Transform your business

The new focus groups: online networks

If you are a small company on a budget, an online, invitation-only community could give a big boost your lead generation programmes, writes Cynthia Trevino

There was a recent article about how big companies are using online networks of loyal customers to gain valuable insights. They are used for collecting customer opinions on ads as well as new products.  There are great ideas here for small companies putting together lead generation programmes.

The online groups are proving to be less costly and more effective than in-person focus groups or phone surveys.  Key reasons for this are outlined by the article:

Companies draw on the participants in a much broader and deeper way than in the offline world

The online groups become more than a one-time, 3-hour focus group; the company develops a relationship with the customer-participants

Now most small companies are going to be creating TV commercials — but there are some useful ideas.  If you are a small company on a budget, an online, invitation-only community could give a big boost to your product, service or lead generation programmes. Here are my recommendations:

1. Start with a small group of customers. I like 12 customers. Invite your most loyal customers to participate in an online community. Think of the community as the ‘new’ customer advisory board.

2. Create an online community on a budget. Use a blogging programme that allow you to password-protect the blog. 

3. Pose questions to the community. Ask for input. 

4. Start with a small program—maybe your ideas for an upcoming lead generation promotion. Test your top 2-3 ideas. Explain your ideas. Find out what is compelling to the customers. 

5. Share your plans for a new product release or new service. Nothing proprietary—just enough to preview the plans and let the community give you feedback. Most customers love being on the “inside” when it comes to new products, programmes.

The benefits of the online community are that your customers can login whenever they have a few minutes. In my experience, the time you spend getting feedback and ideas from customers is worth 100 times any other activity.