In the 1990's I did some consulting with a dot com start-up. The company described themselves as a Employee Discount Portal and marketed their service as an employee benefit to employers who would make the service available, free of charge, to employees who could purchase everything from books to electronics - at a discount. This particular company did not succeed but similar companies in this space are still around today.
One morning I observed an interesting interaction between the company's CEO and one of the company's software developers. The CEO noticed a package on the developer's desk from a competing dot com. The software developer had bought some merchandise from another e-retailer as opposed to using his own company's service where the merchandise was also available.
This irked the CEO who questioned why the developer did not buy the goods from their own site. It was an uncomfortable exchange.
But my curiosity was peeked. So, with the help of the company's CMO, we did some informal polling and found that very few of the 100+ company employees logged on to their company's web site let alone purchased anything from it. The general consensus was the site was too cumbersome and confusing to navigate (it was).
Ever since, I have always been curious about whether or not web-based companies actually use their own site. For some companies this is not a relevant question. If you manage a job board for nurses it is unlikely you'll be hiring any nurses yourself. But for most HR technology vendors, it is a very relevant and important question.
Using your own site has a lot of benefits. You learn about bugs before customers find them. Many of your UI improvements and other site enhancements will come from your own employees. But most importantly, using your own site gives you a shared experience with your customers and allows you to better discuss the benefits of your site with potential customers.
I'll give you can example. Just the other day, an HRmarketer Services client asked if I knew of any email lists they could rent that would target VPs in the industries of retail and finance. I logged into their HRmarketer.com account, went to the media outlets database and did a search for media outlets in the industries of retail and finance who rent their subscriber lists. I got 16 results and quickly assembled a report for the client with the name of each outlet, readership demographics, list rental contact information and prices. This entire process took me a few minutes. During this process I found a typo and a usability improvement that I will recommend to our developers. But more important, I realized that using HRmarketer.com to find these list rental sources saved the client at a minimum a full day or two of research (most marketing/pr agencies would have charged hundreds if not thousands of dollars for such a task) . This is a great story and I will share this story with prospects when discussing the value of our product and how it is used to solve real business/marketing problems - in this case, how to find targeted email lists.
I once read an article about a CEO of a very successful consumer products company who visited a supermarket once a week - incognito - to observe the purchasing behavior of consumers. If they took his company's product off the shelf, he would ask them why they liked it compared to a competing product. If the consumer chose a competing product he would ask them why they liked it.
If you work for a web-based HR technology company, this type of research is difficult to conduct. The closest you can get to duplicating this is to attend trade shows and interact - incognito - with HR suppliers who may be standing at a competitor's booth and ask them questions about why they like such-and-such a product - or stand at your own booth and ask these questions. Trust me, you'll get better information than you will from any market research report.
But the next best thing is to experience your own products and services.
Posted by Mark Willaman
Labels: market research, usability