You created a product or service and you’re ready to go all in and make a gazillion dollars. But before you roll out the big bucks to launch your idea, someone on your team suggests that you get some feedback from actual customers to see if you should make any last-minute changes.
“Let’s do a survey!”
Great! You and your team slap a few questions together, drop them into your favorite app (Typeform, right?) send the link out in an email and onto Facebook, and…
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Ok, maybe the results weren’t that bad. Perhaps you received some responses. But was the sample big enough to make real business decisions? Will you put your survey data to work and start making changes, or will you disregard it all because you know better than the ignorant masses?
Bottom line: will your survey actually mean something to somebody?
This guide will help you conduct your next market research survey. You’ll gather meaningful data for you, your team, or your organization.
Let’s start with purpose.
1. Give your market research survey purpose and context
Every market research survey should have one purpose—so what’s the objective of your survey? Why should someone go through the trouble of taking it?
Is it to get feedback on a new product or feature? Is it to learn why someone churned and left you for someone else? Do you want to gauge a person’s experience with your customer success department?
Stick to one purpose.
This brings us to context. Now that you know why you’re doing a survey, think about where and when they might be completing it. Are they in the office or at home? Are they doing it on the weekend or on a bus ride to work?
Are they using a tablet, desktop, laptop, or phone? (Dare I say, an Apple Watch?)
Context is not just environment. It’s also giving participants the full picture on why you’re giving the survey, what changes are likely to be made from all the feedback, and how they’re making a difference in the work you do.
Recently, Quartz ran a survey for busy C-Level execs. They sent out the following e-mail:
That email had a 34% clickthrough rate!
Quartz tested different campaigns. Here’s another message they sent out in their morning news email, The Quartz Daily Brief:
This short, two-sentence email received a paltry .41% clickthrough rate. Yes, that’s less than half of 1%. Compare this with another message they sent through their newsletter email:
According to Mia Mabanta, Director of Marketing at Quartz:
The takeaway? No context, no purpose = no clicks.
So add some context. Tell respondents what you’re going to do with the information, and even offer to share the results with them. Understand where they are, what devices they’re on, and what time of day it is. Involve them in the process, and you’ll get some serious survey mojo working for you.
Answer these questions before launching your next survey campaign. Try to get your answers down to one sentence or less:
What’s the purpose of this survey? What’s your ultimate objective?
What will someone get from completing your market research survey? What’s their stake in having you reach your outcomes?
Where are they when they engage with your business? (Physical location, environment, etc.)
When are they likely to engage in your survey?
What devices are they likely to be on?
2. Tie survey incentives to your product but be wary of cash incentives or gift cards
Cash incentives work and are proven to drive response rates up. Why? Because people want money—duh. But what happens to survey data quality when a few opportunists smell a fast cash grab? It goes south and you’re left scratching your head wondering what went wrong with your survey.
So what to do?
Remember that you added context and a sense of purpose for the respondent in Tip #1. If people see your end game and how it affects them, then take it one step further. Try tying incentives to your product or service.
Offer respondents a product discount for their time, especially if you’re doing market research or product feedback surveys. If you have complementary products and services, add more value there. But make sure that it’s valuable to them. People will put in a little bit extra when they have a strong connection to your brand. Your audience wants a better product anyway—it’s a win-win.
Remember, when a customer understands that you’re working hard on a solution to their problem, they don’t really need cash incentives—people want a better experience. Then your job is simple: listen, understand, and act on that data. And when you improve things, share the finished product with them. Show them how they contributed.
There’s nothing worse than spending a lot of time answering survey questions only to see that nothing’s been done.
Steer away from cash or gift card incentives for product feedback—response quality could diminish depending on a respondent’s motivations.
Tie incentives to your product. What complementary products or services could you offer? If you have a subscription service, could you offer a discount or one month free? If you’re beta testing a product, could you acknowledge survey contributors on your blog or newsletter?
