Conducting Focus Groups ---
Getting Customer Input and Feedback -
"decision-making" information is greatly improved
with the use of "customer focus groups" whether
they are your end-use customers or distributors.
Product Development - A Success Story
Associates recently completed three focus groups in the new
home construction industry for a major new construction vinyl
window manufacturer. The effort resulted in accomplishing
significant results. The client had four objectives:
the ideal product line for the New England market
market feedback to change an imbalance in production capacity
the feasibility of upgrading to a premium product line
how distributors made product selection decisions
was immediately impacted with the results during the first
group's discussion. Management saw the advantage of getting
customer input into product planning to resolve their manufacturing
capacity issue. The window manufacturer was able to develop
both the product specifications and customer features for
the upgraded line by asking basic questions, listening and
then seeking clarification.
of visual models allowed homebuilders and building material
salesmen to see the features of a premium product line as
the footprint for future product development. Touching, feeling
and critiquing current products made all the difference in
understanding how the building trade made decisions about
new construction vinyl windows.
group focused on physical features. The participants concluded
that the opportunity for vinyl windows "option kits"
was significant. It would allow the builder to create unique
designs and without changing the selection of the basic premium
vinyl window. In other words, builders told the client how
to turn a commodity item into a valued-added product line.
focus group helped the client learn that a "window protector"
made of scrap material was a tremendous tool for drywall contractors.
Another participant said, "Your product looks too new;
homeowners want products that look like they have been around
for a while." This "out-of-the-blue" statement
caused the client to question their design approach. The ease-of-maintenance
was an important buying factor, but colonial aesthetics was
a design consideration. Blended together with maintenance-free,
the window manufacturer could be in an ideal position with
a multi-functional product line.
Services - More Positive Results
Associates completed a series of focus groups for vinyl-clad
wood window manufacturer. The first focus group was composed
of ten distributors dealing new product development questions,
the second discussed product preferences and the third dealt
with negative customer service ratings from the $50.0mm multi-location
building products customer. Selected results were:
did not want a new product line to be introduced at the
national homebuilders show; distributors simply wanted very
specific product improvements to the current line. As a
manufacturer changed their strategy
The new product launch was postponed
Engineering quickly improved the current line
Marketing identified 20% in "new sales" growth
- A multi-location
distributor rated the client 12th in Customer Service, but
the client ranked 3rd in vendor purchases. The focus group
uncovered a number of resolvable issues, including ease-of-order-entry,
custom order lead-time, field service calls procedures,
shipping damage and response time on quotes. Results included:
Universal order form was developed
Electronic order entry and confirmation was instituted
Protective packaging added on the sku representing 70%
of the claims
Location and print size of sku codes were changed on
Developed a product catalog of lines available to the
assignment, the largest distributor of a wood window manufacturer
organized a joint focus group with their window supplier and
twelve new construction builders; results were:
described the "best practices" for window door
and accessories deliveries at the construction sites resulting
developed a "quick-ship" delivery program
Modified labels on "non-standard dimension"
management system to assigned order location
Separate ship schedule for window and trim accessories
door millwork issues arose that presented additional opportunities
for the distributors, resulting in:
Integrated supplier relationship program
Expanded "selected" inventory coverage
Special millwork package for door-window entry systems
Trim kits developed to solve onsite issues
Four day turnaround time for fabricated entry systems
Focus Groups Effectively - What To Do
groups are managed like any other project; they require defining
the objectives, creating a work plan, conducting the group
discussions and, most important, completing insightful analysis
and developing recommendations. There are several lessons-learned,
detailed background research on what you need to learn
from the groups. The facilitator must understand the group
participants to be able to draw out the essential information
the client needs to learn and understand.
the end-user in the design of the group so he/she can
verbalize and visualize success. This is an opportunity
to expose the end-user to the process and to discuss what
they should expect.
physical layout needs to encourage participants to feel
free to express themselves and interact with each other.
Free dialogue starts with the arrangement of chairs and
tables. Assigned seating with first-name tags can encourage
a week after the event allows the facilitator time to
think over what he/she experienced and to draw better conclusions.
It is important to leave a period-of-time for the wonderment
of focus groups to wear off.
Suggestions - Creating an Advantage
groups will uncover underlining thoughts, preferences and
perceptions that never come from quantitative studies and
surveys. The dialogue with participants, while limited to
just a few hours, is still essential to understanding the
market place and the motivation to change behavior. With these
types of discussions, you can often increase your customers'
facilitators, like Hadley Associates, know how to uncover
market data to help clients achieve their objectives. Information
is a strategic advantage, but you have to have that knowledge,
insight and know-how to develop appropriate strategies and
the principal consultant of Hadley Associates, is a Certified
Focus Group Director (CFGD); he has made a significant commitment
to professional training and development. He has over fifteen
years of extensive experience in facilitating "in-house"
groups and "customer focus groups". Focus groups
facilitated include automotive parts, building materials,
welding products, pet supplies and host of other products
to facilitating focus groups, Hadley Associates is experienced
in integrating customer requirements into the strategic planning
process, market management and coaching managers during implementation.
We are available to assist you, whether facilitating the discussion
groups or assisting you learn to facilitate yourself.