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Focus group feedback.

Most software developers place a high value on customer feedback, says

Priscilla Tate-Austin, but too often they overlook an important "reality testing" technique: the focus group. Tate-Austin (who recently started a firm that organizes corporate hardware and software evaluation events) argues that a well-run focus group can help define "what the product evokes in the customer" and "what wish-list features should be added to make it easier to sell."

We asked Tate-Austin for advice on how to get the most out of focus group research. Her answerer

Emphasize product features. "Traditional advertising focus groups are usually designed to test the consumer's first reaction to an ad or a package design," Tate-Austin notes. "The computer industry is much more product- and feature-oriented, which means more time should be spent on in-depth demonstrations and hands-on experience." Focus group attendees should be given copies of spec sheets, she adds, and the moderator should be knowledgeable enough to field questions about compatibility and other technical issues.

Invite the right people. "one of the most important things a focus group can do is test your idea of who the market is," she says. Rather than select attendees at random, Tate-Austin says it's often better to invite a hand-picked group--eight or ten micro managers, say, or a panel of users from the financial services industry. "All of a sudden, you're going to find these people agree about things they might not even think about in a one-on-one session. It's almost a mob mentality.'

Listen for marketing feedback. Focus groups can provide useful insights about customer buying patterns as well as product features, Tate-Austin says. "if you ask a corporate group what they think about a coupon offer, they'll probably tell you it's a terrible idea, because people in large companies usually don't have any way to process discount coupons."

Separate selling from research. Focus group events often attract major volume buyers, but Tate-Austin says sponsors should resist the temptation to tack on a sales presentation. "If a vendor stands up and shows off his product, people are going to be too polite. They won't want to hurt your feelings by saying anything negative.' To get the most candid response, she suggests, company representatives shouldn't even be present; instead, it's best to hire an independent moderator who can "take the heat" from hostile critics.
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Title Annotation:marketing
Date:Jun 15, 1989
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