3. Talk to your ‘ideal reader’
You’ve probably heard the term buyer persona. You may have run across similar terms like customer avatar or ideal client, but the concept remains the same. A buyer persona is a fictitious (or semi-real) customer, complete with demographics, personality, and obstacles that stand in their way. This includes what problems they want to solve, and why they will engage in your business.
Your mission is to create a buyer persona for your business. This is the one person your business will serve over and over again. Focus on one person.
Why one? Because you cannot make a message for billions of people and hope to reach them. Choose your ideal customer and communicate to them, and you will reach plenty of people. Let me explain.
Stephen King, author of Carrie, The Shining, Shawshank Redemption, and many others has sold over 300 million books in his lifetime.
Mr. King also applied the buyer persona concept to his writing, but he called it his “ideal reader”. And who was his “ideal reader”? His wife, Tabitha.
Every one of his books was written for her. He knew what scared her, made her laugh, and got her on the edge of her seat. And by writing for ONE reader, his books resonated with millions. So ask yourself:
Who is your ‘ideal reader’ or customer?
What are their fears? What inspires them?
What do they value most? What do they believe?
Who influences your persona’s decisions? (Family, friends, colleagues, etc.)
If your survey helps uncover data around your persona, how will you use that data to talk to them in the future?
4. Quality over quantity
Ryan Levesque author of Ask. makes a case for response quality over quantity. Ryan clocked over $100 million in revenue from 23 different markets applying his survey funnel strategy. His surveys help him uncover profitable markets, develop products, and write engaging copy that comes right out of the survey-taker’s mouth.
Ryan recalls an experience he had entering the “orchids” business. In the first survey he sent to his potential ‘orchid’ market, he asked the following question: what’s your biggest challenge when it comes to growing orchids?
The answers came pouring in, but then he noticed something. Many of the responses centered around ‘watering’ orchids. When should I water orchids? How often should I water them?
So what did Ryan do? He built an information product around watering orchids. Ryan used the most commonly used phrases for his marketing campaign, set up his website, and was ready for cash to rain from the heavens. But it flopped.
What happened? Ryan explains that he should have paid attention to quality of responses, not quantity. What turns out to be the best response to an open-ended question (what’s your biggest challenge?) is depth, not the quick one-sentence answer.
Why? Ryan suggests that if someone invests a lot of time explaining a particular problem, then they’re more invested in solving it. There’s a goldmine hidden in longer, more thoughtful responses. Ryan adjusted, put those quality answers into various buckets, prioritized them, developed another product, and the money rolled in.
When validating a market, ask open-ended questions such as, “What’s your biggest frustration when it comes to…?” or “What’s your biggest challenge around…?”
Look for quality of responses, not quantity of a particular response.
For market research, qualitative data outperforms quantitative data. People that invest heavily in answering survey questions crave a solution to their problem. This is a hyperactive market so invest some extra time with them.
5. Be conversational
Before you conduct your next survey, think about this. You’re on this planet with 7 billion other people. To create value in the world, your job is simple—help improve someone’s quality of life. In the end, business and life are about one thing:
You hear words like empathy, community, and caring far more in business than you do in your everyday interactions with others. George Anders published an article on Linkedin predicting that empathy will be the number one job skill in 2020. He’s wrong: empathy is the number one skill in business today—forget about 2020.
The internet makes it easy to connect with others en masse, but don’t mistake a shallow connection (such as Facebook ‘likes’) for deeper, more meaningful connections. The business world picked up on this, and it’s gaining steam. Your business thrives based on the depth of your connection with every client, customer, and human you engage with. (Don’t really care for the term ‘user’.)
Deep connections = increased loyalty.
How do you create deeper connections through a survey? Be conversational.
Even in a survey, don’t bore them with academic vernacular (like using words such as ‘vernacular’). Speak the common language, with common phrases and questions.
