Creating a quality product is only half of the puzzle entrepreneurs need to solve in order to be successful. The other half involves finding the best ways to reach your customers and market.
To do this, you need to better understand who your target audience is and what that audience is interested in. This means that no matter how amazing your product or service may be, research is crucial for success. With the right marketing research, you can discover any gaps your company may have in its SEO, as well as whether you're reaching out to the right set of potential buyers.
So which tools or systems should you consider when doing your marketing research online? To find out, we asked members of YEC to share their preference, as well as discuss why those systems work so well. Here's what they said:
Ahrefs is a great tool to find out what keywords your competition is ranking for and which ones are bringing them the most traffic. You can also dive into which are their most popular articles as well as the sites that are giving them the most backlinks. - Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner
CrazyEgg is one of the best tools for finding out how your customers are actually using your website. They create heat maps so you can see where people are clicking and even have the option to record your visitors. We found that a lot of people were coming from mobile, for example, so we started thinking of ways to better convert that traffic to email subscribers by adding calls to action. - Chris Christoff, MonsterInsights
Westat is a pretty solid choice in the world of market research. It specializes in employment, behavioral and statistical research along with social policy as well. It's a good option for business, as well as agencies associated with the government and foundations. - Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance
Xtensio is a free tool that helps you create buyer personas for your customers. It's basically a template that lets you fill in all the information about your customers in a very easy way. I recommend using Facebook's Audience Insights to fill in the information for your user personas. - Jared Atchison, WPForms
LinkedIn has been getting some significant run lately (you've probably seen the ads for LinkedIn Lead Gen) and for good reason. LinkedIn serves as an accurate database of information that is provided by your ideal client. Just don't go around blasting people with random invitations to connect. Instead, use it to harvest data that is meaningful and gain an edge on your competition. - Zachary Burkes, Predictable Profits
I recently found out about this SEO program and have begun implementing it into my business to great success. MarketMuse combines several SEO tools into an intuitive framework. I can research a topic for written content, find out what keywords to incorporate for higher SERPs and compare my copy with competitors all in one browser window. It's not novel, but it's effective and can save time. - Bryce Welker, Crush The PM Exam
With Facebook being transparent to users, it allows companies to conduct good marketing research. There are two ways to do it. First, use Facebook's Audience Insights to understand your prospects and customers — what they like and what their behaviors are. Next, find your competitor and go to their Facebook page. Go to the "Info And Ads" tab and see the active ads, and then analyze them for your business. - Fred Lam, iPro Management Group Corp.
With SEMrush we have the ability to track large numbers of keywords on a daily basis on top of the best combination of keywords for our content marketing. The site audit that is available also gives us insight into how we can improve our website with actionable information. - Mark Krassner, Expectful
Usually at the startups I work with, everyone has an opinion and everyone wants to move forward with their opinions. What they do not have is research from their customers to justify their opinions, so they keep coming up with new opinions without validation. Typeform allows you to easily create a survey and leave no room for guessing. When you ask the customer, you can validate your activity. - Sweta Patel, Silicon Valley Startup Marketing
11. Google Keyword Search
To conduct market research, I often simply Google primary keywords to identify my main competitors. With a little digging, I can see how they are responding or creating trends, what key phrases and content they are promoting, and even how customers respond to them. Best of all, this is a free way to gain valuable and comprehensive marketing insight. - Shu Saito, Fact Retriever
12. Outsource to a Neutral Party
We employ a routine system of research on our competition. It's important to outsource this process to companies who don't stand to gain and have one flat fee for their discoverables. From this information, we can assess whether we are up-to-date on the software. Then we apply metrics to what we are offering. Our teams then run independent systems checks so we are at, or beyond, our competitors. - Matthew Capala, Alphametic
Some people love to play the victim. Nothing is ever their fault and everyone around them is out to get them. Having a coworker like this can take a toll on you. So what’s the best way to protect yourself? How can you help your colleague change their mindset? And how do you handle the emotional toll of working with this person?
What the Experts Say Working alongside someone who always feels like a victim “is an inherent downer,” says Holly Weeks, a lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School and author of Failure to Communicate. “You feel stuck,” she says. “You see this person walking towards you and your heart sinks.” Perhaps the biggest challenge in dealing with a colleague who has this mentality is “the negativity” that this person exudes, says Amy Jen Su, managing partner of Paravis Partners and coauthor of Own the Room. “When you are busy, the last thing you need is to be around someone who views the world as glass half empty,” she says. Still, you’re not helpless. “The one thing you can control is your response,” Su says. Here’s some advice on how to deal with this decidedly difficult colleague.
