In a previous post I talked about how MakeStickers.com used a focus group to learn what people think about our custom stickers, as well as the stickers from other places. Here are a few tips to make sure your focus group is successful.
1. Don't let them know who you are
You might be tempted to bring people into your company's office, or use your customers as a recruiting pool, but you risk missing a lot. Don't get me wrong, you should always be getting feedback from customers, but the whole point of this exercise is to understand how people perceive your product compared to your competition.
In any populated area you can find a company that provides facilities for focus groups as well as a pool of subjects to use. That's exactly what we paid a few thousand dollars for - a facility and staff to recruit and pay participants. When people came in, I just introduced myself as "Adam" and told them we'd be talking about stickers today. For all they knew, I was just a guy who worked at the focus group place. Which, by the way, is a great option to use if you have money available but nobody who feels they can facilitate a focus group. Most of these places will provide a facilitator for a (rather large) fee.
2. Do at least two sessions
It adds to the cost and time, but trust me, you can't risk only having one session. At the very least having multiple sessions is an insurance policy for when something devastating happens in the session. Suppose one of the participants in your group has very strong views and is very vocal. They could dramatically change the feedback you'll get from people. Any time there is a group dynamic, you must have at least two sessions.
Just to give a small example of what happens, I wanted to start out each session with a simple question that anyone could easily answer - just an ice-breaker to introduce the topic. So I asked, "Who here has ever had a bumper sticker on their car?" Now, I knew from the screener survey that at least half of the people indicated they did have a sticker. So how many people do you think raised their hand? None. That's right, they all sat there and looked at me like I just asked "When did you stop beating your wife?"
In the second group, I asked the same question, and hands flew up. People went on and on about their stickers - sports teams, school clubs, etc. It was a completely different response from the first group, and I don't have a clue why. That's how it is with group dynamics, sometimes (oftentimes) there's no straightforward explanation for how things go.
3. Start with an individual survey
Group discussions are great, but you want to be sure you get each individual's opinion before it gets changed or suppressed by the loudmouth in the room who tells everyone how it really is. We did a written survey before the group discussion. An added bonus to this is that everyone is well-prepared to answer your questions because they just finished writing down what they think. It's a great tool to use to get the quiet ones to speak. Just ask "So, Kim, what did you say was your favorite sticker?" She just wrote down her answer a minute ago, so she can't say "I'm not sure."