6 Reasons Your Company Should Host a Focus Group

Plus four best focus group planning tips

Focus Group 2015

Since 2009, we’ve hosted an annual focus group each summer for our foodservice clients. Many return year after year because of the valuable conversation and solutions developed during the course of the multi-day meeting. Though it’s a lot of work to host a focus group, we build in a little fun as well – and both are worth the effort. Here are six reasons why your company should consider hosting a focus group… and four essential planning tips.

  1. Your team and your clients get face time. There’s something about being in the same room together. The conversation flows more easily and more quickly. Phone and e-mail are great tools, but they aren’t personal. Chances are you have multiple members of your team working with a client, and a focus group provides the chance for the entire team – the client’s team – to spend time together in one space to discuss business… or not.
  1. You can evaluate the past year, together. We always begin our focus group by going over what happened at the previous year’s focus group, the resulting objectives, and the strides made in the creation of tools or functionality to meet those objectives. Since each client has different needs, all clients may not know about every product or service; however, their interest may be piqued enough by the conversation that it might be time for them to explore different options your company can provide. The focus group setting does the cross selling for you at some level.
  1. Your clients can discuss pain points. This is the true value of hosting a focus group. Your clients need solutions. You can provide those exact solutions based on the conversations that take place during focus group sessions. They may not be the same pain points as a year ago. In fact, we find they usually aren’t. New technology, shifts in how information is consumed, new laws, and the feedback of consumers and employees all play a role. These problems are usually felt industry-wide. Listen to what your clients have to say, and then brainstorm ideas together about what a solution would look like.
  1. Your company leaves with a set of objectives for the upcoming year. Based on the conversation, especially of pain points, your company now has a direction for the next year or several years. This gives your team a huge advantage because you can focus your labor and resources into developing solutions you know your clients need and will be willing to invest their dollars in. Those solutions, if they are helpful for your clients, by extension will be helpful and valuable for potential clients.
  1. You can potentially share development costs. It takes a lot of infrastructure to support your team, and the needs of your clients may necessitate additional training, materials, technology, and development costs. Co-development may be an option with a client, or multiple if it’s toward the same solution. This may not just be monetary but personnel resources as well.
  1. You connect with clients beyond a business level. Fun activities and exclusive outings after the work day help your team get to know the clients at a deeper level, and vice versa. In this way, friendships are developed and you grow to become a confidant. We appreciate all of our client relationships and are interested in what happens in their non-professional lives. People are social creatures, and we like to chat about non-work topics, too. It’s good for the soul and invigorates relationships, even business ones.

Focus Group 2015 2

Four Planning Tips

  1. Know your objectives. Before attendees arrive, make sure those in charge of planning have a clear agenda and a clear set of objectives to accomplish with everyone in the room. This includes accomplishing the objectives set forth to complete before the meeting commences – beta demonstrations, signs, food choices, portfolios, meeting space reservations, etc.
  1. Choose a very good facilitator. You probably can do this yourself, but don’t.  You will miss nuggets of input, and body language that you should be paying attention to.  A great facilitator can handle silence when he throws out a new subject.  Most people cannot. The facilitator is essential for moderating the conversation as well as to pick out from that conversation the new objectives for the coming year. A moderator must be objective and an expert in core discussion areas. He or she must be a good listener, a solid note taker, and have the ability to put everyone at ease so that their ideas and concerns can be heard.
  1. Get participants involved. Every year, we give each participant a number of “voting stickers.” We hang paper around the room with topics discussed the previous days (pain points). Clients are invited to place their stickers on the topic or topics they are most interested in pursuing for their company. Some ideas are so important to a client that they will place all of their votes on one project.  In this case, we invite that client to be the “champion” of that initiative, and consult with us while we develop it. Some might put two on one and three on another. The number of stickers on each paper tells you, the host, how to prioritize those topics and which solutions need to be developed the quickest.
  1. Provide a report following the focus group as quickly as possible. There’s a lot of energy during a focus group, a lot of a-ha moments. Keep the momentum going by providing a report within a few weeks, including your company’s plans on what will be tackled first. We like to personally present these reports to the clients who attended, but it could be as easy as a conference call or a nicely bound report sent through the mail, along with a handwritten thank you note.