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Where Education Company Focus Groups Go Wrong [And What to Do Instead]



Unlocking the full potential of your K–12 education products and services isn’t just about making a product you believe in. It’s about deeply understanding your customers and clients so that you can create the most relevant, timely solutions. 


Not satisfied with the performance of your education products and services? Perhaps your newest launch isn’t getting much traction. Or, you’re losing to competitors. Or, perhaps you’re losing customers/clients more often than you’d like. 


Focus groups can be one of your best tools. They can help you gather insights, gain new ideas, and foster relationships. Unfortunately they’re often misused or misunderstood. Here are four common mistakes


Mistake #1: No Clear Purpose


Think about what can make any meeting or event ineffective. Unsure of the purpose. Random agenda of activities. No clear outcome. (Definitely missing coffee or candy.)


Before diving into the nitty-gritty of focus groups, let's start with the basics. Define your objectives with laser-like clarity. What do you want to achieve? Are you addressing a specific issue or exploring opportunities? Once you've got that down, roll up your sleeves and make sure your participant list is a mix that covers all bases—students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community members. Practicality means getting the right people in the room.


Mistake #2: Skipping Group Dynamics


Focus groups can seem straightforward: get a group of people together, ask questions, and take notes. It’s not that simple. I’ve seen focus groups head down a rabbit hole of debate about a low-value detail when the facilitator didn’t redirect. I’ve seen focus groups get derailed by an unbalanced mix of participants, where the majority group was highly vocal and took over the conversation. Don’t overlook group dynamics!


Instead…set the scene with an environment for candid conversation. Whether you're meeting in person or virtually, make sure your setting is a no-nonsense, comfortable space. Practicality means a welcoming, neutral environment that fosters open conversation. Invest in a skilled facilitator who can steer the ship and create an atmosphere of trust. When participants feel at ease, you’ll get practical insights that cut through the noise.


Mistake #3: Selling


There is no better way to fail at your focus group than to think it’s about selling. Persuading or convincing participants that your idea, product, or service is good comes in at a close second. Don’t do it. This is counter to the purpose of a focus group, which is to get feedback.


Instead…make it clear that the focus group is about your participants, not your company. Open the session by making them feel welcomed and valued. They are the stars of the show! State explicitly—several times—that you are not selling anything and want candid feedback. Make sure the person who introduces your idea, product, or service is doing just that, and not sounding like a sales pitch. 


Mistake #4: Haphazard Questions


“We’re just gonna wing it.” Famous words never to be said before a focus group. Vague questions such as “What do you think?” won’t give you the insights you want. Yes/No questions discourage conversation. Leading questions such as, “Don’t you love this feature?” close the door to candid feedback. Asking about details too early may mean missing out on understanding the context.


Instead…create an intentional plan for insightful questions. Crafting questions is an art, but it's also a practical skill. Mix structured inquiries that maintain focus with open-ended questions that dig deep. Practicality is about asking questions that prompt thoughtful responses. Craft questions that encourage participants to share their experiences, concerns, and innovative ideas. The goal is to uncover actionable insights that go beyond surface-level responses.


Focus groups can be an absolute gold mine for new or improved education products and services. Which aspect will you focus on in your next focus group? 

3 Comments


Great advice, Conni! The thought of "winging it" makes my blood pressure rise!

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Lisa, "winging it" at a high-value activity like a focus group makes my blood pressure rise, too! Time with our customers/clients is so precious. We really want to be as prepared as possible for us (and them) to get the most from the experience. Thanks for sharing your reaction.

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Sound advice as always, Conni!

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