Focus groups are guided conversations among a number of customers or potential customers to help you learn about various aspects of your business, such as your marketing efforts, quality or customer service. Focus groups can easily turn into pat-on-the-back sessions if you don’t conduct them correctly, but following some basic focus group techniques will help you avoid this and maximize your benefits.

Focus Groups

A focus group is a get-together of people in a room who you want to interact in a way that they volunteer not only information on topics you want, but also about areas you might not have considered. For example, you might bring a group of people together to find out if your pricing has influenced them to spend more or less, then find out your social media campaign is what is affecting their purchasing. A focus group is often an invitation-only gathering that contains a certain type of customer you want to question.


Focus groups often consist of small numbers of people who can fit around a table so that each person can join the discussion and make a valuable contribution. If you have a roomful of 20 or more people, some people might not end up contributing, some might chime in only once, while others might dominate the event. Keep your groups no larger than can fit around a table or in a small circle of chairs. Provide refreshments and let participants introduce themselves to encourage the sharing of ideas, rather than simple answers to your questions.

Use Open-Ended Questions

Don’t ask questions that provide only “yes” or “no” answers. What differentiates a focus group from a survey is that your participants might give you new and valuable information you weren’t seeking. For example, during a survey, you might list the places you advertise and ask which one your members have seen. In a focus group, you might begin a discussion by asking the group members to tell you what they think of your advertising. You might find that your print advertising is sending a different message than your website banners, or that people are mistaking your competitor’s ads for yours. Let participants know that there are no right or wrong answers for this discussion.

Ask Non-Brand Questions

Not every topic of discussion during a focus group should be about your company or product. One of your sales goals should be to satisfy a need consumers have, which can include affordability, safety, reliability or status. Asking general questions about your customers' personal attitudes can reveal ways to target your marketing messages to them. For example, if you sell food, you might ask the group questions about health and fitness. If they are all into keeping in shape or good health, you might add more low-fat and healthy items to your menu. Ask questions about your overall marketplace to get feedback about how consumers view you and your competitors in general.

Use Names

To prevent anyone from dominating focus group discussions and to bring shy participants into the meeting, use names to get specific people to talk. For example, you might simply ask, “Bob, what do you think?,” rather than asking him a specific question. Asking someone, “Dave, what did you think of what Mary said about price?,” might lead to a back-and-forth between Dave and Mary, or to others chiming in about Mary’s comment.