We need to do research in our line of business to know the current trends, best approaches and industry insights. Below techniques can be the starting path for the research. It can be used by the business of any form(Online, Brick and Mortar) .
Google Alerts: "Google Alerts are emails automatically sent to you when there are new Google results for your search terms" - Google.
Set up extensive google alerts related to your line of business. For instance, someone who runs (or) planning to start an online gadget store in Brazil can set-up alerts like below:1) "Brazil Ecommerce"
2) "Brazil Gadget Store"
3) "Online Gadget Store"
3) "Brazil online buying behavior"
4) "Online buying behavior"
4) "Gadget store"
6) "Brazil Ecommerce Trends"
7) "Online customer acquisition"
Glancing through the alert emails, you can consume the informative articles and insights which you many not come across using search or other means.
Be a user of your competitor : Find out your competitor (or) someone who do similar type of business. Register with their service/product and use it. In case of offline business, you can go and visit the actual physical store.
Things you can do,
- Understand their business models and analyze it.
- Use their forums,blogs and analyze the user's problems and feedback. You can address that as a feature in your business
- If you find any best practices, you can check how you can implement in your business.
- If you find any flaw in their model, you can address that in your business.
Google Reader: Subscribe to quality journals and blogs using google reader (or) any other feed reader of your choice. One way to find the quality sites/blogs is - when you subscribe to alerts, you get to know many informative blogs and web sites. You can go and subscribe to their feeds.
Google Insights: "Google Insights for Search is a service by google similar to Google Trends, providing insights into the search terms people have been entering into the Google search engine" - Wikipedia
I'll explain this with an example,
In India gold market is huge. I just put "Gold" in insights with region as "Tamil Nadu" and duration as 1year.
You can see from the result, towns like Erode,Vellore,Sivakasi are on the top of the list and are ahead from some of the prominent cities. This data may be usefull for a jeweller who want to expand his business or to run a targeted campaign. To know more on how to leverage Google Insights, you can check this post -
http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/competitive-intelligence-analysis-google-insights-for-search/ . You can also check Google Trends.
Research Log: Maintain a research log with references, url and important points. You may come up with various situation in your business where this log is very handy and referring to them can guide you to take better decisions. Also by this way, duplication of the research effort can be avoided.Business research is not limited to product managers. Anyone who is interested and involved in the business can do it and you can share your valuable insights to the stakeholders.