Knowing what’s going on in your customers’ world and in your competitors’ world is crucial to success in business. How can you stay on top of your market research, both today and in the future? Here are a few tips.

=> Know What Kind of Data You Need

For some businesses, such as an internet start-up, knowing how customers are reacting to their service is often the most important thing.

For a branding campaign, knowing the target demographic is often the most important thing.

For retail, knowing your competitors’ pricing and business strategy is often the most crucial thing.

Before you start gathering market data, it’s important to figure out exactly what data you need. Otherwise you risk spending needless time, energy and money on acquiring data that won’t really impact your bottom line.

=> Quantitative versus Qualitative Data

There are two primary kinds of data you can gather: quantitative data and qualitative data.

Quantitative data is numbers-based data. It’s how many people are coming to your website and how many are going to your competitor’s. It’s the average score of a 5-star customer satisfaction rating system. Basically, any kind of numerical data can generally be considered quantitative data.

Qualitative data is more “felt sense” data. It’s when you look over your customer’s shoulder to see how they use your service. It’s when you ask someone to tell you their impression of your business or your competitor’s business, then combine what they say with what ten other people say to get a good picture of what the whole market thinks of your service.

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Both these kinds of research are crucial. You need to be conducting quantitative data research on an almost daily basis, tracking your key metrics at all times. Conduct qualitative data research like study groups or surveys at least every six months.

=> Spying on Competitors

There are many ways you can now spy on your competitors.

For one, become a fan of their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter to see their latest announcements.

Also take a look at their stats on SpyFu.com and Compete.com. This will give you a rough estimate of their traffic, what their sources of traffic are and what kind of keywords they rank for.

If you’re competing with a public company or a company that’s held by a public company, look up their annual reports on 10kwizard.com or buy a couple shares to get their annual reports and other company updates.

Market research isn’t something that you can just do once and forget about. Customers change, markets change and your competitors change. It’s your job to adapt to the changing circumstances and deliver an even better customer service experience today than yesterday.