By , on Business Planning.

Your company’s sales growth and increasing profitability depends on your ability to continue to provide customers with what they want, when they want it, delivered in a way that’s convenient for them. Is your company continuously attracting potential customers, satisfying current customers, and keeping your competitors from stealing your customers away? Missing out on emerging or changing market trends, or not paying attention to emerging competition, can place your business sales in jeopardy. Market information and knowledge can help your business survive over the long haul.  Below is a list of 3 easy ways for you to stay informed about your customers, potential customers and competition.

1.  Stay in touch with your current customers. Do your current customers need any additional products or services from you?  Have they been happy doing business with you? If your business is small you can interview them directly to find out, over the phone or when you see them in person.  Or, you can send out a mail or e-mail survey, offering a gift (of free products or services from you) to those who respond.

Learn what you can from them in a friendly, conversational tone so as not to burden them with your inquiries.Listen carefully to their answers, and implement changes in your product and services offerings to address their needs and concerns whenever possible.

 

2. Set aside a day every other month to catch up on trends in your industry. Join a trade association or Chamber of Commerce, and talk to other business owners about industry or market trends in general.  Are there any new competitors, technologies, changing demands from customers or upcoming regulations that you should be aware of?  Trade associations exist to support their members, and you’ll find most (though not all) of the members attending meetings to be quite supportive of your business success (some will see you as a competitor).

Ask other members if they know of any companies that are in the same market as you, and then shop with those competitors (or hire someone else to shop with them if you don’t feel comfortable doing competitive research). You can learn more about the competition by shopping with them than you can by reading their ads or brochures.

 

3.  Search MarketResearch.com for an affordable report covering your market area.  Nothing beats doing the primary research yourself to find specific information about your geographic area and market niche.  But off-the-shelf market research reports can provide you with vital demographic and trends information.  Most reports range in price from $1,000 to $15,000, but you can find some reports with excellent information for less using  MarketResearch.com ‘s advanced search function that enables you specify your budget along with your market niche.

For example, a general search for “organic bath products” at MarketResearch.com yields, Soap, Bath and Shower Products – US – March 2013, for $3,995, as of this writing.  However, using the advanced search function specifying a price range from $0 to $1000 yields a $495 report, Bath & Shower Products Market in United States to 2016 (published in 2013).  To be sure you’re getting the information you need, each report is listed with a detailed Table of Contents.  There’s also a “search inside this report” function.  A search for the word “organic” inside the $495 report says it appears 31 times.

You can view a snippet of the reference (on p. 116, “…care segment net sales grew by *% to $*.*bn, while the organic sales rose *% and the unit volume was unchanged. Grooming division…”  You can also chat real time with a MarketResearch.com client services representative for additional assistance.

If you don’t have the budget or time for surveys, industry association meetings or market research summary reports, spend at least a half a day each month searching the Internet for industry and market trends. Check especially for “Fact Sheets” on industry associations web sites (e.g., the Organic Trade Association, www.ota.com, has an “Organic Facts” section).  If you serve consumers directly, search for consumer or retail trends (make sure the Internet information you rely on is from a reputable source – just about anybody can slap up a web site nowadays!).

Your customers are important – keep in touch with what they need and want, and how they want it delivered.  Customers are the reason your business exists!  Stay informed of your customers’ changing tastes and lifestyles, population shifts, and the competitors who also serve your customers.  If you can quickly identify emerging problems or opportunities, you can change your product mix or adjust operations to insure that your company stays around to serve your customers over the long haul.