Product Marketing Manager
Xerox Indirect Channels Business Group

Small and mid-size businesses are constantly looking for new sources of relevant data and information to help them better understand their current and potential customers. In my next series of four posts, I’ll provide some ideas and guidelines for you to consider in your efforts to connect with customers.

Define your goal

I know I am stating the obvious, but not only do you need to define a goal, you should track your progress as you work towards achieving that goal. In Staple’s 4th Annual National Small Business Survey, they discovered that 80 percent of small business owners don’t keep track of their business goals. Goals serve as motivation and as a basis for measuring your success and achievement. Track your progress and celebrate your key milestones. You deserve it! Wherever you’re planning to go with your small business, you’ll get there faster and more predictably if you set a goal.

Step one, establish a measureable goal. This will help you focus the conversation and understand what questions you need answers to in order to achieve your goal.

If you start with a general goal you’ll need to refine that down to a specific objective that will accomplish the larger goal. Here’s an example;

Goal: increase year over year sales volume by 10 percent; 90 percent from new customer acquisition and 10 percent from current customers.

Objective: find the most effective communication channels for new customer acquisition.

If you find you’re creating questions for your customers that waver from your objective, go back and revisit the objective, or remove the question.

Francisco Dao, author and contributor to Inc.com,  identifies five main elements in goal setting to make sure your goals are more than wishful thinking. These include being realistic, staying consistent, and establishing a good plan with the support to back it up.  This doesn’t mean that your goal needs to be small, only that you need to define it to the point where you understand and can explain how you plan to accomplish the goal within a specific timeframe.

Now that you’ve established your objective, you need to decide how to get the answers to your questions. There are several ways to do this such as surveys, focus groups and customer interviews. Keep in mind the method you choose will influence the cost.

In my experience, people respond to short surveys and over the phone interviews with the knowledge that they’re influencing change. You’ll have good success in the number of respondents that complete the entire survey or conversation by keeping it brief. Conversely, lengthy interviews or surveys with a broad focus and more questions will require a larger distribution and have greater abandonment. Qualitative research is required at times, just keep in mind you may need an incentive of some kind and possibly more expensive methods such as focus groups or in-person interviews.

For this series, I have elected to focus on connecting with customers through short surveys. Check back in July for tips on targeting the right audience with the right questions.