As part of our recent enterprise level research for a yet-to-be named ground breaking product, we conducted a focus group this week that featured a few of the industry’s top experts.
The amount of preparation time involved prior to the day long event far exceeded the actual event and in hindsight could have been shortened. That’s where the following suggestions for managing a focus group come in.
1. Conduct an Industry Survey Prior to the Focus Group Meeting
First and importantly, conduct a high level survey to the product category industry (not the focus group). This is done to establish a high level understanding of the industry niche and serves as discussion points during the focus group. This will help focus the group’s attention on important factors affecting the market and your potential customers.
This step produced some surprising benefits and gave the focus group a chance to both interpret and debate the results. We learned more than expected just by letting the debates run its course.
Tip: We used surveymonkey.com
2. Invite the right customers (and non-customers), industry insiders, and analysts
You want a diverse group that represents a cross section of the industry. We had an industry author, consultants, current customers and non-customers. It proved to be the right mix since we were able to look at the industry from multiple lenses. While at first confusing, we eventually learned to separate the responses by participant lens to get a holistic view of the market.
3. Set up recording equipment
You’ll want to record the proceedings in order to playback some of the key points. Make sure participants understand ahead of time that they are being recorded. But don’t emphasize it because you are looking for honest feedback. You’ll also want to transcribe the recorded audio so that you can easily search on it. Find a provider on elance or Craigslist.
Tip: I raised my hand to my head every time a key point was made in order to serve as a visual cue. This helped us identify those points quickly when fast forwarding through the video.
4. Prepare an agenda and presentation in advance
Seems rather obvious, but this step took us longer than expected. We structured the presentation to focus on survey results first, a live wireframe demo second, and finished with test marketing messages and pricing.
5. Start with a decent breakfast spread with coffee (decaf too)
Don’t skimp here, this sets the tone for the rest of the day.
6. Start with an Ice Breaker
You need to loosen the group up in order to maximize the feedback. One of my favorites is “Two Lies and a Truth”. I started with my example to set the tone and the group enthusiastically followed. As a bonus, our VP of Marketing’s “truth” was outrageously funny and loosened up the group (almost too much).
Tip: take a break after this step in order to allow focus group participants to network with each other.
7. Add a funny video
I used the video below. It set the right tone and subtlety suggested that the group stay on track.
8. Show the survey results to the group
Do it in graphical form, one survey response per slide. Don’t guide their responses by suggesting an interpretation, allow them to comment and debate the result.
Tip: Only ask clarifying questions during this section. You’re looking for their interpretations of the results and/or their opinion of your interpretation.
9. Show prototype and/or alpha release of the product
In this step, you’re looking for their reaction and feedback. Study their reactions, gestures and mannerisms as well as the direct feedback. We found some in the group afraid to hurt our feelings – others didn’t care (which was great).
Tip: We asked them to prioritize the benefits of using our product which helped us focus our current development efforts.
10. Run some marketing concepts by them
We were able to obtain invaluable information about how to market to our prospective customers. What’s important to them, where their pain points are, and what they read (offline and online).
Tip: Test some pricing scenarios with them. Don’t take it to the bank, but it was valuable to us.
11. Set up a post focus group online discussion forum
This was actually a suggestion from one of our focus group members. Use a cloud site from MindTouch (disclosure: I work for Mindtouch) or set up a discussion forum to capture post focus group information. We are going to post our product roadmap to solicit feedback from the group. We’ll also add them to our beta list to solicit feedback during that phase.
This also allows you to maintain contact with future customers and get free feedback on your product as it develops.
Summary and Key Learnings
We were surprised by the enthusiasm of the group and attributed it in part to the people we asked to participate and the opening ice breaker. We also encouraged debate while defusing tense situations. It wasn’t a question of when to interrupt the debate, it’s whether the debate was worth interrupting.
Some other Key Learnings:
- Have someone from Marketing in the room to capture key message points.
- Take a lot of breaks.
- Focus group participants really enjoyed the networking opportunities during the breaks.
- Don’t shut people down, just listen and guide.
- Make the event fun and interesting – this is your duty!
- Invite between 6 – 10 people (this is the optimal group size)
We estimated the focus group participants saved us millions in product development costs and wi
ll help us produce fa
r more in future revenue. It’s worth taking the time to conduct a professional focus group, but balance it with your own intuition.
Do you have any other suggestions? Did we miss anything? Has your experience been better or worse?
(Cross-posted @ Seek Omega )