Be empathetic To begin, recognize that your colleague’s perpetual victimhood “is not about you,” says Su. “So don’t take it personally.” Try to reserve judgment. “Compassion helps,” she adds. “Notice that this person views the world differently than you do. And it must be hard to live every day in victim mode.” Weeks recommends trying to “shift how you see the person,” and then “adjusting your psychological reaction in any way that helps.” Be empathetic. Remember: your colleague is not purposely trying to make you crazy. “It’s like when you hear that your plane’s takeoff is delayed. You can dwell on it and get angry, or you can cool your jets and try not to let it bother you,” says Weeks. Your objective is not “necessarily to view your colleague with sympathy, but to be neutral.”
Be positive Next, think about how you’ll “protect yourself from absorbing your colleague’s toxic behavior,” says Su. A little self-preservation is in order. She recommends spending time with colleagues who provide a “counterbalance” to this difficult one. “You need to surround yourself with people who bring you energy, lift you up, and who are positive forces.” When you have to spend time with this person, find ways to decompress afterward, whether it’s taking a walk, meditating, or listening to music. And, importantly, even if this particular colleague rubs you the wrong way, try to find something about this person to like, says Weeks. “Find different facets to them,” she advises. Don’t focus on their “freaked out, whiny, and paranoid side.” Look for commonalities — at the very least, you’re both committed to your organization.
Provide a counter narrative Dealing with a colleague like this can be mentally exhausting — especially if you’re regularly listening to the person’s complaints. But you don’t have to “be passive in this recital of woe,” says Weeks. Instead, “shift this person’s focus away from the bogeyman” by “offering a counter narrative” to that version of reality. Say, for instance, your colleague grouses about a boss who they perceive as giving them more work than anyone else on the team. She suggests saying something like, “I know it’s stressful. I bet the boss is doing it because you’re so competent and reliable and doesn’t think it will put a strain on you.” Your response isn’t patronizing, rather it’s showing an alternative way of seeing the situation. Remember: your goal is to help the person “choose a different mindset.”
Offer validation Offering validation can also be helpful in these circumstances, says Su. “Validation is often the missing link for people like this,” she explains. “They don’t feel seen or heard and so they think, ‘If I complain” — or play the victim — “I will get some acknowledgment and some appreciation.” She says that sometimes these people just need positive reinforcement that they’re not getting elsewhere. Don’t be disingenuous, of course, but “if the compliment is well-deserved it might quell the noise.” This doesn’t mean that you endorse their complaints, rather that you recognize their positive accomplishments.
Propose solutions Another possible response to your colleague’s litany of complaints is to offer solutions to problems, says Su. “This person may be complaining because they have an unspoken need that’s not being addressed,” she says. In this case, you should “go into coach mode. Say, ‘Are there expectations you have that others may not be aware of?’ Or: ‘I hear you are upset about XYZ, let’s brainstorm ways to resolve it.’” Your goal, according to Weeks, is to focus “not on your colleague’s feelings,” but on the professional challenges. Empower your colleague and “brace yourself around the issues,” she says. Whatever you do, don’t “encourage the dynamic” of constant carping. If nothing more, your colleague will realize that you’re not fun to grumble to and will likely lose interest in the conversation.
Be direct with your colleague The prospect of confronting a colleague about their behavior can invoke profound feelings of dread. “But if this person is taking a toll on business results, you need talk to them about the impact they’re having,” says Su. Be gracious and considerate. “Say: ‘You are a leader on this team. I can see you’re under stress, but when you complain, it brings the team down. Can you be more mindful of what you’re telegraphing?’” Your aim is to show your colleague that “their mood has a ripple effect.” Your tone and word choice are critical here, according to Weeks. “If you say, ‘You’re paranoid and you whine a lot,’ your colleague is not going to hear it.” Instead, focus on the behavior they should be exhibiting not the behavior you wish they’d stop.
Talk to your boss It might also be worthwhile to talk to your manager about the situation. The decision to go to your boss, however, is not straightforward, says Su. “In some ways, if you complain to the boss, you’re becoming this person,” she says. But if you believe that your colleague’s conduct is “taking a toll on the team or having a negative impact on the business,” you need to speak up. Don’t center the conversation around “personalities,” says Weeks. Rather, “talk in terms that are useful” to your boss. “Make it about the work.” You might say, for instance, that this person is distracting. The goal is to “frame the issue in a way that your boss realizes this is not the dynamic they want in the office.”
