As a business owner, your most important resource is your customers. You need to know who you’re selling to with precision, and with quantifiable data. With a proper understanding of who’s buying your products and services, you can build a model of your target customers and make sure your decision-making process is optimised to appeal to them, whether that’s expressed through your advertising, your marketing (where that advertising is seen, from picking the right newspaper for print adverts, the right online inventory for digital ads and the right channel and timeslot for broadcasting), and your product design.

When you know who your customers are, what they value and what they respond to, you can start to make more subtle changes that can have a real effect on your bottom line. Even tuning the wording your customer service staff use when they pick up the phone to one that’s more likely to appeal to your core customers could make the difference between a lost sale and a happy, retained customer. This is why gathering customer insight is so vital.

While there’s some research you can do for yourself, working with a market research agency is a big advantage here. They don’t just have more sophisticated data gathering techniques and a wider reach than you, they’re also experts at interpreting that data and turning into actionable points that you can really use to make changes to your business.

You can survey your existing customers yourself, with varying degrees of effectiveness. Emailing your subscribers, including a paper survey with receipts and invoices or distributing a link to an online survey you’ve created will yield some results, maybe more if take care to ensure you’re not asking too much of busy people and provide some kind of incentive.

A market research company can reach your customers and, crucially, people who don’t shop with you. Finding out what people don’t choose you is just as important and can lead to even more breakthroughs.

More sophisticated techniques can track customer’s behaviour and activity on your website, noting the pages they arrive on, how long they spend there and following their journey across your site to see how many end in a sale. Once again, this information lets you remake your site so the customer experience is weighted more heavily in favour of what the customers values and needs in order to make a sale. This will boost your profits and get you more repeat customers as their experience becomes frictionless!