Competitive Intelligence (on a small budget): Part 3

December 31, 2014

We’re back with a third installment in a continuing series on “Basic Market Research for Small Business” where we pay special attention to helping businesses that have little to no research budget. In previous articles, we’ve discussed inexpensive ways to perform a competitive web evaluation and to conduct mystery shopping. Next, I’d like to present another aspect of competitive intelligence that you may be able to accomplish for just a small amount of money.

Customer reviews

There are so many possible steps that a prospective customer will take between consideration of a product and actually purchasing the product, but one I’ll talk about here is researching customer reviews. In this day and age, the customers not only rule the roost, but they now have a huge voice with which to communicate to other prospective customers. If a business does someone wrong, it won’t be long before that customer has written up a bad review of their product on, the Better Business Bureau,, or Google Plus. Likewise, if customers love a product, they’ll equally write up glowing reviews.

Check out several of the well-known consumer review sites and evaluate your company’s ratings. Compare what you find for your competitors. Is your three-star rating lagging the competition’s five-star rating, but you just know that you have a superior product or service? The first thing you need to do is to take an honest look at any reviews that constitute a complaint about your company. Is there truth to the criticism? Have you registered a “corporate” account with the rating site so that you might reply to the criticisms? If not, I think you should – and when you engage customers, treat them as gently as you possibly can, because far more people than that one customer will be reading along. Don’t say, “You’re wrong – there’s no way our widget broke on you, because you didn’t even try to return it, so you’re probably lying!” Gracious, that would be a big mistake.

Instead, try to state your position with confidence but humility. For example, “We try to ensure that every customer is completely satisfied with their widget purchase. Your report of a broken widget is certainly a rare occurrence, at least from our perspective, because we very, very rarely receive complaints about that product. We absolutely value your business, so please return the broken widget to our store for a full refund, and one of our salespeople may be able to help you find a suitable alternative, such as the thingamabob.” Even if you won’t please that particular disgruntled customer, you will demonstrate to other prospective customers that you are at least attentive to concerns.

Some small businesses have only one or two reviews compared to their larger, more popular competitors who may have dozens of customer reviews. Maybe you need to implement a campaign within your company so that every time one of your sales or service representatives knows they’re talking to a satisfied customer, they say to that customer, “If I’ve provided you outstanding service, I would really appreciate you leaving us a favorable comment on whatever Internet review site you think appropriate.” Once you train and encourage your staff to incorporate this into their routine, this costs your company not a penny, other than the extra 10 seconds of engagement with the customer.

Not all of the techniques I introduce will be appropriate for every small business. Nonetheless, I hope that these ideas have inspired your creativity regarding market research on a small business budget. Please feel welcome to discuss your own ideas and experiences in the comments here.

There are so many possible steps that a prospective customer will take between consideration of a product and actually purchasing the product, but one I’ll talk about here is researching customer reviews.

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