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Thinking forward

strategyPremise: The key to success is focusing on your client’s value chain, not the client’s immediate target audience.

I do quite a bit of market research for businesses, government agencies and international organizations. What I have found is that an overwhelming amount of these clients focus on their immediate customers and direct surveys toward how better to service them. The problem here is that these customers usually have their own customer-base and that configuring a survey targeting their needs does not extract sufficient information as to how their customers gain by participating in the survey. This usually leads to a low response rate.

Market research surveys need to look past the client to the end customer in order to extend the value-chain forward. When executing a survey for an international institution like the World Bank Group, asking its immediate customers whether or not a certain project would benefit them provides insufficient information as to whether they are likely to participate in that given project. Taking it forward, however, by asking them how they could better approach their own customers was the World Bank to launch said project renders the survey far more accurate as we get responses based on actual opportunities. I have found that the most effective surveys are not directed toward the immediate customers but to their customers. Example:

A website hosting firm wants to attract more business. If it directs the survey to potential customers, the deciding factors will revolve around price, security, backup, support and down-time. If it directs the survey to actual customer needs, it will revolve around how they can gain more business by doing business with that hosting firm. This approach causes the survey to double as a sales vehicle.

I was recently involved with a survey where customer needs were assessed. The problem was that it did not extend to address the needs of the target audience’s and so resulted in a low response rate. The survey was directed toward what it would take for the client – a hosting company – to attract more business but it did not address how the client’s customers would benefit from doing business with that firm or what their needs were. The insights generated revolved around price, security, backup, support and down-time which, while providing some information, did not help the client formulate an effective go-to-market strategy.

A survey that does not extend to encompass the entire value-chain (this excludes surveys intended for direct market targeting) will fall short as it skips the needs of the end-customer. Therefore, before engaging in market surveys, I prefer to map out the value-chain and transform the survey itself into a sales vehicle that, while generating the data needed for client decision-making, will present a solid argument toward its immediate customers that the client in question is the ideal choice in order for him or her to increase own revenue generation.

Market surveys are usually considered to be a vehicle for data gathering while I consider them to be partly that, partly a marketing weapon. Any individual that takes a survey is subject to what a client is offering. It is a marketing opportunity that most survey companies fail to recognize. Why ask a respondent whether or not price is a factor when it is just as easy to ask what his or her customer’s concerns are? The respondent may answer with ‘Yes’ while his or her customer may answer ‘No’. A survey that is directed toward the immediate customer does not address the value-chain whereas a survey directed toward the customer’s customers does. A survey has the target’s attention – use it!

The purpose of a survey is to extract information that is useful to the customer. Why not expand that to encompass the value-chain instead of limiting it to the immediate customer? I have found that by extending the survey increases the response rate significantly as respondents perceive a direct value for their own business as opposed to merely generating results useful only to the immediate client.

I would appreciate feedback and comments from other market researchers that have similar or other experiences with this.


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