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How to measure market penetration with surveys

Use surveys to understand what’s driving industry trends and where your business stands in relation to the rest of the market.

The fundamental goal of any business is to sell products or services to its customers. To measure that, the easiest strategy is to look at your sales levels, either in terms of deals closed or average order value. However, that doesn’t explain how well you’re selling relative to other competitors in the market. Instead, you should measure market penetration, which is a metric that takes into consideration the total number of buyers and how many of those sales you’re capturing compared to your competitors.

Learn why market penetration is important and how you can measure it using surveys. 

What exactly is market penetration? It’s a method of determining how many people in a target demographic or audience are buying a certain item. In other words, it’s a measure of how much a product or service is being used by customers compared to the total estimated market for that product or service. You can use the following formula to estimate your penetration of the market:

The number of customers who have purchased a product in the category (X) divided by the total population number (Y)

X / Y = market penetration

Remember that the number of customers isn’t necessarily those who have bought from you or from a specific brand, but also the number of people who’ve purchased a similar item from all vendors that currently exist in the marketplace. For this reason, it's going to be crucial to conduct market sizing research.


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It’s important not to confuse market share with the market penetration rate. The concepts are certainly related to one another, but they are also distinctly different. 

Market penetration can be understood as the percentage of your target market that you sell to in a specified period of time. For example, you might say you have penetrated 15% of the market, which means that 15% of all the customers of products like yours have purchased from you. 

In contrast, market share describes the portion of the total value of a market that is captured by your products, services, or brand. If you’ve sold to 15% of the market, but those customers spend less with you than they do with your competitors, your market share by value may be considerably less than 15%. 

Understand the 5 types of market segmentation and how to use them.

In a nutshell, the difference between market share and market penetration is as follows:

  • Market penetration: The percentage of customers you reach at least once in a defined period of time. It is often calculated relative to a target market that can potentially be much smaller than the market as a whole.
  • Market share: Typically calculated for a total addressable market or the portion of the market that a firm can reach. It is based on your revenue as a percentage of the total sales of an industry or market.

We’ve just covered how to measure market penetration, but why should you measure it? The market penetration rate is a relatively simple metric, but it can tell you a lot about your performance and your market.

Market penetration can be used to determine the size of the potential market. If the total market is relatively small, that itself might act as a barrier to entry for new competitors, which means that you might not need to be aggressive at protecting your customer base. On the other hand, if the total market is large, new entrants to the industry might be encouraged that they can gain market share or a percentage of the total number of potential customers in the industry. In that scenario, you might need to think of strategies you can use to fend off the competition, and keep your customers loyal.

What’s the best way to grow your business—increase the value of sales overall, or try to sell in higher volumes? This is a tricky question to answer. However, knowing your market penetration rate can help because it gives you insight into how many sales are potentially out there to grab. Market penetration can be used to evaluate the industry as a whole to determine whether it is worth trying to grow by boosting your market share or whether it makes more sense to grow your revenue through sales. Oftentimes, calculating your market penetration rate is one of the first steps in a strategic effort to increase the market share of a particular product or service.

You can think of an industry as made up of three different types of players: leaders, laggards, and leapfrogs. If a company has a high market penetration for their products, they’re considered a market leader in the industry. 

  • Market leaders have a marketing advantage because they can reach more potential customers due to their well-established products and brand. Market leaders can also negotiate better terms with their supplies because of their significant sales volume. In other words, market leaders enjoy strong competitive advantages. 
  • Laggards are slipping behind competitors and probably need to rethink their strategies for attracting and appealing to customers. 
  • Leapfrogs are on their way up: good news, but their success could attract competitive action. Market penetration, therefore, gives you tremendous insight into how your customers and the total market view your products. 

Knowing which of these positions you occupy, therefore, is a great first step in shaping and refining your positioning and competitive strategies.

If you’ve recently embarked on a new marketing campaign or branding strategy, gathering market penetration information will help you gauge the success and return on your efforts. Your baseline market penetration rate can be recalculated following any branding, sales and marketing campaigns to determine whether market penetration increased (or decreased!), and whether there is any remaining work to be done. 

So, you know how to measure market penetration and why it's important. Now for the how.  Remember that market penetration is calculated by dividing the number of customers who have purchased a product in the category divided by the total population of consumers. So,  in order to calculate market penetration, you have to understand how many customers have purchased a product versus the total population of customers. 

To find out how many customers have purchased from you, you can ask some simple questions like:

  • Have you ever purchased a [PRODUCT NAME] from [COMPANY NAME}?
  • How many times have you shopped with us in the past 12 months?

In addition, surveys allow you to access the minds of your customers, showing you how to better serve and market to your target audience. Surveys allow you to uncover the makeup of your target market via market segmentation and identifying customer personas. We recommend segmenting your audience into customers with shared personas, and then administering surveys to each to compare your penetration rate among the various segments. And if that sounds like too much work, SurveyMonkey Audience has access to a ready-made panel of customers, just like the ones you already serve, ready to give you critical insight into your sales.

As well as knowing how many customers have purchased from you, you’ll also need to find out the parameters of the market. That’s where market sizing comes in. You can estimate the size of the market using the following three-step process:

  1. Define your total available market, or TAM

The total available market is an overall measure of the demand for your product and close alternatives to it. For instance, if you’re selling exercise bikes, the total available market takes into account the level of demand for gym equipment more generally. 

  1. Find your serviceable available market, or SAM

The serviceable available market is a narrower subset of the TAM that you have the power to reach within a specific geographical or market area. For example, let’s say that as part of your sales and distribution strategy for your new gym bikes, you want to deliver and install products locally. That means that your Serviceable Available Market is the subset of the gym equipment market found within a drivable distance of your headquarters.

  1. Understand your serviceable obtainable market, or SOM

The serviceable obtainable market is a smaller subset of the SAM that you will believe you will be able to capture. Not all members of the SAM are capturable. For instance, if customers have already invested considerable sums in a Peloton, they’re probably unlikely to buy your bike as well! So, narrow your focus to customers that are not currently being served, or that are unhappy with existing market offerings. 

The great thing about estimating market size using this approach is that it demonstrates the scalability of your sales, and therefore the full size of the market opportunity. Sure, you won’t be able to serve the total available market in the immediate term—but you could in the future, for example, by expanding your product range, or serving a wider market.  

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