Several people of various races, ages and genders sit in a circle of chairs. They are all holding slim black binders. A woman stands behind the group with a clipboard. The camera's focus is on an older man with a white beard and dark mustache who is speaking and gesturing with one hand.
To keep discussion flowing during your focus group, ask open-ended questions and be sure to follow up for additional details. — Getty Images/SDI Productions

A well-executed focus group provides feedback and complements customer survey methods. It brings six to 12 people together, either in a room or online. A moderator encourages discussion by asking questions and listening to answers. The meeting typically lasts 30 to 90 minutes and provides insights about your subject matter, such as a marketing campaign, business concept or service.

Use qualitative research to improve your approach to marketing, product development and customer support services. Take these steps to create a focus group and gather feedback.

Determine the scope of your focus group

There are several reasons why businesses use focus groups. Often, leaders notice a problem when reviewing customer feedback and want more details about it. You can also use the focus group method to test marketing, product development or startup business ideas. Define your reasons, goals and topic, then decide if you'll meet in person or online.

Choose discussion prompts

Equip your moderator with a list of questions for gathering information. Keep the conversation flowing by avoiding yes or no questions. Instead, begin your prompt with terms like what, how and why. Plus, have a plan ready for following up or digging deeper into specific answers.

Develop discussion prompts for categories, such as:

  • Introductory: Set the tone for your focus group by asking people if they're familiar with the product or brand and how they heard about it.
  • Competitor info: Invite participants to mention brands that come to mind and discover how your company compares to the competition.
  • Issues or concerns: Dig into your topic's negative aspects and key weaknesses. Do they deter people from buying from your company?
  • Highlights: Explore the strengths of a product, service or campaign and ask the group what aspects motivate them to purchase or use it.
  • Usage: Discover how people use your products, how much they're willing to pay and if they'll buy them more or less in the upcoming year.
  • Exit: Ask your group to bring up anything that hasn't been addressed or fill in gaps from specific answers.

[Read more: How to Conduct Market Research to Better Understand Your Customers]

Select participants for your focus group

Purposive or convenience sampling is when you choose people you believe will offer the most insights and be a good fit for the focus group. Picking names out of a hat for a focus group can lead to problems with group dynamics. In contrast, randomizing quantitative research like surveys makes sense because you're gathering many responses at once. Your selections should have similar backgrounds or experiences. You may segment groups according to educational attainment or demographics as well.

A focus group is only as fruitful as your recording method.

Pick a moderator

Your moderator is a neutral leader who guides group discussions. They should understand your industry, products and customers. Focus group moderators also need social skills to comprehend body language and word choices.

A moderator should know how to:

  • Engage quiet participants.
  • Actively listen to individual and group responses.
  • Create an inclusive, open space where people can speak freely.
  • Allow the natural flow of a discussion while keeping it on track.
  • Vary the question types and keep people engaged.
  • Avoid biased wording and keep questions neutral.

Set up the reporting structure

A focus group is only as fruitful as your recording method. Your moderator simply can't take comprehensive notes while engaging with participants. Likewise, a dedicated note taker may miss minor voice inflection changes or critical information during a fast discussion between several people.

Get the most from your focus group by recording the audio and video during your in-person or online session. In addition, ask your note taker to leave comments about facial expressions and other body languages during the meeting.

Handle legal and practical matters

Develop a short intake form for your focus group. It gives your business permission to record the meeting and use the information gathered. Your consent form can also provide some background on your company and topic while ensuring participants that you respect their privacy. You can use Google, Jotform or Typeform to create an online consent form.

Here are a few items to include:

  • Contact information for your business and the person in charge of the focus group.
  • Questions for the participant's demographic information, such as age and location.
  • Participant contact details, including their names, phone numbers and email addresses.
  • The group's purpose and how you'll use the data.
  • A confidentiality and privacy statement.

[Read more: Need Some Feedback? How to Conduct Customer Interviews and Focus Groups]

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