Marchand--Focus In, Listen Up!June 1998
2) New Services
If your company adds database and mailing capabilities, will it be perceived by customers as a credible supplier for direct mail services? A Pennsylvania printer used focus groups to discover if it could overcome customer resistance by buying a mail house rather than developing its own capability in this area.
In two focus groups, a California-based printing company learned that its customers were concerned about late invoices and collection efforts often made a few days after customers receive the invoices. Their corporate and agency customers both wanted earlier invoices—the one to get expenditures into fiscal periods during which they were incurred, the other to be able to bill their clients sooner.
A focus group conducted for a bindery revealed that its move to a plant just a few miles away concerned its customers. The solution: marketing that defined the distance in miles and time, and emphasized the increased production and the efficiencies the new plant will bring, including faster turnarounds, reduced spoilage and better shipping.
5) New Markets
An equipment manufacturer selling digital presses conducted focus groups attended by printers to learn about obstacles to adoption.
A well-edited videotape of a focus group provides reps, CSRs and estimators an opportunity to hear customers describe their concerns.
Few companies hold focus groups only once. Almost invariably, the sessions prove to be of such great value, they become a line in the annual marketing budget.
What major equipment, what additional services or new market is your company exploring? A review of customer needs would add considerable value to conventional cost-justification studies that take little notice of demand. What better place to begin than a focus group?
About the Author
Jacques Marchand may be phoned at (415) 357-2929. His firm, Marchand Marketing, provides strategic consulting services, positioning and marketing communications to help companies in the printing industry increase sales. E-mail may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about the firm's work for clients is also available on its Web site, www.marchand.com.
We Already Know
Mid-sized and smaller printing companies often have superb access to customers. They are usually in close geographical proximity to their print buyers. Long-established friendships often exist between printing company executives and their counterparts in customers' organizations. This can create a false confidence for even the most wary executive.
Proximity isn't enough to sustain a working relationship. And don't depend upon conversations at the club as your main source of market intelligence. You may not lose the customer, but you will lose touch with the markets you serve.
Don't overlook the obvious. Your friends may (or may not) tell you that your golf game (or your company) is slipping. But that's not the purpose for a focus group. Its objective is to put you ahead, not warn you of imminent loss.
The cost is modest. Some form of a focus group is within the budget of every company. Whether through a periodic customer round table or a full-blown videotaped session observed behind a one-way mirror, hearing customers and prospects talk about their needs is a source of invaluable information for good decision-making.
In this age of rapidly changing needs and growing customer expectations, no company can be confident that it's on the right track without input from clients.