Would a focus group help your sales?

Everybody knows how to increase revenue. You just: 

  • Increase consumption per existing customer
  • Get new customers
  • Retain current customers so you are not just treading water

But how do you do those things?

You might discover the answer through customer focus groups. One or more diverse groups of your current customers are brought together, along with some prospects who fit your marketing profile.

Focus GroupThen you ask them a series of probing questions about topics such as:

  • Their likes and dislikes related to your products or services, as well as your competitors'
  • Their criteria for deciding what, when and how much to buy
  • The innovations they would like to see
  • The factors that would make them consider buying from you rather than someone else

But focus groups are not just spontaneous chats. They require considerable planning and a knowledge of technique to pull off successfully. Following are some tips for how to do this.


The first task of preparation is selecting a representative sample of your customers and potential customers. Identifying current – or recent past – customers should be easy enough from your company's records. Finding would-be customers might require a little more creativity.

Once you have identified a representative population, you should select your study sample randomly from that population to get enough diversity to be representative of the whole. Picking everyone from the same neighborhood, for example, could obviously bias the results.

Next, write a purpose statement that puts the "focus" in "focus group." What precisely are you trying to discover that you think the group might be able to reveal? This statement will be shared with participants when they are invited to participate and again at the start of the group session.

In most cases, you will need to provide some kind of incentive for people to participate. It could be cash, credit toward your products or services, gift certificates or merchandise. Or you could conduct the meetings at an attractive location, cover expenses for each participant plus a guest, and serve a nice dinner.

A third and crucial step is writing good questions. Broad questions will get vague answers. Specific questions will get more focused answers. See the inset article for some guidelines on writing questions.


Have a skilled interviewer facilitate the meetings. Getting good data involves a process of asking the prepared questions, listening carefully to the responses and then probing for additional depths of meaning. The facilitator must encourage quiet members to speak out and sometimes set limits on those who dominate the discussion too much.

Have a second person recording the responses, whether manually or electronically, so the facilitator can stay focused on the interview process.

Analysis of the data

Following each meeting, the facilitator should synthesize the comments into themes or trends that were repeatedly expressed. This information should be put into a written report with specific recommendations for increasing revenue.

Conducting focus groups does involve a lot of work. But it is one of the most direct paths to understanding what your customers want so that you can supply it better than anyone else.

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