Identify Your Perfect Customer with These Customer Research Methods

- Simon Buck

Every business should want to know what its customers think about them or what potential customers might want from us in the future. For many, the challenge is we simply don’t invest the time to ask or know how to.

Customer research is a wide topic but ultimately its about aligning our services and products to our current customers or identifying areas for diversification and growth for the future. It’s often seen as the preserve of bigger businesses with focus groups and large marketing budgets, but customer research can be as simple as asking a question or sending out a survey, something that’s within the grasp of all of us.

Primary vs Secondary Market Research

There are 2 main types of research available to us as business owners or leaders. Primary and Secondary.

The main difference is Primary is undertaken by us and Secondary has already been undertaken by another.

Primary – often significant in terms of time and effort and therefore resources, it’s us asking specific questions that are often unique to our business or industry so we obtain specific answers.

Secondary – utilizing already published information, statistics or data that we can use to answer some questions that are beneficial to selling or marketing our business. E.g how many businesses are there in my area, what sectors are they in, what are the demographics or specific users of a product or service?

Its often beneficial to use the expertise of an outside business strategy consultant or business coach to challenge you in this area.

Quantitative or Qualitative Research?

The next area to consider is Quantitative or Qualitative research. Put simply Quantitative gives you numbers, volume, scale etc. and Qualitative gives you more descriptive, anecdotal feedback and information.

If you were looking to launch a new product or service you might look to quantitative to give you the size of the market, price points, growth % but the qualitative might give you what frustrates people about the sector, why they might change from one service to another or how they feel about the offering.

Ultimately, it’s the combination of both gives you a full and rounded picture to ensure you are focused on the most profitable customer base for your business.

Business Strategy Growth and Implementation

Once you’ve obtained the information it’s all about implementation and this is often where a business struggles. You may require new product development, the introduction of a new service within the organization. It may extend to introducing new systems and processes that exploit and leverage the new market opportunity you’ve identified and will almost always require new marketing to ensure the messaging is tailored to your new audience or market sector.

Primary Research Customer Types

So let take a look at the different research types that are available to us to identify what are customers want or need.


Surveys are a really simple way to get information from the market. They may be undertaken with your existing clients or out to a wider marketplace. If you are considering surveys you may wish to get an outside company to undertake this on your behalf to get a true and honest view of what you do well, not so well as doing it yourself may skew the results.


If you’re looking for more detail or more nuanced feedback, then interviews may be a better option. Generally speaking, you get a more detailed response as you are asking people to set aside time for a more in-depth response. Just be careful not to pick people that you are hoping for a particular response. It’s all about objectivity.

Focus Groups

As above the interview, a stye can be applied to focus groups where you outline your service or demonstrate your product. You may be looking for how a certain age group interreacts, opens, operates your product. If it’s food it may be their response to taste, packaging, branding. Focus groups can give you amazing insights but again it needs to be done properly so as not to influence the outcome. I once saw a focus group with employees, enough said.

Ethnographic Research

This is where researchers observe behaviour in someone natural environment and is a spin-off from ethnography where people study people, cultures and habits. You could be interested in ethnography if your product or service is only ever consumed in a particular environment or if you are looking to launch in a different country.


Relatively new this area of research is beyond that of demographics and looks at those that think like you. It’s particularly relevant when trying to build a tribe of like-minded people. What do they value, do they think alike, are they aligned in a greater purpose and does yours meet theirs?

Secondary Customer Research Types

The above are primary research methods where we are asking and trying to answer, specific questions related to our business and our marketplace. Now we’ll look at the secondary research options available to us and how existing research can often be analyzed to establish our customers and their wants/needs:

Research Papers

These can be a great source of information as someone has already undertaken and published a significant piece of work and may have amassed great volumes of data or feedback. As with all secondary research look closely at the question asked to ensure it’s relevant to your sector or demographic.


Polls can be really useful if you aren’t looking for detailed responses or need immediate feedback. E.g in a recent poll 75% of respondents were perfectly happy to use internet chat boxes for customer service resolutions. This would be great to know if you were potentially restructuring your resource for customer service. You’d have to ensure it was however a similar audience and sector so as not to make any assumption.

How to Conduct a Customer Research Project

The key to great customer research is to start with the end in mind, what are you trying to answer or find out. Sometimes we get carried away with the research at the expense of the purpose.

Set Your Objectives

So what’s your overriding objective. Is it to see if someone will buy something new, to identify your ideal customer or see if you can increase your prices? Be crystal clear on the objective and does it align with any of your already set goals. As coaches, we are obsessed with goals. It is critical to know what you are trying to achieve and how your goals will help you deliver your objective.

Identify Your Target Audience

Break down what you are looking for from your audience in terms of demographic and

psychographic information. Age, sex, location, geography, the more we can pin down our audience the easier life becomes in terms of the marketing message that relevant to them. All too often we meet business owners and leaders who prefer breadth of the audience thinking it brings greater opportunity, but often it just complicates the offering and message we need to share.

Provide Content Forms

Make life as easy as possible for anyone submitting information. If there is a worry about how the information will be used then put their mind at rest, if you can also explain how they can benefit from getting involved (e.g. sharing results) they may be more inclined to participate. Something as simple as a consent form could be the difference between a response or no response.

Offer an Incentive

If the volume is what you are after then some form of incentive may help persuade someone to get involved. We’ve all seen the give us your feedback and have a chance of winning type messages. Again it depends on the type of research you are undertaking and the size and scale of data that makes it worthwhile.


Undertaking market research isn’t simple but it can be incredibly valuable. There are many things to consider, what you are looking to achieve, who you need to ask, what may or may not already be available or whether you need to undertake the research yourself. There are huge benefits in getting an outside perspective when considering a research project so you may want to consider discussing your project with the team here at Chalkhill Blue to see how they can help you get the best from your research project.

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