Tag Archives: focus groups

Are You Ready?

29 Mar

I ran a focus group yesterday to record product users (in this case 18 year olds) giving our product glowing endorsements.

What I captured on film instead is two of the most opinionated teenagers you’ll ever meet bashing our product.

These outspoken attendees called the product trivial, degrading, insulting.  You can hear the tension in my voice on the recording, the strain of me nodding my head and asking “explain further…” when all I wanted to do was lash back.  They’re wrong and I know it.

But it doesn’t matter what I know. Or what I think.  I seethed for hours after the focus group until I realized how naive I was to expect a love fest of a focus group.  How silly I was to think I could control the feedback they gave me for the camera.

Focus groups attract two types of people: those in it for the money, and those who want to be heard.  The second group is the only group that matters, and they’re often critical.  You’re not going to like everything they say.  The point isn’t to control their feedback.  It’s to have their feedback control what you do.


Be sure you can answer yes to all of these questions before you run a focus group:

Are you ready to listen?

Are you ready to be criticized and instead of arguing, push your retorts deep down into the pit of your stomach?

Are you ready to make changes?

Feedback is coming.  Are you ready for it?



My Pet Shrimp Named Google

14 Feb

My focus group attendees are like shy freshmen on the first day of high school.  They walk into our focus group room, immediately shuffle to the last row of seats, and avoid all eye contact.

Which is why I treat them like high schoolers.  At the start of every focus group, we all sit in a circle and introduce ourselves to the rest of the group just like on the first day of class.

But I add a little twist.

1)     As attendees enter the room, I hand them an index card and ask them to write an interesting fact about themselves on it—without including their name.

2)     Right before we start, I collect the cards and put them in a hat.

3)     When we start, I pull the cards out of the hat and read them one at a time.  After I read a fun fact, the group has to try to guess who that fact belongs to.

4)     When the owner of the fact is exposed, he has to explain the fact and what he’s looking to get out of the focus group.

The best fact I’ve heard to date: I have a pet shrimp name Google.


Part of running great focus groups is priming attendees to comfortably share their feedback.  If attendees show up but don’t talk openly and honestly, your session is a waste.  The fun fact game immediately loosens up a crowd, endearing the attendees not only to each other, but to you as well.

If an attendee can tell you about his pet shrimp, or his Chilean spear fishing championship, or how he lost his big toe, he’s ready to give you feedback on your product.

Spend a little time running the fun facts game at the beginning of your sessions.  You’ll get better feedback during the rest of the session, and attendees will always remember the fun game they played in your focus group.

Money Is Like Honey. It Attracts Every Bear.

30 Jan

If you’re trying to seed the market for sales reps.  If you’re trying to introduce big potential customers to your brand by setting up product trials and reviews.  Then incentivize those people with money.

Money is like honey; it’ll lure the big bears to climb your tree. 


But if learning is what you’re after.  If you’re really interested in feedback that will improve your product.  Then find customers who will try your product or attend your focus group for free.  Seek out those consumers that care enough about what you do that they’re willing to give up their time at no cost to make your product better.

The best feedback comes from those that don’t need to be paid to give it. 

If making a big sale is all you’re after, attract the big bears with lots of honey.  But if knowledge is your goal, often times the most important incentive is no incentive at all.

My Biggest Fear…No One Shows Up.

16 Jan

Most of us worry that we’ll be stood up on a first date.  Some of us are afraid that no one will show up at our funeral.  I tremble when I think of no one showing up for my focus groups.

Before running my first focus groups, I feared that every participant who RSVP’d would stand me up.  I imagined an immaculate (but empty) conference room, pens and notepads perfectly arranged at every seat around the table, condensation dripping from completely full carafes of water because no one was there to drink them.  My colleagues would shake their heads at me in disappointment.  A ton of time and money would be wasted.  These thoughts kept me up at night.

I never had an entirely empty conference room, but in the beginning, attendance fluctuated.  I was never sure participants would actually come to the session.

Recently however, I’ve tweaked my focus groups in a very slight way that has stabilized attendance and has made my life much less stressful.

Now, before focus groups, I send out an online survey through SurveyMonkey and require attendees to complete it.  Not only does the survey give us great background information on our participants, but it greatly increases attendance.  Why?

1)      After completing the survey, the focus group is no longer a nebulous session that participants committed to in the spur of the moment but can blow off–it’s an actual event that we’re counting on them for.  They haven’t truly committed to coming until they fill out the survey.

2)      The survey shows attendees just how serious we are about getting their feedback.  The survey sets a professional and productive tone, which leads to higher attendance.

3)      If someone doesn’t fill out the survey, it’s unlikely that they’re going to follow through and actually show up.  I can then send out more invitations to fill their spot without worrying about overbooking.

Before any event in which you’re relying on customers you don’t know personally or can’t 100% trust to show up, ask them to complete some kind of pre-event action.  Fill out a survey, submit a pre-session question, anything.  It will strengthen their commitment to attend and weed out anyone who wasn’t going to show up in the first place.

conference room 2

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