The idea of focus group engagement in business is to put customers in an interactive experience that exposes them to your business idea. It’s a moderated session that gathers feedback, opinions, and criticisms based on questions or activities that you create. If well executed, this strategy can provide you a return of invaluable insight and help guide decisions on if and how to approach your new business or launch your new product.
Your primary goal is to know whether your new business idea will click to your customers and if it will keep you going. You can start from this goal to guide you in your further actions.
Your next priority would be considering who should be involved. You want to be able to identify underlying similarities among the group, but some diversity will allow for insightful and contrasting opinions. When thinking of people to invite, aim for a group of at least 5 to 10 with different demographic profiles and variables for this can ensure that you can strike up a lively conversation. The keyword here is conversation, not debate. Try recruiting participants for free through social media channels or community boards. It is also better to have people who don’t know each other.
What questions should you ask?
Lastly, be very thoughtful about the questions you pose to your focus group. These questions must incite conversation and, ultimately, give you the validation you’re looking for.
Here are some traits of effective questions:
- Open-ended. You don’t want the conversation to fizzle with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This will not produce great ideas and will just give you countless nods and head shakes.
- Clear and Concise. You don’t want participants to hesitate sharing their thoughts because their confused about what you’re asking. Remember to Keep It Short and Simple.
- Realistic and Relevant. The conversation should be natural if you want the group to feel comfortable sharing their feedback openly.
- Focused around one thought or goal. Venturing with many branches of ideas can confuse the participants and lead them away from the primary concept which will make it harder for you to synthesize.
The order of your questions can also influence the outcome, so run a test session on family, friends or partners to capture some quick feedback. Allow for 15 to 20 minutes of discussion per question, so plan for eight questions that will get you the validation you’re looking for.
Focus Group Session Proper
After recruiting an eager group of participants and when you already feel confident about your plan, then it’s time to start things up!
Here are some tips to help you out:
- Choose a location that’s comfortable and conveys a feeling of openness. Provide light snacks and water to keep participants as focused as possible while you have them. If the location allows, seat participants around a circular table for easier flow of conversation.
- Ask participants to show up at least 15 minutes before start time so that your session can begin in a timely manner.
- Use the buddy system. Bring along a friend or partner you can trust to take thorough notes. These will be what you revisit and analyze. If you’re able to record the session, do that as well.
- Arm yourself with tactics to steer the conversation when it gets off course.
One thing to be especially aware of is a phenomenon where other participants just goes with the flow. This usually happens when one enthusiastic participant offers an opinion and the rest of the group then adopts as their own because they don’t want to be seen as a detractor. In some cases, great ideas can come from participants building off one another, but make sure it doesn’t get in the way of absorbing valuable differing opinions.
There are a few things you can do to avoid this. Give participants an assignment a week prior to the session to give them an opportunity to form opinions before hearing others. In the same vein, it helps to ask participants to write down some of their answers during the session that you can then collect and use to steer the conversation. And finally, when you already see this happening, try challenging the group with the opposite assumption and see where it goes.
Using the Results for your Advantage
Make sure you have fully documented the highlights of the session afterwards. Consider recording the focus group to avoid missing any important idea. This will allow you to transcribe the session and more easily draw valuable insights.
After doing this, you can start categorizing the ideas. Then you can start generalizing to have the whole picture of your findings. Now, you should be able to have a fruitful conclusion that will help you with your next actions.