Gathering Market Intelligence for Your Small Business

In today’s hyper-competitive, hyper-connected world, where just about any transaction can be tied to a data point, market intelligence is fast becoming an indispensable business asset. But how can cash-strapped small businesses make gathering marketing intelligence a priority, and where should they even begin?

What is Market Intelligence?

The typical business is sitting on a wealth of data. Not only are many businesses maintaining an online presence, but most interactions with customers, vendors, employees, or partners are being recorded in some way. This is due to the fact that an increasing number of vital business tools, such as POS systems, accounting software, and CRM solutions are generating treasure troves of information that can be accessed, manipulated, and analyzed on demand.

This goes hand in hand with the shear amount of information about the economy, market trends, and even the competing businesses in the industry that can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection.

This data, or market intelligence, is now being leveraged by businesses to spot trends and opportunities, confirm productivity and market reach, and improve operational efficiency.

Are Small Businesses Relying on Market Intelligence?

The short answer is not so much. According to a recent report by Market Intelligence company Crayon, unlike their big competitors, small companies struggle to invest in market intelligence in any form. Large enterprises, they found, actively invest in people, software, and services dedicated to market and competitive intelligence. A full 89% of these large companies have a team of people focused on the task, and 26% use three or more competitive intelligence (CI) software tools. This compares to just 13% of small businesses of 1 to 10 employees who have a team dedicated to market intelligence. It is probably safe to assume that this tiny percentage of small businesses are offering some cutting edge technology in a highly competitive industry that demands their ability to shift and evolve with changing market conditions.

For the majority of small businesses, the idea of having an entire team of people, let alone even one individual, spending their days tracking the business’ online presence, as well as competitor websites, news sites, content from industry experts, and social media accounts, may seem totally unrealistic.

How to Bring Market Intelligence into a Small Business… on a Budget

The Crayon report concludes that small companies will still struggle to invest in market and competitive intelligence in the near future.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way…

Not only are there a number of budget-friendly solutions in the market that cater to small businesses in particular, but there are a host of platforms that can make the gathering of market intelligence much more doable.

For example, instead of hiring a dedicated market intelligence team, small business owners could turn to freelance platforms, such as Fiverr and its alternatives. These platforms are host to many professional internet and market researchers who offer their services at a discount.

And, precisely because their resources are limited, small businesses have to be much more focused than their bigger counter parts. That means each piece of market intelligence can be tied to a specific goal, such as using company websites and social media profiles to understand how competitors describe themselves and their products or services in order to gauge how current and potential customers respond that those messages.

In the end, armed with relevant market intelligence and the picture it paints, even the smallest companies will have the ability to compete, grow, and succeed today and tomorow.

5 Quick, Effective Ways to Do Market Research

Conducting effective market research has always been an essential part of business start-up, development, and growth, but these days it’s even more so. It’s hard to deny that the pace of business has been turned up several notches. There is this unspoken rush to get from concept to market in lightning speed (i.e. before anyone else does or anything changes). Moreover, countless young entrepreneurs and their Icarus moments are often being turned into public spectacles, heavily glorified and even praised by the media.

compassThe high stakes business crash and burn is has become a badge of honor.

In short, a kind of recklessness has emerged in the business world, and at the risk of sounding like a parent, it’s not the most positive of influences.

If you really want to get your new business idea off on the right foot- whether this idea is for a start-up or an established business- you’ve got to put in the time and the effort to be very clear about the current market demand and conditions.

Often, you don’t have to spend much money on this process. Here are five quick things that you can do to test out the efficacy of a new idea:

1. Get on the phone. Call up a few potential customers, the ones that best fit your ideal customer profile, and ask them if they would be interested in your product or service. This is a good way to initially gauge demand.

2. Get on social media…for research. Social media platforms are a great source of information and market research. Many of these platforms have their own built-in search functions that will help you to spot certain trends. Just a note here: don’t just focus on the trends themselves, but also pay attention to how people and businesses talk about them. What words and phrases keep coming up? What is the tone behind it?

3. Test with content. One relatively easy way to test the market waters is to create a piece of content that touches on the problem you are trying to solve and hints to the solution. You then need to post it in a place where many of your potential customers will see it and wait to see what the response is. If it generates a lot of activity and engagement from people then it’s a good sign that you are on to something.

4. Snoop out your competition. What is your closest competition doing in these space? What is working and what isn’t? What are customers’ reactions?

5. See what already works. Even if another company is not operating in your niche, you may be able to draw on their successful marketing, promotional strategies, and even products and services as examples of what you can do in your own company. Just make sure that there is some overlap in the target market.

In short, good market research is and always will be an important foundation in any business, and these days it doesn’t require a major drain on resources to do it properly. So, do yourself a favor, and don’t jump the gun in the implementation of a new business idea. Take the time and make the effort to ensure that you’ll have a profitable customer-base waiting for you at the finish line.

How to Get People to Complete Your Online Survey & Give You Real Answers

Conducting an online survey is a great market research tool that can give you invaluable insight into your target market’s attitudes, behaviors, and make up. But creating an effective online questionnaire or poll (even a short one) involves much more than just throwing together a few of your burning questions. It is a thought-out and thorough process at the end of which, you not only need to know what to ask, you also need to know how to attract quality participants and keep them from abandoning the survey mid way through.


So, before you go about creating your next online survey or poll, you should keep in mind the following points:

Keep it short and simple. Unless you are offering some phenomenal incentive, you stand a better chance of keeping potentially click-happy respondents from abandoning your survey if it is brief and to the point. Make sure your respondents know in advance how long the survey will take to complete. If your survey involves several questions then you should consider adding some kind of progress bar. Generally speaking, however, you should try to keep your survey completion time to no more than ten minutes.

