One of our favourite clients is a business training centre at a local college. For the past few months, we’ve been working with their team to find out what small business owners want most from training, and how they want to receive it.

We began by doing a telephone survey. It was illuminating to see how extremely satisfied the training centre’s clients are with the great customer service they get from the staff, and a bit daunting to think that we could help grow such a well-established business even more.

We could have asked a standard question like, “Is (subject) of interest to you?” or “Do you or your employees need training in anything?” …but our work with entrepreneurs has shown us that the answer to this question is usually “No. I don’t have time.”

We ended up asking “What topics would be worth taking time off from your business to learn about?”

Small business owners told us they would indeed take time off work if they could learn: a better way to find new customers; stay ahead of their competition; and spend marketing money more effectively.

This was a great start. But these topics cover a lot of territory and the training centre wisely wanted to do further research to hone the new offerings. To do that, they decided to offer a series of free seminars to businesses in three separate regions, teaming up with partners in each area.

The seminars will be samplings of the broader courses they are considering offering at the centre. They will gauge interest in the topics via the number who enroll for the seminars, and circulate a questionnaire to gather even more information. They will also ask for permission to continue sending information to participants.

The results should provide guidance on what courses to offer and what kind of businesses will be interested in each. Further, the seminars will kindle interest in training in those companies that participate.

Sampling is a standard strategy in package goods marketing. This project by a training centre shows how the same technique can be used to develop or improve a product and build new business.