Market research, which was traditionally outsourced to specialist firms, is now being carried out more and more in house. As well as market research software, businesses have a whole range of other market analysis tools they can use to carry out this task, which we will explore in this article.
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Small to medium enterprises in Canada operate in a busy marketplace. Statistics Canada says that small businesses (1-99 employees) alone make up 98.1% of all employer businesses as of 2022, while small and medium businesses combined (1-499 employees) employ nearly 85% of the total workforce.
And despite the difficulties of the pandemic, SMEs have managed to prosper. A Scotiabank report from late 2021 revealed that 75% of net job growth since April 2020 has been at firms with less than 100 employees.
With SMEs in Canada keen to make their presence felt, it is important to understand your market, where you fit, and what your potential buyers want. In the past, this meant hiring a specialist agency to conduct market research for you, and was typically only within reach of the largest firms. Today, however, there are many software tools that are not only affordable, but feature-rich and highly capable.
Here, we cover the most important market research tools for SMEs, as well as software to turn research insight into action. All the tools featured include cloud-based options, which require no installation and no commitment. You can try them out, often for free, then pay for them on a rolling monthly basis, making them perfect for small businesses that want a quick solution without committing large amounts of cash upfront.
Defining and getting to know your market
Whatever product or service your SME offers, you can’t sell it to everyone all the time. Understanding what market segments are likely to buy your services and under what circumstances means you can target your sales and marketing more effectively. Most businesses have a good idea of who their audience is, but having reliable data is better. It can either confirm what you already know, or it will provide new insights that help you change the way you sell.
Market research software is a great place to start. These packages automate many of the functions that a traditional market research agency would carry out and put them in the hands of an SME. They help you design and run surveys and focus groups that provide you with the data you need. The software simplifies these complex processes into a single interface, which often includes questionnaire design, frequently used questions, panel invitations, data gathering and export, and a member database. You can then use the data to develop your products and marketing strategies.
As well as understanding potential buyers, it is useful to understand your competitors to see how you can differentiate your offering. Competitive intelligence software provides you with actionable data on other SMEs who operate in your markets. The software typically has data mining, web monitoring, and reporting features, which uncover and track your competitor’s offerings and provide you with up-to-date information.
Turning insight into action
Understanding your market and your competitors should help you uncover your niche and define how you bring your offerings to market. Now you know the what, where, when, and who, you can focus on the how— namely how you’re going to market and sell your products.
Marketing planning software comes into its own here. As its name suggests, it allows businesses to plan their marketing campaigns, helping them to outline strategies, track budgets, set goals, and report on progress. The software is particularly useful for complex or international marketing strategies that use multiple marketing channels, multiple languages, and different product offerings in different parts of the world.
A crucial tool for converting potential customers is buyer intent software. This helps SMEs understand how likely a buyer is to make a purchase, so the business can decide exactly what marketing tactics to employ (if any). The software uses customer journey mapping, helping you understand how buyers arrive at your site (through search, paid advertising, or social media, for example) and how they navigate around your page. It can then use predictive analytics to provide personalized content for a prospect based on how likely that prospect is to buy something on that particular visit.
For SMEs that are interested in a more holistic approach, customer relationship management (CRM) software lets you manage all interactions with a customer, starting from the first point of contact and continuing post-sale as they become a regular buyer. This type of software generally includes a database of all customers, including the interactions they have had with you via social media, email, phone, or through a purchase. It also lets you manage communication with customers and reminds your employees when to contact them, such as when their subscription is up for renewal.
Tracking your progress
As your business grows, it is important to monitor your sales and marketing strategies to understand what’s working and how you could improve.
Survey software can be as useful post-sale as it is pre-sale. Periodically surveying your customers to understand their needs helps keep your offering fresh and relevant, and can provide you with insights into competitors you didn’t know about, since customers often look at the market from a different perspective to businesses. With survey software you can design surveys, attract participants, analyze the results, and package up the key findings to share within your business. One particularly useful feature of most survey software is a question library, which may provide you with ideas for questions you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. The best packages will allow you to distribute surveys through email or social media to get the responses you need. Many also help you manage your budget, should you decide to compensate participants for their time.
As well as asking your present and former customers what they think about your business, there are tools that tell you what people are saying about your brand on the wider internet. Social listening tools, as their name suggests, help you monitor channels all over the web to track conversations about you, your competitors, and the markets you operate in. They provide sentiment analysis to give you an overview of how people feel about your brand, and data visualization, so you can see and share information at a glance. They don’t just cover social media either —many also allow you to oversee forums, review platforms, and blogs.
Reputation management software is related to social listening tools and has many of the same features, but tends to feature more advanced capabilities powered by machine learning or artificial intelligence. The deep insight these tools provide assist SMEs and their marketers in measuring customers’ reactions to their campaigns and planning future strategy.
Market research for SMEs need not be expensive or time-consuming. With the tools outlined in this article, you can automate much of your market research, go-to-market activity, and performance tracking with affordable, user-friendly solutions. Your customers are out there, and your competitors aren’t hanging around, so there’s no better time to start.
Note: The applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.