Market research is the primary tool you use to find potential customers for your business, Tom Mock told participants in a seminar at the Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College Small Business Center in Candler Saturday morning.
“If you spend time going after the wrong customers, you’re wasting time, effort and money,” said Mock, a SCORE mentor leading the seminar, “How to Find Your Customers.”
While many people think that it is costly to do market research, there are inexpensive and effective approaches to take, Mock said. At a basic level, it is a process of finding people who are most likely to buy a product that a business offers, he said.
Both primary and secondary market research options can be used, Mock said. Primary research involves talking to existing and prospective customers—including those a business may have lost—to learn what it is successful at providing and also how a service or product can be improved. Studying the competition and what it offers is also a good idea, he said.
Secondary research is done through the use of services such as SurveyMonkey and data bases, some of which are free, Mock said. The Small Business Administration, the U.S. Census Bureau and trade associations can be valuable sources of information for small businesses doing market research, he noted. Other sources for identifying markets and customers are newspapers, industry events and seminars.
While these secondary sources can be helpful, the best market research technique is talking to a customer and learning about a day in his life to gain understanding of what his needs are, Mock noted. It is important to understand what motivates buyers, he added.
And although businesses may attempt to attract customers by describing their products and services in detail, the core message to convey is, “Here’s what my product can do for you,” Mock said.
Developing an “elevator pitch” that briefly describes a business and its benefits is also a good technique to use when encountering potential customers, he noted.
“The elevator pitch is to get people to listen to you and to let them ask questions,” Mock said.
Cultivating referrals by word of mouth, working a personal network that can include social media and attending meetings where prospective customers may be are other ways to find customers. When advertising a business in newspapers and other media outlets, it is better to place small multiple ads rather than a single large one, Mock advised.
Mock is one of about 50 SCORE mentors in the Asheville area, many of whom partner with the A-B Tech Small Business Center. A retired marketing and public relations professional, Mock has been working with SCORE since moving to Asheville three years ago.
SCORE is a nonprofit association that helps small businesses and has a partnership with A-B Tech Small Business Center. SCORE mentors take an active role in the seminars and programs that the small business center offers, said Duane Adams, associate director of A-B Tech Small Business Center.
The small business center provides a wide variety of training including free business seminars, interactive workshops, and classes. Training is available on a variety of business topics including basic bookkeeping, software training, website design, marketing analysis, business management training and craft business development. Most of the business workshops and seminars are free, with some advanced topics available for a nominal fee.
In addition to these programs designed to help entrepreneurs and small businesses be successful, the center also offers them one-on-one counseling and advice.
“We can help anyone who comes in,” Adams said.
The Small Business Center is primarily funded by the state, with some assistance from the college.
For more information about upcoming seminars and programs and assistance available, visit the website at www.abtech.edu/content/Business-Development/Small-Business or call 828-398-7950.