A focus group is a face-to-face meeting with a sampling of customers that helps you learn about their needs and perspectives. It also enables your customers to find out more about your company.
Focus groups are not a substitute for understanding market problems, but they can supplement the process. You can use focus groups to cover a wide range of issues—such as validating your product solution, your messaging or your overall strategic direction. You can conduct focus groups at any time during the product lifecycle.
Before conducting a focus group, ensure you understand your goals. Establishing objectives in advance provides a clear framework for you and your team, and will help you direct the discussion so that goals are met. For example, you might want to test the idea for a new product with participants in order to be able to clearly identify which target market most strongly identifies with that product.
Focus groups offer the following advantages:
Despite the advantages listed above, focus groups are not appropriate in every situation. Bear in mind that they do have several limitations:
As with a beta program, identify the participants that would be most appropriate for your focus group. Depending on your goals for the session, you might want to include different types of participants.
Example:If you seek an answer to a question about your strategic direction (“Do we want to move into this market?”), it might be wise to include representatives of your buyer persona. If you desire a product usability discussion (“Does this software meet the needs of sales personnel?”), you might want to include representatives of your user persona.
The moderator is responsible for running the focus group. The moderator’s role is to ensure that all participants have a chance to speak—this includes attempting to elicit comments from the more timid participants. The moderator should remain objective, and not present a bias toward an outcome, nor take a position or side with an individual participant. The moderator should also be skilled in conflict resolution to help the focus group proceed smoothly and guide the group back on topic if required.
The following guidelines will help you run a successful focus group.
Simplify the agenda: The agenda does not need to be complex (see the sample agenda below). Limit the session to a half a day so that you can use your participants’ time wisely.
Collect feedback: Ask focus group members to consider the issue for several minutes and then write down their responses. Have each participant share his or her thoughts on the issue. Seek input from every member in the group, and promote discussion of their responses.
Allow ideas to flow: Remember that the best ideas arise from the culmination of participant ideas. Allow the conversation to flow naturally, as long as it stays on topic.
Document it: Use a flipchart to record the group’s responses for future reference. At the conclusion of the session, share resulting action items and notes with the participants.
Your organization wants to explore a more expensive product line with additional features that appeal to a different market segment. You choose to hold a focus group to ask their perspectives.
Use the following agenda to explore this question.
8:00–8:30 am : Arrival and continental breakfast
8:30–8:45 am: Outline objectives
8:45–10:00 am : Present the potential new product offering and ask participants if they would buy it (why or why not?)
10:00–11:15 am: Collect participants’ feedback; respond to questions
11:15–11:45 am: Summary of session and next steps
Harris, B. (2010).Tips& Tools: How To Run Customer Focus Groups Successfully. Retrieved September 24, 2010, from http://www.pragmaticmarketing.com/publications/magazine/2/5/0410bh
Webcredible. (2006).Focus groups—how to run them. Retrieved September 24, 2010, from http://www.webcredible.co.uk/user-friendly-resources/web-usability/focus-groups.shtml