Set limits Finally, make your boundaries clear. “If this person is always coming by your desk to vent, you need to set new rules of engagement,” says Su. Don’t be rude or disrespectful. But be upfront about your limits. “Go quiet and use you your body language to signal that you don’t want to get into it.” Even if “you feel like you can’t fix the situation, you can at least contain it,” adds Weeks. “As soon as you see the person coming, say, ‘I have about six minutes to talk.’” It’s not a perfect strategy, but “at least you won’t have to suffer very long.” Your goal is to be “neither a doormat nor an enabler.”
Principles to Remember
Demonstrate empathy and compassion for your colleague.
Try to shift your colleague’s focus away from complaining by offering solutions to their problems.
Talk to your colleague about their behavior and the effect it’s having on the team. Your aim is to show your colleague that their mood has a ripple effect.
Encourage the dynamic with a colleague who is constantly carping. When you don’t join in, this person will realize you’re not fun to grumble to.
Let the negativity drag you down. Surround yourself with colleagues who bring you energy, lift you up, and who are positive forces.
Be a doormat. Be upfront about your boundaries and set limits on how much time you’re willing to spend with this person.
Case Study #1: Find something to like about this person and focus on solutions Duke Greenhill, Vice President of Creative & Strategy at J.O., an advertising agency in Fort Worth, Texas, once worked closely with someone who lived in perpetual victimhood. The employee — we’ll call him Sam — worked in the account services department.
Sam whined a lot, recalls Duke. “The world, fate, God, Yaweh, chance, luck, you name it…they were all conspiring against him. Sam also felt everything was personal, and probably had a healthy dash of narcissism. His every response began with ‘But.’”
In the beginning, Duke tried to be compassionate. He reflected on the things he liked and admired about Sam. “Sam wasn’t bad [at his job] by any stretch of the imagination,” he says. “He was driven and tenacious.”
But Duke admits that this initial approach was maybe a little too soft. “I was, perhaps, overly empathetic — read: enabling — at first, and so Sam began bringing his woes directly to me.”
Duke felt he needed to take action, especially because he knew all too well the dangers of playing the victim. “I used to be [like] Sam in some ways and so I told him about my own similar experiences,” he says. “I also showed him at every opportunity that people/life/the world are not black or white. Through metaphor and everyday examples, I think I helped him see things differently.”
Duke also focused on helping Sam change his perspective by asking him to think about possible solutions to the challenges he faced. “I told him: ‘Don’t come to me with problems and complaints unless you also come to me with at least one potential solution/reframing,’” he says.
Over time, Sam complained less and also proactively began to try to solve his own problems. He also stopped playing the victim as often. He has since moved on to another company. “I hear that Sam is doing well,” says Duke.
Case Study #2: Talk to your colleague about the impact his mood has on the team Christian Rennella, the CEO of oMelhorTrato — a South American company that helps customers find and compare prices of credit cards and insurance services — has recent experience working with someone who felt the world was out to get them.
About six months ago, his company hired an engineer in the field of artificial intelligence. In many ways, the employee — we’ll call him Ethan — has worked out very well. “The progress he has made has been spectacular,” he says. “Thanks to Ethan, we have been able to automate a large part of our processes and that has helped us grow.”
But Ethan has also proved to be a challenging personality. “It always seemed that he was the victim and that he was never to blame — whether the imagined culprit was within the company or in the larger world of AI,” says Christian. “He had a constant tendency to focus on what happened around him rather than his own work.”
At first, Christian wasn’t sure what to do. But upon reflection, he realized that the behavior was having a negative impact on others. “I saw that the rest of the team also noticed Ethan’s complaints and it was an uncomfortable situation at times.”
Christian decided to talk to Ethan. He wanted to show him that his negativity and victim mindset affected others. “So, in a one-on-one meeting, I highlighted the various times in which he played the victim,” he says.
Christian’s tone was respectful and considerate. “I told him that instead of looking for excuses, what we need from him is to look for solutions.” He also explained that he was making the team uncomfortable.
Ethan didn’t realize that he was having that kind of impact, according to Christian. “He took what I said to heart — and he’s made many adjustments,” he says. “His personality has changed for the better.”
Facing a tight labor market as the holiday shopping season approaches, many retail companies will undoubtedly consider following the lead of Amazon, which recently announced that it is raising its minimum hourly wage for all of its U.S. employees, including those working at Whole Foods stores, to $15 — $7.75 above the federal minimum wage.
Higher wages are good for retail and other low-wage service workers. So, we applaud Amazon’s decision and hope others will do the same. Higher wages are also necessary for many companies that are stuck in a vicious cycle of bad jobs, bad operations, bad customer service, low productivity, and high costs. But higher wages alone are not enough to break this vicious cycle. Unless accompanied by other changes, higher wages will likely reduce company profits and will not turn bad jobs into good ones.
