Selling Successfully (Your One-Stop Resource for Setting Up, Managing and Marketing)

Market Research:Affordable and Effective

How well do you know your customer? If you don't know them well, it will be tough to succeed in today's marketplace. The term "market research" may sound daunting and like something requiring a statistics degree - but in fact, it's just the opposite for small businesses. It's inexpensive, hands-on, and very intuitive. In fact, it's as simple as paying attention to some key indicators as you conduct your daily business. Over time you'll have a wealth of information that you can use to continually improve your business.

Let's start with demographics. Do you have an approximate idea what percentage of your customers are men, and what percentage are women? If you are the one coming in direct contact with your customers and you're paying attention, you'll always know right away. Why should you care? Because in most cases men and women have different buying habits. For example, when buying a gift, men sometimes tend to wait until the last minute while women usually plan much more in advance. An over-generalization? Maybe, but it helps to understand this. If you aren't the one coming in contact with your customers - make time to do so. Being on the front lines at least occasionally is so important to stay in touch with the pulse of your business.

If you look at your customer list, are they concentrated in a certain geographical area? Even when you're doing business on the Internet - it pays to know this. Why? If you realize that a huge percentage of your customers are say, from the midwestern U.S. or even, from Japan, for example, you'll want to know why. What is happening in these areas that are drawing customers to you? Understanding this will give you ideas on how you can reach even more people in these areas. If a large percentage of your customers are from Japan, what can you be doing to make it more convenient for someone from Japan to purchase from you?

How well do you understand your customers' buying habits? Are they long term collectors or just getting started? Are they full-time collectors or hobbyists? If they're hobbyists, when do they do most of their browsing - after work? On weekends? If so you'll know to pay attention during these important periods.

So how do you find out this information? It's easy - chat with your customers - in person, via email, Skype or a social network. Taking an interest in your customers shows you care - and gives you huge insights into how customers view your business and how you can make it better. When you're talking to customers, listen for clues as to how they found out about you, and what drew them to your shop. If they don't drop any clear clues - ask. It's OK to do so. Most people are more than happy to tell you all about themselves.