When writing marketing copy, read it out loud. Then ask yourself “Would I ever say it this way to someone if I was talking to them?”— Jason Fried (@jasonfried) January 29, 2016
If you’ve been listening to your customers, if you communicate with them in their language and within their context, then you should have no trouble coming up with the right language or the right survey questions.
What language, phrases, and words does your “ideal customer” use?
Are you being personable? Relatable? Don’t be a robot.
Make people feel special. Use their name. Make them laugh.
How are you involving your customers in your process? For example, if you use some of their insights to make changes to your product or service, are you informing them?
What feedback are you already receiving from customers? Are you making changes based on that feedback?
Who on your team can empathize with your customer best? Are you listening to them?
6. Don’t call it a market research survey
I know. It sounds contradictory, but if you sent out a survey and received less responses than you expected, try calling your survey something else. Using the word ‘survey’ brings up a range of thoughts.
How long will this take? What’s in it for me? Is this even relevant?
Instead of giving out a survey, ask for someone’s opinion. Ask for advice. Ask for some feedback. Give them a quiz.
Play with different terms if you find your response rate low. It makes a difference.
If you find your response rates low, what else can you call your survey? How you name things matters.
Based on the questions in your survey, which term (opinion, feedback, advice, quiz, etc.) would make the most sense to your audience?
7. Get micro-commitments
When you send out your survey, you want respondents to get involved quickly. So throw them a softball. Start with a simple yes/no, easy, can’t-miss question to get them going.
Are you a business owner?
Do you like growing orchids?
Have you ever been to Barcelona?
You get the idea. Think of it like a date. When you meet someone for the first time, you start with small talk. You don’t begin by telling them that you’re a 40-year-old virgin still living with mom—do you? You also wouldn’t have your date come to your house the very first time you meet (well, some creeps would). Make people feel comfortable. Get them involved early on. Gain trust—then ask the tough questions.
Start your survey with an easy this or that question. Toss them a softball and get people involved early, but make sure it’s data you can use.
Test. Test your email copy, test your opening questions, and test question phrasing. Sure it’s more work, but if people aren’t willing to click a button to reach your survey or the next question, then you’re asking for too much.
8. Remember: growth is your goal
You designed something. A product, a service, a curriculum, a thought-provoking article. Cool. But keep in mind: this is not your best work.
If you truly understand that your best work is yet to come and that you don’t have all the answers, then you will start from a place of humility. This kind of attitude will reflect in any communication you send out to potential or current customers, and will likely increase engagement, especially when it comes to surveys.
And what are surveys for again?
Surveys are tools for understanding people—so you can make things better or make better things for them.
Remember that. You’re asking people for their point of view so that you can learn from them. Your duty is to use that information to make different decisions and necessary adjustments. Your goal is to grow.
If you’re ready to do great work, and give your customers the best experience you possibly can, then you’ll need their honest feedback. So before designing your next survey, ask yourself:
Do I truly care what other people think, or am I just going through the motions?
Is improving the customer experience really important to me? Will I walk the talk?
Am I willing to make changes and change course based on the feedback I’m getting? Why or why not?
9. Make your survey look good
How do you avoid survey fatigue? By making it pretty on the eyes. Seriously. Your survey should look enticing on every device: phones, tablets, laptops, etc. (Even an Apple Watch.)
But survey design is more than colors and user interface tricks. Time plays an important role. The length of your survey will either keep people engaged, or turn them off and make them hate you. Please be mindful of everyone’s time.
Also, think in terms of “one thing”. According to the UK’s government site, you should start with one thing per page. One thing could be:
One piece of information to understand
One decision to make
One question to answer
Final things to keep in mind:
Who’s your business centered around? Serious folk? Playful? Design for them.
Use pictures, images, icons, and video in your survey design. It’s more engaging.
Have a few people take your survey before you send it out to everybody. Time them. If it’s over 15 minutes, I’m sure you secretly harbor contempt for your customers.
Asking questions is an art, but seems to come easy to people who are generally curious. Make sure your ‘question designer’ is inherently curious and empathetic.