Drawing on the concept of “efficiency wages,” some economists argue that higher pay can by itself improve performance by enabling companies to attract and retain better people and by motivating employees to work harder. But without other changes, we expect these benefits to be small. As one of us has witnessed first-hand while working at a large retailer, even highly skilled and motivated workers will not be able to be as productive as expected because the company’s operational systems got in their way, wasting rather than maximizing their skills and enthusiasm.
We see roadblocks like this all the time and, if you do any store shopping, so do you. For example:
Constant display changes that take hours to set up and break down — hours that could have been spent on much-higher-value work like helping customers and trying out process improvements.
Last-minute promotion or delivery changes that require managers to spend their time on last-minute schedule changes, which then disrupt employees’ lives and drive absenteeism, turnover, and understaffing, all of which increases the likelihood of errors.
Employees who are not empowered to improve their work or solve customer problems. They need management approval for even the smallest things, such as accepting a return or making a price change. When they have an idea for improvement, they are shut down by a manager who is already overwhelmed with all the firefighting she or he has to do.
Equipment and technology — such as scan guns, refrigerators, and training or scheduling software — that frequently breaks down, forcing employees to spend hours on the phone with help desks or just go without critical equipment for days or weeks.
Stores overwhelmed by a daily stream of directives from headquarters, dozens of sales reports to read, and 100+ management tools to use.
Raising the minimum wage won’t make any of these obstacles go away. It just means companies are wasting their employees’ time and paying more for it. In addition, these obstacles will likely hurt motivation and increase turnover by reducing workers’ sense of achievement, pride, and meaning.
Higher wages may not even allow companies to meet workers’ basic needs if companies are not offering livable take-home pay, predictable schedules, and clear career paths.
Take-home pay. More than hourly wages, workers care about take-home pay. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics cited $23,210 as the median annual wage for a retail salesperson in 2017, but that assumes a regular 40-hour week. In service industries like retail and fast-casual dining, that’s rarely the case. It is not uncommon to have more than half the employees working part-time and even so-called full-timers aren’t usually guaranteed 40 hours a week. Part-time hours might make sense for high school or college students looking to make extra money, but in 2017, the median ages of a retail salesperson and a cashier were 36 and 26. These are people who need a living wage to support themselves and their families.
Companies don’t always realize how few hours their employees work; at one organization, executives told us that they were surprised that most of their hourly employees worked fewer than 15 hours per week and earned under $10,000 a year. So for companies thinking about raising wages, setting targets for actual take-home pay and tracking progress in that regard can help ensure that their workers are earning a living wage.
Predictable schedules. Apart from the instability that comes from not knowing what your pay will be week to week, it’s challenging trying to plan childcare, transportation, and the rest of your life when you get your schedule only a few days in advance, as is the case for many service workers. It’s also expensive. Companies known for offering good jobs provide schedules three to four weeks in advance and new legislation in places including California and Seattle is prompting others to follow suit. Companies that adopt this practice will not only be better employers; studies have shown that stable retail schedules can also drive sales and labor productivity.
Career paths. Today’s take-home is important to workers — but so is tomorrow’s. The best employers offer workers the opportunity to develop new skills, demonstrate their abilities, and move up the ranks, securing a better financial future for themselves and their families. For example, good jobs companies like Costco and QuikTrip promote almost exclusively from within for field positions, giving workers a clear path to higher pay and increased responsibility. Companies that want to attract and retain better workers will find that creating such paths is something their employees care a lot about.
Higher wages will not lead to higher performance for companies or good jobs for workers if companies do not fix their systems. If they create a system that increases the productivity, contribution, and motivation of employees, then higher wages will be one of the several forces driving high performance and good jobs. Luckily, we know a lot about the ingredients of that system.
In 2013, The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation launched the Bundled Payments for Care Improvement (BPCI) initiative, a program that proponents hoped could rein in health care costs by “bundling” payment for the full gamut of services that comprise an episode of care. The model certainly seemed like a good bet, as it would reward hospitals for reducing the cost of soup-to-nuts care for any of 48 conditions and penalize them for overruns. Indeed, bundled care for hip and knee replacement has been a dramatic success with clear savings and no increase in emergency department visits, readmissions, or 30-day mortality.
However, our research suggests that bundles may not work as well for other types of conditions. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the problem lies with the bundled payment model itself. Rather, we think it could lie with the fragmented nature of the patient journey in a dysfunctional system, which is exposed by medical bundles’ lack of impact. But before delving into that diagnosis, let’s step back and look at the research.
