Sunday, May 22, 2011

Good Motorcycles and Bad Market Research

Equipment manufacturers, software companies, and motorcycle dealers alike can benefit from quality market research. No matter what you're selling, customer input can help you improve your business and your products. I've been thinking about this recently after my experience at a local motorcycle dealer.

A little background


Please do not sit on the bikeShopping for a motorcycle is totally different than shopping for a car.  Most motorcycle dealers don’t allow test rides.  In fact, some motorcycle dealers don’t even let potential buyers sit on new bikes (crazy!). So even though I’m not in the market for a new bike, whenever there’s an opportunity to try out different motorcycles I usually take advantage of it.

2011 Triumph ThruxtonOne of the motorcycle dealers in my area recently offered Triumph demo rides.  For demo rides,  a motorcycle manufacturer will send a truckload of 15 or 20 new models to an event for the day.  After hearing a description of the ride route and specific safety instructions, demo riders are taken out in a group with guides at the front and rear (to make sure everyone obeys the rules and doesn’t “accidentally get lost” with a new $10,000+ motorcycle).

The Saturday of the demo rides was a gorgeous 75 degree day, and I chose a Bonneville SE to ride.  It had a totally different seating position, handling, and even exhaust note from the motorcycles I normally ride. With a little more time in the saddle, I might have fallen in love!  (Hmm, maybe I am in the market for a new motorcycle after all…) While the Bonneville was great, there were things I didn’t like about the experience, but no one was around collecting feedback. Fast forward to last Monday night:

Market research caller My phone rang shortly after I got home from work. It was a representative from the dealer that hosted the demo rides and she wanted to ask me a few questions about the event.  Aha – now was my chance to provide some valuable feedback! Now don’t get me wrong - normally I don’t do phone surveys and say “I’M NOT INTERESTED” more rudely than I should (mostly because I don’t like being interrupted right after I sit down to dinner) – but I was actually happy to get the call because I had an opinion and feedback to give. She asked me just a few brief questions:
  • Which bike(s) did you ride or were you interested in?
  • On a scale of 1 to 5 how would you rate your overall experience?
  • On the same scale, how would you rate your interest in Triumph?
  • Do you currently own a motorcycle?  If so, what make/model?
That was it! I was shocked that I wasn’t asked any open-ended or qualitative questions. When I rated the overall experience just a “3,” I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t asked why. There were no questions about what I liked, what I didn’t like, or what I would change about the event.  There weren’t even any questions about how soon I would be looking to purchase a new motorcycle. I’m still trying to figure out what they were hoping to learn from the questions asked.

Here’s what I took away from the experience:


Determine what you want to measure

Make your measurements meaningful
Before forming the questions you're going to ask, identify what you want to learn, and then make sure the questions (and potential answers) support those objectives. From the few questions I was asked, I had no idea what they were hoping to find out.  If they wanted to identify what Triumph models might be popular to have in stock, they should have asked follow up questions about whether or not I liked the bike I rode. If they wanted to target potential customers, they should have asked how soon I’d be making a purchase decision.


Ask questions that give you actionable information

Make sure the questions you ask identify areas where you can take action. I was asked to rate the overall experience, but when I rated it poorly I wasn’t asked why.  If after doing all the research, they learn that the demo rides got poor ratings, they’ll have no insight on what people disliked, and no direction on what to fix first.


When you find people that are passionate about your product, keep them engaged


Engage passionate people. But not quite like this. Customer advocates are invaluable to knowing your market and shaping your products. When you do get someone who is interested and engaged, take advantage of all the time they’re willing to give.  I would have gladly answered more questions, and if asked would have made myself available for a follow-up conversation or even a focus group.
For more information on the topic of market research, check out Mike Sweeney’s post on the Marketing Trenches Blog: Market Research Without an Action Plan = Worthless Market Research.

How about you? Had any good (or bad) experiences with market research lately? How do you get feedback from the market about your products?

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