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How can I find new customers for my product?

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Research background: An accounting consultant has mentioned to the CEO of IdealClamp, a C-clamp manufacturing company, that he has heard of a research method called product “uses and users” review.

Through this method a company is able to refine what its product is being used for (uses) and determine who uses its type of product (users).

The IdealClamp CEO is interested in having the same method of research applied to his company’s market since their regular defense department/high-technology client base has been shrinking because of defense spending cutbacks.

Half of the manufacturing plant’s workers have been laid off because of reductions in contract cash flow, and the firm’s management wants to revive the business to be able to rehire the workers.

The company also wants to expand its client base, particularly in the private sector (e.g., individual hobbyists).

But first management needs to know more clearly what uses there are for IdealClamp products in this market sector and who the users might be.

Research budget: The CEO agrees to a do-not-exceed budget of $200 for all research, including labor and database costs. Database costs are estimated at $50-$70, with the remainder for labor.

The CEO offers no deadline or time constraints but does note that raw data is not acceptable because the firm’s management is unfamiliar with data analysis.

Research strategy employed: Given that the client has a limited budget, the researcher wants to concentrate mainly on free sources of information, performing a couple of quick fee-based searches to bring in the value provided by online databases.

The client has little knowledge of the Internet and no knowledge of online databases, so there searches are structured, performed, and analyzed for them.

To obtain the best coverage and yet remain within the budget, the researcher decides to begin with brief searches of free Internet sources and then, depending on the results, move toward fee-based databases.

Thus Internet searches are done first through the Los Angeles Public Library and BullsEye Pro, followed by a progression of quick online searches using Dialog, ProQuest, and LexisNexis. The analysis is conducted using askSam and Microsoft Excel.

Research results: The research process and results are summarized below:
1. First the researcher logs in to the Los Angeles Public Library’s free databases (

To get an idea of his client’s market sector as a starting point for the research, he uses InforUSA’s Business database and looks up IdealClamp.

He finds the company’s size (revenues) and type (using the SIC [Standard Industrial Classification] codes).

Note: One might also use Hoover’s Online to perform this step if the company is large enough to be reviewed/listed in the free part of the Hoover’s database.

He also reviews IdealClamp’s Web site and skims the information there for useable search terms for comparable companies’ products, in addition to the terms he has obtained from discussing this with the CEO.

2. Now the researcher goes to Bullseye Pro, a fee-based search agent software program from InfoSeek that searches a number of Internet search engines at once.

In Bullseye Pro, he searches Internet for a comprehensive vie of the types of information available about the client’s product (C-clamps).

Note: Inforseek’s Profusion or Copernic could also be used, as they are similar in function to Bullseye Pro.

3. Next he performs Bullseye Pro searches for discussion groups. This type of search can yield what people are saying to each other in a variety of discussion group forums and can often provide interesting results, especially in the “hobbyist” realm.

(Note: One could also use several other search engine sites for discussion groups, including Google Groups [] and Dogpile’s Message Board [].)

Any of the discussion groups with good hits could presumably be a consumer base for IdealClamp.

For example, according to a posting on the “rec.motorcyles.harley” newsgroups list, Harley Davidson recreational motorcycle enthusiasts use C-clamps to repair rear-wheel flat tires.

The researcher decides to suggest that an IdealClamp employee monitor the discussions of the specific consumer groups found, perhaps posting C-clamp solutions to their problems and thus increasing the exposure of the company’s products.

4. Next the researcher conducts the equivalent of a free information search on DialogWeb to get an idea of which Dialog files have information related to C-clamps, so that he can download some relatively inexpensive files/results.

 Judiciously choosing results from certain files from this search yields results in data with a scientific/technical perspective.

Because this might seem somewhat esoteric to those who have never seen Dialog results, I have included an example below of a Physics “Uses & Users” results in the Summary of Solution section below.

5. The researcher now searches ProQuest abstracts to test his search strategy before going online to perform a LexiNexis literature search.

ProQuest is similar to LexisNexis but more limited in the depth and breadth of coverage. (Note: Performing this step depends on the type of LexisNexis account your company has.

If you have access to a flat-rate account, you can skip this step and go directly to LexisNexis.

Nevertheless, if you have a transactional account, then it sometimes makes sense to see if you are likely to get effective results before incurring the search charge of a Lexis Nexis search.

Keep in mind that you may need an account with ProQuest; although you may be able to access this information via your public library’s databases for general knowledge purposes, you could not sell this data to clients.

Because the researcher finds many intriguing results on ProQuest, he decides to perform a full LexisNexis search.

6. Because he is looking for current market uses and users for C-clamps and is trying to keep the cost down, the researcher performs a LexisNexis search of Current News (CURNWS file, last two years).

This search yields results from newspapers, magazines, and trade journals (industry/professional journals), including information about how C-clamps are used to build gazebos, C-clamp use by “do-it-yourselfers,” and so on.

7. Finally, the researcher analyzes the data using askSam’s freeform database (, the “uses and users” keyed into each search result (see example of Dialog data below), and Microsoft Excel’s Pivot Tables.

A description of this process is detailed in the accompanying article from the askSam Web site.

The researcher may have used Alacra ( or Dialog Profound ( had he had access to them at the time.

With either of these resources, market research reports can be accessed and just the applicable page f a professionally prepared market research report could be purchased very economically (for a few dollars, compared with the thousands of dollars that the report may cost if purchased in its entirety).

Additionally, Alacra can be used for industry search terms and quick industry knowledge, if the industry in question is unfamiliar to the researcher.

Summary of solution: As a result of this work, the researcher was able to isolate specialty niche uses and users, including do-it-yourselfers, architects designing chandeliers out of lucite and C-clamps, and more.