Keep it clear. If your participants cannot understand what you are asking them, then you’re results will be worthless even from those who forged ahead and completed the survey anyway. Make sure that each question is worded in a clear and concise way. You should also pay attention to the flow and consistency of your questions- is there a logical “thread”? Finally, make is a point to define the purpose of the survey, how long you will be running it for, and what you hope to accomplish with it after you get the results.

Provide an incentive. One way to get people motivated to take your survey is to offer them a “prize” for doing so. This prize can come in the form of a free give-away, such as an ebook or a free class in a workshop series, a discount, or an exclusive offer of any kind. Alternatively, you could hold a drawing among the respondents to win either cash or prizes. Keep in mind, however, that the incentive should match the effort expended.

Keep it anonymous. There are two main reasons why should generally refrain from asking for names, email, or any other identifying info. People may be wary about giving you their personal information since they don’t know what you will do with it. Second, your respondents may be more open and honest if they can hide behind the veil of anonymity.

Post the results. Your visitors will be more motivated to complete your short survey or poll if it is something that interests them and they can see the real-time results. Where that is not possible, you could mention that you will be writing a post or a press release about your findings. If even this is not an option then it is a good idea to explicitly state why you are giving the survey and what you hope to accomplish with the data you collect as mentioned above.

Crowdfunding Can be Used for Market Research Too

Over the past couple of years, crowdfunding has emerged as a quick and agile way to raise money- whether for a new business, charity, or artistic project. While many have been quick to point out the various “side benefits” of turning to the online community for funding, such as generating customer interest and building brand loyalty, one under-emphasized aspect of crowdfunding is that it provides a virtual litmus test of the success of a potential business or idea.

What is Crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding is a method of raising funds for a business venture or a project by requesting a small amount of money from a large number of people (in this case internet users). By tapping into the power of the internet, entrepreneurs can pitch their ideas to a large group of people, who, if interested will respond by donating money to help them reach their target.


Unlike more traditional forms of business capital, the money raised through crowdfunding is not directly repaid. Recipients instead may offer their investors a specified item or service in exchange, such as a free sample of their product or an advance copy of a CD. In some, crowdfunding models, such as the one supported by Sellaband, where people invest in music artists and bands, investors also get a cut of the artist’s future sales revenues.

How Can Crowdfunding Be Used for Market Research?

Crowdfunding presents your business idea to the public during the initial planning stages. Not only does it raise funds, but it also raises product and brand awareness. Entrepreneurs can utilize established social fundraising platforms, see what the response is, and then have a general idea of what the market demand will be. Moreover, with some sites, such as, funds are only given out once the full requested amount has been raised. It thus creates a virtually risk-free situation for the entrepreneur or artist.

Where a crowdfunding attempt is unsuccessful, entrepreneurs can poll online users to determine where the problem may lie. Perhaps they need to be building more of an online reputation, or maybe the product needs to be tweaked, and it also could be that the product is just not a viable idea and should be scrapped.

Whatever the case, crowdfunding is proving to be a powerful tool, not just in terms of raising money, but also as a way to help weed out those business ideas that will float, and those that won’t.

Using the Internet to Conduct Market Research for A Small Business

The prolific growth of the Internet and Web2.0 has been a boon for market researchers in that it has simplified the process of collecting and generating quality market data.

To run a successful small business these days, conducting effective market research is a must. Market research is a dynamic process focused on understanding the relationship between consumers and a particular product or company. It involves the systematic collection and analysis of consumer and economic data including economic reports and industry trends as well as consumer attitudes and behaviors.

Armed with this information, businesses can adjust their policies and strategies so that they are in line with current market realities. Here are a few ways, small business owners can use the Internet to conduct market research:

Researching “Secondary” Data
Secondary data refers to any information about the market or the economy that has already been collected. It is called secondary because you are not directly interacting with your current or potential base market. Examples of places to go to get secondary data include: government sites (check out my previous post on free government resources), trade journals, and surveys conducted by other businesses.

Keyword Research

Keyword research goes beyond a simple Google or Yahoo search. See how different keywords are performing and get an idea of what your customers are looking for. Use Google’s free keyword analytics tools, such as the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, to measure keyword usage.

Keyword research also includes monitoring social networking sites, such as Twitter and blogs for any mentions of your company.

Keeping Tabs on the Competition
The Internet makes it easier for business owners to find out what their competitors are doing. A simple Google search of a company’s name, for example, will provide a snapshot of who is linking to their site  and what people are saying. Check out your competitor’s website to get a feel for the customer’s experience and get information on the kinds of products and/or services they are offering.

Webtraffic Analytics

Small business owners with a strong web presence can measure and qualify how current and potential customers are using their site. As mentioned above, Google provides a fully featured web analytics package, Google Anaytics, which is free.

Conducting Online Surveys/Focus Groups
The best way to know what your customers are feeling or doing is to ask them directly, and by far the cheapest way to do this is online. Enter online customer surveys and focus groups.

For those who want to conduct an online survey, there are several sites that offer software to help you create an effective customer questionnaire- some of them for free. Those interested in a survey creator should check out Survey Monkey and Question Form to start out with.

With online focus groups, a company can invite several individuals to participate in a structured discussion with a moderator for about an hour. Conducting focus groups online generally requires at  least some conferencing software. There are also several programs available specifically created for online focus group moderation with some nifty features, such as video, drawing tools, and remote website navigation.