5 Steps to Leveraging Focus Groups and Customer Interviews for Business Growth

paper on eisel with group of people meeting in the background
In today’s ever-evolving market landscape, understanding your customer base inside and out is more important than ever. No matter how strong your relationship is with your customers, or how much you think you already know about them and their problems/needs/wants, the market changes… and so do people!

It’s important to stay ahead of those changes by consistently organizing and facilitating focus groups or customer interviews.

It turns out, you can learn a lot about your customers just by talking to them.

So, how do you get started?

1. First, let’s break down the difference between focus groups and customer interviews:

Focus groups
Focus groups are typically small groups (we recommend around ~6 people per focus group) brought together by a facilitator who guides them through a discussion around a series of questions.

Not only do facilitators listen to the actual answers and comments made by the participants, but they look at their behaviors, the group dynamic, and other non-verbal communication. The group setting encourages dynamic discussions, with participants feeding off each other’s ideas, leading to a richer understanding of customer perspectives.

Focus groups are great for testing new business, product or service ideas, and gaining in-depth information on perceptions, insights, attitudes, experiences, or beliefs by a group of people. The biggest limitation with focus groups are usually time and resources, as they require planning logistics, coordinating schedules, and facilitating in realtime.

Customer interviews
Customer interviews, which we typically do one-on-one, are similar to focus groups, but rather than facilitating a discussion with a group of people, a facilitator (or an interviewer) is asking questions and facilitating discussion with one customer at a time.

One-on-one customer interviews are great for digging deeper into how the customer feels about their experience with your product or service, and can be an effective way to identify new or unaddressed urgent and expensive problems. These interviews can uncover nuanced insights about individual customer experiences and pain points that might not surface in a group setting.

Similar to focus groups, one-on-one customer interviews are time-intensive and require scheduling and coordination with the customer.

Check out our blog post ‘How Customer Feedback Can Unlock Growth for Your Service-Based Business’ to learn more about how surveys, focus groups, and customer interviews can unlock growth opportunities for your business.

2. From there, you need to define what you are trying to accomplish with your focus group or customer interviews

We recommend establishing a set of goals to ensure that your focus group or customer interviews will provide the insights you need to achieve your desired outcomes.

Start by clarifying your overarching purpose (even if it’s broad):

  • Are you seeking feedback on a specific product or service?
  • Do you want to understand customer satisfaction levels?
  • Are you exploring potential pain points or areas for improvement?

Based on your overarching purpose, brainstorm a list of key questions or themes that you want to explore during the session. Then, transform the purpose and key questions into specific, measurable objectives.

What specific insights do you hope to gain? For example, you might aim to uncover customer preferences, identify barriers to purchase, or gauge reactions to a new marketing campaign. Make sure these objectives are realistic and achievable within the scope of the focus group or interview.

3. Then create your plan!

Develop a plan outlining how you will achieve each goal during the focus group or interview, and be sure to include:

  • Your target audience – identify your target audience, including how many people you want to talk to, and how large your focus group should be in order to gain enough insight
  • An agenda – establish an agenda to guide each session, including your initial set of questions
  • Logistics – whether you are hosting an in-person focus group or a virtual customer interview, you’ll want to nail down the logistics (date, time, location, etc.)
person speaking in front of group of people at meeting

4. Get talking – coordinate and facilitate your focus groups or interviews

These experiences are extra important because they are a reflection of your brand. It’s critical to show up on time and create a positive experience for your customers.

Don’t forget things like:

  • Setting up the room beforehand
  • Refreshments, notepads, pens
  • Handouts or other collateral materials you plan to review
  • Nametags
  • Recording devices and A/V equipment

We typically like to have two people in each session, one person to facilitate without distractions, and one person to take notes and capture non-verbal cues, etc.

After each focus group or interview, evaluate the extent to which your objectives were met and use feedback to refine your approach for future sessions.

5. Leverage your findings for business growth

Knowledge is power. Both focus groups and customer interviews provide a platform for customers to voice their opinions, preferences, and experiences, giving you a clearer picture of what drives their decisions (whether they are in your favor or not).

The more you know about your customers and their preferences, the more you can tailor your business, marketing, and growth strategies in alignment with them.

For example: OTM hosted a series of focus groups for one of our clients at the tail end of 2023, and our goal was to use the findings from those focus groups to shape our 2024 marketing strategy.

One of the things we uncovered was that almost NONE of the customers understood how the company’s annual fundraising campaign worked, despite it being a primary factor in generating customer loyalty and something the company invested a lot of time and resources in each year.

Once we knew that there was a gap in understanding, we could create a plan for improving how we communicate about the fundraising campaign, ultimately increasing our overall effectiveness and driving customer loyalty.

From your findings, you should be able to leverage valuable insights to drive informed decision-making and enhance customer experiences.

Consider how your findings impact the following:

  • Your understanding of your customer journey
  • Your brand messaging and identity
  • Your value propositions and competitive advantage

Consider Refreshing Your Marketing Strategy based on the information you collected throughout this process, and create a roadmap for how you plan to incorporate all of your findings into your various business activities.

Don’t have a marketing strategy to begin with?

If you don’t already have a marketing strategy or plan, check out the OTM Path to Growth® our process that guides clients through a series of collaborative exercises to analyze your business and marketing strategy, understand your customer’s behaviors, and ultimately position your brand competitively within your industry.

Still unsure of what path you’d like to take?

Schedule a 20-minute meeting with our CEO, Miles, to learn more about how we can help you navigate growing your business.