How to Conduct Consumer Research for Small Businesses

Many business owners underestimate the importance of market research. No matter what size or type of business you run, performing market research is critical to your overall success, as it serves as the foundation of your entire business strategy, from sales and marketing to product development.

A little market research can go a long way into providing insight into customers’ preferences and behavior.

Typically, when business leaders hear the phrase “market research,” their thoughts immediately go to competitive research. While competitive research is an important part of market research, it’s not the only aspect that matters to businesses. Consumer market research, or the collection of data regarding customers’ preferences and behaviors, is also critical.


Consumer preferences and behaviors are in a constant state of flux, meaning it’s important for businesses to stay up on the latest trends. Sheryl Pattek, a VP and Analyst at Forrester, told Mashable that consumer market research is the key to successfully targeting and servicing today’s customers.


“With the advent of digital channels and changes in consumer behavior, we believe the only competitive advantage companies will have is systematically understanding and then serving these increasingly powerful customers. It means taking a view and changing your inside-out view to an outside-in view, and reinventing the way you go to market, as well as your organizational design around the customer,” she said.

There are many ways to gather consumer market research, but I recommend small businesses start with these three:

Customer Surveys

Often, one of the best ways to get inside the minds of your consumers and understand their likes and dislikes is to actually poll a sample of your current customers. Surveys have proven to be effective in gathering useful information.

However, it’s important that you craft a well-thought-out survey to ensure you don’t waste precious time and money.

Before you start, make sure that you set a realistic goal, whether it’s determining the best channels in which to invest your marketing dollars or a new niche market to target. Ask yourself this: What do I want to get out of this? What’s more, conduct some preliminary research to help you formulate research questions that will give you insightful results.

Marketing Technology

Believe it or not, you already have a lot of valuable consumer information right under your nose. Your CRM software and marketing automation platform house critical consumer data. Your marketing automation platform, for example, tracks consumer behavior, such as click-through rates, page views, and bounce rates—all of which can give you direct insight into the preferences and motivations of your customer base.

Third-Party Consumer Data Providers

Google is a powerful research tool that businesses use to gather consumer information. While the information is free, it can take hours of research to get a full picture of your target audience—and time is money. What’s more, information isn’t always accurate or up to date, so you could be making important decisions based on inaccurate or outdated data without knowing it.

Third-party data providers, like D&B Hoovers, offer accurate and detailed reports on consumer trends and competitors that can help marketers better understand their customer base. These reports are especially helpful for businesses that are targeting new audiences or niches and don’t yet have information about these groups housed within their systems.

Don’t underestimate the importance of market research. Using one or a combination of the research methods above can help you create a more targeted marketing strategy that’s based on cold hard facts rather than on feelings.