With our colleagues John Orav and Jie Zheng, we used Medicare claims from 2013 through 2015 to identify admissions for the five most common medical conditions covered under the Medicare bundled payment initiative: heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and sepsis. We calculated the costs of each “episode” — the hospitalization plus all costs in the 90 days post discharge — for hospitals that joined BPCI as well as hospitals that didn’t join (our control group). We then looked to see whether costs dropped more in the BPCI hospitals than the control hospitals after the program started. Overall, the average Medicare payment per episode of care across the five conditions — about $24,000 — dipped just a few hundred dollars, a statistically insignificant amount. In addition, there was no difference in the change over time based on whether hospitals were or weren’t participating in the program. We also didn’t find any differences in clinical complexity, length of stay, emergency department use or readmission within 30 or 90 days after hospital discharge, or death within 30 or 90 days after admission between the intervention and control hospitals. In short, for these five common medical conditions, bundled payment had no impact on costs or clinical outcomes — at least in the program’s first year.
We don’t know exactly why bundles were successful for hip and knee replacements, but not for medical conditions. Perhaps all the hospitals that signed up for the hip and knee bundles were much more motivated than the hospitals that signed up for the medical bundles. Or perhaps we just need to wait longer to see an impact of bundling on a wider range of conditions.
However, we suspect that these patterns reflect the complexity and fragmentation of the patient journey for common medical conditions as a cause and shed light on not only how we might help hospitals succeed under bundles, but how we might also improve patient experience.
Hip and knee replacements are discrete, pre-planned events with a fairly standardized and consistent patient journey, from pre-operative evaluation to scheduled OR date to post-operative rehabilitation, and with a single “captain” of the ship. The surgeon performing the operation is ultimately responsible for the entirety of that patient’s clinical course. For the patient too, there is an obvious point person before the admission, during the hospitalization, and after discharge. Most patients who have had a total joint replacement could tell you the name of their surgeon even years after the procedure, often with great fondness.
Medical admissions follow an entirely different course. Consider what happens to a patient coming to the hospital with a heart failure exacerbation. She certainly did not plan the admission, and may have no pre-existing relationship with the clinician she sees in the hospital. She sees the emergency department physician who happens to be on duty that day, and depending on clinical severity, bed availability, and the call schedule of the residents and interns if she’s in a teaching hospital, could end up admitted to a general medical service, hospitalist service, cardiology service, medical intensive care unit, or cardiac intensive care unit. Her care team could change daily, including the nurses and nursing assistants. During her stay in the hospital she may see cardiologists, internists, and nephrologists, as well as physical therapists, pharmacists, social workers, and discharge planners. At discharge, she may or may not be scheduled to come back to see anyone that was involved in her inpatient care, depending on where she wishes to establish or maintain cardiovascular follow-up, and there is likely no post-discharge protocol for follow-up and rehabilitation, nor formal relationships with the nursing facility or home health agency to which she is discharged.
To improve this patient’s journey though the health care system — and increase the chance that bundled payments can help her achieve better outcomes and help the system lower its costs — we first need to understand the journey. Patterns of care are heterogeneous for medical conditions compared with discrete elective surgeries. And perhaps the overwhelming complexity and fragmentation of the patient journey for most unplanned medical admissions explains both why medical bundles are hard, and why they are so very important.
The early failure of medical bundles is a window into the disjointed, piecemeal health system most of our patients (and clinicians themselves) experience. Even the first step for hospitals electing to participate in BPCI for a medical condition — trying to figure out who needs to be around the table to discuss improving care across the clinical episode — is not an easy one. But rather than discourage us from using bundles as a way to improve care, this complexity makes it all the more critical to use mechanisms like bundled payment programs to incent health systems to change the paradigm. Hospitals can and should design and implement standardized clinical pathways and provide more coordinated, efficient care for medical conditions, and bundling may be a powerful policy mechanism to help get us there.
The five years of experience we have had with BPCI seems like a sufficient time to have learned a lot about it. And perhaps with more time and greater incentives hospitals will be better able and more willing to make the changes needed in care delivery for medical bundles to be effective and to create a better experience for patients. But for now, we are only scratching the surface, and there is much more to learn about the use of bundling for different conditions and different patients. Indeed, bundling is just one in a series of policy innovations that Medicare and others are experimenting with to move us past traditional fee for service. The road to better policy will be long and winding. We can only hope that on the way we will discover much about more efficient care, and most importantly, ways to both control costs and improve outcomes that matter to patients.