We are very pleased to have Wendy S. Cobrda, President and Founder of Earthsense as a guest blogger this week. She is a veteran of the target marketing industry with 20+ years building innovative data and consulting solutions; a 10 years+ serial entrepreneur.
So, you’ve been tasked with finding facts on product usage by your customers. You can’t find any public research that you can buy to learn more about the market; your company’s internal library staff has very little that you can use. When you have special data needs, often you are left with the only viable solution to get the exact information you need: a custom survey. Keep in mind the following factors that can help you increase success with your project.
1. Focus – Brevity and clarity counts. Zero in on what your really need as opposed to what might be nice to know. Tackling price, take rate, messaging and usage in one survey can be too much in one study especially if you have a complicated product.
2. Objectivity- If you’re planning on publishing results, hiring a professional consultant or firm to deploy the survey on your behalf can eliminate the appearance of a thinly disguised sales pitch. Too often great ideas are discounted because the messenger doesn’t seem credible. Appearance is reality.
3. Sampling- Clearly define the role of the person you are interviewing in relation to the product being measured. Determine if it is best to speak with the Budget Keeper, the End User, the Integrator or the Business Leader. Then find the titles that correspond to those roles. While a B2B source such as Hoovers or D&B may be used to find suitable respondents, you may have to be creative to enlist the assistance of a partner such as industry association or trade magazine to find the right resources / respondent to speak with.
4. Design– Survey design is often overlooked now that online tools have made it easy to program simple questionnaires. While there are plenty of guidelines on designing good questions, it all boils down to one thing: clarity. Use one attribute per question: e.g. “How well do you like the color of product X?” as opposed to “How well do you like the color and design of product X?” The scales you choose (ex. 1 to 5) should be labeled as to what each point means (agree strongly…disagree strongly). Finally, make sure the data will be collected in a usable format. (We often prepare a PowerPoint of the results using mock data just to make sure we formulated the questions and output properly)!
5. Methodology– Don’t use a saw when a nail file will do. If you are looking for initial opinions, a small group of current customers might agree to a focus group or individual interviews. If you have the luxury of time on your side, you might wish to examine your ideas on this small scale first. The answers you get can help you hone your questions to just the essentials. If you serve a variety of industries and users, you may opt for an internet survey. More advanced survey tools allow branching and skipping – techniques which take respondents down different paths depending upon answers to screening questions.
6. Incentives – No one likes to do anything for free. While many companies offer entry into a sweepstakes , we have learned that a token gift - such as a pen or a gift certificate - to everyone who completes the survey is one way to increase your response rates. Higher ranked management and longer surveys require substantial incentives to get adequate response rates. Budget for it. It can make the difference between a failure and success.
7. Confidentiality– All respondents should be assured that their individual responses will only be used in aggregate with other respondents’ data. As a company policy, you should truncate and store personally identifiable data separately before sharing results with other departments.
Gathering primary data can give you an advantage that your competitors won’t have. Keep these concepts in mind to get your project off to a successful start.
About the Author: Wendy founded Earthsense with Amy Hebard as the culmination of several greenfield ventures, including target marketing consultancy Catenate and Catosphere, a demographics e-commerce portal; business development for top segmentation and syndicated research companies (Claritas, Market Statistics, Mediamark Research & Intelligence (MRI), Group 1 Software); Earthsense is headquartered in the Syracuse Technology Garden business incubator. She lives outside Syracuse with her husband Pete Buonfiglio and their two children and tank full of clown loaches.