How do you make decisions in your business? What do you base decisions on? If you really analyse yourself you might find that you base your decisions, some of them pretty important, even fundamental ones on a range of beliefs and attitudes driven by past experience, stories you’ve heard and things you’ve read (like this article). We have no other choice really but it is the quality and reliability of that experience that can make a big difference. If you are basing decision making on beliefs founded on limited personal experience, limited group experience or third hand experiences you are missing the real opportunity to learn from the people who have the answers, your customers.
Ask your customers
Is the way we are doing this right? Does doing it at all make sense? How will people respond to my new service idea? How much should I charge for this? If these are questions that run through your mind then don’t forget that you are allowed to ask your customers. There are no rules against it.
When you have liberated yourself by adopting a market orientation and managed to point your organisation in the same direction you may find yourself with a new issue to overcome. Having previously made decisions based purely on experience and your assumptions about what customers want you are left in the dark. All is not lost. In fact you are about to gain a great deal. Replace the beliefs you had in the past about what your customers want with evidence based on actually asking them. It sounds too simple. It must be a trick right?! It’s not a trick. However, it isn’t as easy as it sounds to get it right and there are ways that work better and ways that don’t but when done well, market research provides a lot of answers that will help you build your marketing strategy, design your product and at times dodge the bullet of a great idea that won’t work in reality.
The truth about pharmacy
It is timely that this article has come about. We are in the middle of some market research at the moment for a pharmacy client that is looking at a specific idea they have had and how the market might respond to it. We are helping them understand that response, shape their idea and eventually their new product (a national first as far as we know) with real data gathered from real customers. Obviously there are limitations to any research and every technique has it’s downsides but being aware of those helps to mitigate them and doing some research is a far more robust way to make decisions that not doing some research.
We can’t share what we’ve learnt about the specific product but we can share a couple of fundamentals that we have learnt or re-learnt about pharmacy. Some qualitative truths (albeit based on a small sample size) that surprised us all.
People who use medicines trust pharmacists to provide reliable advice and really value that advice – Restricted access to other sources of advice, confusing messages in the media and trust in the pharmacist all combine to make the seemingly simple service pharmacists provide really important to people.
In a world where access to healthcare is becoming ever more pressured the immediate access via pharmacy is still widely appreciated and so is the immediate response they deliver. It is an idea that is wheeled out whenever anyone asks ‘What’s special about pharmacy?’ but one that the profession seem to be unable to harness to their benefit in a tangible way. People value not just immediate access but immediate response which really is rare in healthcare. Whether immediate access actually does the pharmacy profession damage in the long run and causes people to devalue that which they can get hold of easily is different question for a different day.
How did we find these answers?
Market research is not rocket science although you do need to think carefully about what you want to know and aim to avoid prejudicing the outcomes by the way in which you enquire. Research can be split firstly into Primary and Secondary. Start with secondary, that is rapidly gathering publicly available information about your line of enquiry that will give you a broad steer about whether your idea has legs or not. In pharmacy you might look at the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment or Health and Wellbeing Board Strategy for example. Using this approach you can assess whether it is worth the time and effort of primary research over a period of hours. In other healthcare professions there are similar sources of secondary evidence.
Move onto primary research and start by gathering qualitative data by speaking to a smaller sample of people directly. You could hold a focus group with your customers and perhaps speak to other stakeholders who may have an interest in your idea. This will give you some understanding of what issues matter to people. Your next step is to delve deeper by gathering quantitative data from a larger sample of people. This can be done in a number of ways, the simplest of which is a survey. The tools are there and user friendly so get going.
The real challenge is what to ask. This will tax you if you do it properly. Start with what you need to know and work backwards to determine the questions that will give you the answers. Consider which people have the answers. There may be some that have very different views that are also useful.
There are a lot of demands on your time. Market research will seem like the long way round to some. To others is will seem essential to help them make better decisions. You can often gather a lot of information that is useful in developing your marketing strategy.