7 Reasons to Hire a Professional Focus Group Moderator

JugglerMany client-side researchers find themselves pressured to conduct all of their brand’s research in-house. Social media tracking, survey design and analysis and customer satisfaction tracking can be successful hands-on activities for talented corporate insights professionals. Why not bring focus groups completely in-house as well?

Usually this question doesn’t come from those insights team members or even marketing leaders who have watched and used the recommendations from focus groups run by professional facilitators. It comes from higher ups who may have sat in on a few well-run groups and figure “how hard could it be”?

So for those tasked with new product concept testing, usability research or brand strategy research, following is a list of 7 reasons you should hire a professional focus group moderator.

1. Experienced focus group moderators have tools to handle difficult group dynamics.

Groups of people who come together for focus groups can be challenging. A moderator has to read the situation and the people involved to stop problems before they start. Conflicts between people, dominant personalities, those who say nothing, self-appointed experts—chances are a professional facilitator has encountered it. You only have an hour or two to walk complete strangers through all the stages of group dynamics. A failed group means money wasted and insights left ungathered.

2. Your knowledge of your business shuts focus groups down.

As a market researcher inside a company, you know the day to day lingo, products, problems and politics. Focus groups, on the other hand, contain buyers and prospects with wide varieties of knowledge. If even the look on your face gives away that you are an expert when listening to the half-truths and assumptions those in the group discuss, it just won’t work. People share information in order to fill a void. If that knowledge base is already represented by you, the group members will shut down.

3. It’s not personal for a focus group moderator.

Even if you have a poker face when it comes to facts, you may get pulled in by emotions in the groups. A moderator does get paid by the client, but doesn’t work day in and day out with the people who designed the products and developed the brand. So it’s easier for a pro focus group facilitator to not react if someone in the group shares strongly felt praise or contempt for the brand that represents your bread and butter.

4. Facilitating focus groups is like walking, chewing gum and juggling at the same time.

Moderating focus groups requires often disparate skills. These include processing large amounts of background information, improvising when a line of planned questioning needs to change, ideally a sense of humor and the ability to pull all the insights together into recommendations for action.

5. You’re too close to the project (that could mean missed insights!).

Moderators have experience with vastly different topics and participant groups. The breadth of knowledge gained from different products, buyers, geographies and clients means you get a benefit from the projects paid for by other clients. A good moderator will approach a problem with a new twist, and should follow up to a planned question in a way that gives you new perspectives on your business.

6. Watching the groups allows you to manage the process and reality check the results.

With all of the work happening to moderate a group, you can sit back and watch, listen and learn. You may see or hear something that the moderator missed, or you may decide to go a slightly different direction with the remaining groups. As a client, you can manage more effectively when you see a broader view. And unlike your bosses or colleagues who may pop in for one or two groups, you will be able to subtly remind them that their limited understanding of the proceedings is just that.

7. Don’t you have enough to do already?

Surely managing vendors, writing surveys, managing analysts, combining studies into recommendations, responding to internal requests, possibly conducting hands-on marketing as well gives you too much on your plate already. Hire an expert and use your time more efficiently.

Photo by Pier-Luc Bergeron.

Professional focus group moderator Jennifer Cooper helps established and emerging brands grow revenues through better understanding their buyers. She can be reached at info@buyersynthesis.com.

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