Marketing professionals understand, and use to their advantage, the feedback gleaned from focus groups. These small multi-person group sessions target specific information on product development, usage, buyer preferences and future buying trends. The feedback is used to identify the strengths and challenges of a product and to tweak marketing messages for appropriate audiences. We hear about focus groups most often regarding food products research, but almost all trade industries and product development groups, use them to get information about the potential sales of everything from what movies people like to what new gadgets will be installed in your next car.
As a direct marketer, you have the advantage of talking to customers on a daily basis, but don’t rule out the possibility of learning a lot more about your product or service by getting extra customer feedback as well.  Focus groups can be informally designed as a breakfast or lunch where you invite a group of customers, and potential customers, to discuss your product or service. It can also take place via social media, conference calls and e-meeting services, although give and take on a person-to-person basis still offers insightful interaction.
Aptly named, focus groups are formed to elicit specific information. You need to be prepared to drill down to the questions and conversations most important for improving or mainstreaming your product to the best advantage. Focus groups often bring about general product information dialogue, but with limited time in each session, you need to be prepared to steer the conversation back to the points you need answered. Some marketers want to learn how customers actually use the product or service; what they liked best about it; what they would change; and if the price matches the product. Getting customer feedback, however, should be very specific to what you want, and need, to learn for sales advantages in the marketplace.
That brings up an importance of finding a good group facilitator. Facilitators experienced in-group dynamics coordinate how discussions flow while keeping members on track with answering the questions important to the topic. Many colleges, universities, business groups and the cooperative extension have professionals with this type of expertise.  Professional research and marketing groups also retain group facilitators for focus groups and other informational gathering work. Before using a focus group, it is important for you as a business owner or operator, to develop the specific questions you need to ask. Are there considerations about your product or service that have been holding back sales? If so, what – packaging, pricing, delivery, point of entry, where it is displayed, quality, shelf life, instructions for best use, where your outlets are located, and how easy the product or service is to use.  The more specific you can be, the better the targeted feedback will be.
Go over these questions with your marketing team and pare them down until you have a few, but very pointed, factors for the focus group. Then review these with the facilitator so you are on the same page about the outcome of the discussion. Most focus groups range within a two-hour to half a daytime period. Day long or multi-day groups are used for large research projects, but involve travel and other expenses. Depending on what you want to learn and the amount of time you feel it will take to produce results, you should prepare for a time period that suits the situation. Focus groups, however, they come together, remain an important vehicle for gleaning information, consumer likes and dislikes, and envisioning future trends. All this information helps you more clearly define your place in the industry, how your product or service compares to others and where you can refine your marketing and business plans to your best advantage.
The above information is presented for educational purposes and should not be substituted for professional business or legal counseling.