of the focus group, thereby poisoning data gathered by facilitators.
In addition, some members of a focus group may be less enthusiastic about participating than others. While introverts tend to absorb all the information disseminated in the group, they often don’t contribute to the discussion.
According to Karen Sullivan, Managing Principal of Sullivan Solutions in Dublin, Ohio, despite the many potential benefits of focus groups, they aren’t for every small business. “In my experience, small business owners are easily intimidated by the concept of a ‘focus group’ and they shy away from the perceived cost, in both time and money, of convening a formal group.”
Still, she is a strong proponent of focus groups and does her best to encourage her small business clients to invest in them. “Often, the biggest stumbling block for owners is in truly understanding how their customers perceive benefits. The purpose of a focus group, however it is done, is to gather information about your customers and your product you don’t already know,” Sullivan says.
That information is critical to the success of a small business, so if the advantages of embarking on a focus group outweigh the potential negatives, “the data value is unquestionable,” she says.
Tami Kamin Meyer is an Ohio attorney and writer who tweets as @girlwithapen.