Research is underexplored for collaboration. There are several reasons. Research is likely to be costly in time and money. Collaboration means sharing such costs. Persuading competitors to invest may be difficult. But there is a lot to do together at minimal or no cost.
Another reason is belief in keeping your research from your competitors. But confidentiality may not be so important for research into your market and its needs. Knowledge of your market’s needs allows you to develop your own response to them.
What to Research
Here are two areas for research. There are other opportunities for research collaboration but these two seem fundamental and I see little reason not to share these costs.
First, research into your market. Who are they? Where can we find them? Their habits and worldviews. Many business owners are vague about their market and so good quality information is really valuable. The more you know about your market, the more likely you are to find a niche that positions your business away from your competitors.
The second area is needs analysis. What is a need? Define what is ideal for your market. What do they want? Then compare the ideal with reality, as your market experiences it. What do they need to move from reality towards the ideal? The market defines the ideal, while you offer what they need. What assistance do they need?
It is possible the research you need is already in the public domain. It may need interpretation and gaps may need filling but why spend time actively researching when you can meet your needs through desk work?
Get together with competitors and compare notes. What do you need to know and what do you already know? Go beyond assertions based on belief. Does anyone have evidence? As you talk, take note of the main areas where you need research or to verify information.
Then give everyone a topic and ask them to research it online. Meet later to share results. Then decide whether you need further research.
Surveys and Questionnaires
This is perhaps the easiest research to do together. Use an application such as Survey Monkey. It helps if someone among you knows about survey design. Also consider the time to devote to analysing responses. Tick box answers are fairly easy to collate. Answers in prose take much longer!
Ask your lists to answer the survey. Each business mails their own list. You may have social media options too. This is an effective way to get reasonably reliable results, if you all put the survey in front of relevant people.
Analysis of results takes far longer than you think. If someone volunteers, consider paying. The results may be immensely valuable to all concerned but getting them into a usable format is a chore.
Finally, ask someone to do research for you. The drawback here is costs. However, if you have pooled knowledge and know what you need, investing in professional research may not be so daunting. I don’t expect most small businesses follow this route but with collaboration and shared costs it may be realistic for a few businesses who wouldn’t otherwise consider it.
If you collaborate over deepening understanding of your market, then there may be scope for further collaboration for marketing. Next time I’ll look at how to pool resources for marketing to prospects who are not aware of their problem.