Altogether there were 3 Dialog articles, 46 LexisNexis stories, 38 ProQuest documents, with 42 Web results,, with 129 data sources all told.

The combined text from all of these sources would have come to 112 pages in Microsoft Word, which is why the researcher used a database/analysis software tool (askSam) to analyze the data (see the “Special Recommendation” section below).

Special recommendation:

“askSam Used in Research Projects”
[This researcher has begun using “askSam,” a data analysis and reporting tool with the following experience.]

I use askSam, but still consider myself somewhat of a novice as I’m still learning about different uses of the product and I haven’t had any formal training in it.

So far I’ve just used the manuals that came with the CD. By the way, if anyone is apprehensive about beginning their first askSam project, here’s my biggest tip: Just pull out the really thin “Getting Started Installation & Tutorial” pamphlet and zip through it and you’ll be up and running in askSam in no time.

My bottom-line is that askSam is a very valuable tool/resource for handling large amounts of data.

This is a tremendous value to information professionals/researches because we encounter so many resources and data within our research that sometimes it’s difficult to “pull it all together” and “make sense of it.” With askSam this sometimes-formidable task is greatly facilitated.

Maybe the best way to illustrate this would be an example. I did a market research project for a clamp manufacturer.

The clamp company had lost touch with its client base, e.g., who is currently using its clamps and for what purposes. This was what I would call a “Uses and Users” project on clamps.

For this project I did searches using Dialog, LexisNexis, Proquest, the Internet (using BullsEye Pro. “free” Web searches, and specific Web searches, e.g., discussion groups).

First I “normalized” the data a bit in separate Microsoft Word documents using specifically phrased Find and Replace(s) and some manual (grunt) inserting/editing of words like “SOURCE.” “ARTICLE#.” “JOURNAL” etc. Sometimes I use MS Word macros to do this too, especially if there’s a lot of consistent inserting/editing to be done.

By the way, if anyone finds a Macros to do this too, especially if there’s a lot of consistent inserting/editing to be done.

By the way, if anyone finds a Macro/text editor that’s easier to use than MS Office’s Visual Basic, please let me know since I’m not planning on becoming a VBA programmer anytime soon!

Also, I inserted some unique text at the start of each “article.” This is so askSam can recognize the beginning of each article (or “document” in askSam).

I like to use “~!@” (or, Shift and “’12”, the first three keys in the upper left of your keyboard, without the quotation marks). In most cases I use Find and Replace to do this.

Then I copied all of the data/information into a single Word Text document and imported it into askSam Pro (Pro can index “large” databases more efficiently).

Using the unique text at the start of each “article,” I could then have askSam separate each “article” into a separate “document.”

Then I had askSam automatically (!) recognize all of the data fields, e.g., any text after a colon (for instance, any text after “SOURCE” would be considered data.

From there I could search all of the “documents” for specific information of interest using Boolean (or other searches) and see particular results.

Also, I could create various askSam reports using all of the data from my research. These reports can also include askSam’s version of what would be comparable to KWIC (Key Words in Context). For example, the partial result for one “document” from one report looked like:

DATE: Feb. 28 …
JOURNAL; Applied Physics …
TITLE: Photothermal spectroscopy using multilayer cantilever …
BODY: The authors demonstrate photothermal spectroscopy using a high-aspect-ratio multilayer cantilever to measure…

A comparison … accounts for conduction loss through the cantilever clamp and to air along the length of the cantilever surface is presented.

USE: Applied Physics research (cantilever clamp).
USER: Applied Physics researchers
(NOTE: I inserted the “USE” and “USER” description information manually.)

Then I exported certain fields of this report’s delimited text (*.csv) into an MS Excel spreadsheet and created two (sorted) Pivot Tables based on the USES and USERS of the clamps, so the client could easily see the results of who is using clamps and what they are using them for.

These were summarized to a higher level in the final report’s conclusions, e.g., something like Physics, Researchers, or Scientists.

It was also easy to do an askSam report of all journals, listed alphabetically, with the sources and article numbers.

The list of journals was to give the clamp company’s CEO ideas of where they might consider placing advertisements for their clamps.

The sources and article numbers were provided so that the company could look up the original article in the search results to see more about the Uses and Users if they wished.

Now, all of this might seem pretty easy for only 3 Dialog articles, 46 LexisNexis stories, 38 ProQuest documents, and 42 Web results, or 129 overall data sources. But the combined text from all of these sources was 112 pages in MS Word.

That’s a lot of data to “hold in your head’ if you were just trying to analyze this data manually, so askSam is very helpful for seeing not only the trees in the forest, but in identifying groups of trees (which in this case represented the potential customer base for my client.

Also keep in mind that in the terms of sheer data this was actually a small project, and askSam can be just as effective for large projects with many megabytes of data, which “ups the ante” in human processing/analysis terms.

In another project I used the Show command in an askSam Report to extract the sentences in the articles that had the words “results” or “conclusions” in them.

This was very effective in highlighting the bottom line for each article (in addition to the other data provided, e.g., the articles’ citations, etc.).

This was value-added considering that the initial Dialog Data was 158 pages (about 0.5 megabyte) in Word. Another part of this project involved using askSam reports to summarize 826 pages of LexisNexis data (about 2 megabytes) in Word using askSam reprts.

Clearly it’s easy to see how helpful askSam’s free-form database can be for analyzing large amounts of data.

Again, askSam is a very useful tool along with all of the other tools in our data analysis toolbox. I highly recommend it.

Useful points
• Try Profusion or Dogpile as low-cost Web-based search agent options until you can obtain Bullseye Pro.

• Public library e-databases can be used for subject background knowledge, but the results cannot be sold to clients.

• Use a freeform database, such as askSam, if you need to analyze large amount of data.


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