6 Tips for Deploying Market Research Surveys

by Mike Murphy on August 23, 2018
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Think you want to do a market research survey? You’re pretty sure that your product is what the market needs, but you really don’t know. So, it’s time for a plan to find out.

Market research surveys should always be a tool in your arsenal for staying on top of customer needs, changing demand, and the competitive landscape in industry. They can help you to test an idea, evaluate the success of your plan, and are an important part of data validation.

At a high level, market research centers your business on your customer. It keeps you focused. It allows you to pursue the right opportunities and abandon the wrong ones. And, it improves your decision-making capabilities to reduce risk. Looking at market research in these ways will show you just how critical it is to the long-term sustainability of your company.

Simply put, to make a good decision, you need good information. A market research survey can be a key source of that information, but you need a plan to get the best results. Don’t just throw questions into an online survey maker or start dialing. You likely won’t get what you are looking for.

 

Tip 1: Clearly define why are you doing the survey.

First, start with what your goals are. Depending on whether you want to grow, diversify, or just get feedback, you will want to gather different information. You'll also use different methods to uncover this information.

In my experience, the most common research themes are:

  • Reaching a specific audience
  • Researching and analyzing a target market
  • Understanding customers better
  • Measuring brand awareness
  • Gaining insights into a product or future product

Start with two questions: "Why are you doing the survey or research?” and "What information are you trying to gather, or what question are you trying to answer?" I've worked with many companies that think they know why they want to do a survey, but once I dig in a little further, the real reasons reveal themselves. If you are in manufacturing, you have probably already heard of the 5-whys of Six Sigma. This root cause/reason analysis even applies to problem solving in sales and marketing.

As an example, many people I talk to want to use surveys to "understand what my customers need.” Well, that’s a start, but that’s a very broad reason. So, I continue to ask, “Why?” Often the next answer is something like, “Grow my business.” or “I need market share.” or “I need to be working with more OEMs.” Keep asking "why" until you hone in on a specific and measurable answer.

 

Tip 2: Figure out who needs to answer your survey.

Now, we are getting somewhere. So, I move on to, “Who?” Some say, “I don’t know.” Others might be more specific, such as, “Manufacturers with $25M or more in revenue that produce solar equipment.” You will still need to go deeper to uncover the actual people and job titles you should survey. Knowing which respondents you need helps to pinpoint the very questions you need to ask as well as informs you on how to best deliver those questions.

You may need to talk with more than one demographic. For example, you might need to speak with engineers for product applications and design. Buyers may give you insight into pricing, delivery and customer service. In both cases, you'll want to uncover the specific pain points and needs from their unique perspectives.

Because of this, you may need to develop different tracks of questioning in your survey or research questions. A helpful way to start is to use the respondent's job title or role to determine which line of questions to follow. This method works well electronically or over the phone.

Once you’ve figured out who you’re asking, it's time to start honing your questions. And, don’t forget to verify your contact data is up to date and segmented. There’s nothing worse than starting with a bad contact list.

 

Tip #3: Decide what questions to ask.

This is where some survey projects go off the rails. It’s important to stick to the reasons you determined in tip 1. Make sure each of your questions is designed to give you information that leads back to your original “why.” Focusing on that will help you craft questions that get to the root of what you need. The key is to do it in as few questions as possible. Too many questions fatigues your survey respondent, which usually cuts the conversation short or causes them to abandon the electronic survey. In the end, you wind up with partial results.

There are basically two types of research, and two general types of questions, inherent in a survey:

  1. Quantitative research is designed to collect information like numbers or percentages. These questions are typically easier to answer, and so analyzing this data is very straightforward. Conclusions can be drawn on a general level in most cases. Quantitative questions help you make connections or comparisons between variables. A typical result might appear as follows: 
    45% of all respondents indicated that material strength is their number one concern when specifying…
  2. Qualitative research is designed to get information about a topic or product that is more about an opinion or motivation. These are often open-ended questions intended to gain insights and attitudes. This type of questioning can give important information, but it’s harder to analyze. Qualitative insights can help develop new ideas or questions for follow-up surveys and interactions. A typical analysis may uncover a motivation or impression. For example:

When asked to clarify the reasons for the need for material strength, it was found that tensile strength was not the major concern but rather, sheer strength. The applications that these “products” are placed into experience high levels of sheer during certain phases of use and failures are often introduced. If these are eliminated, significant savings for our clients can be achieved.

It’s a good idea to balance the number of quantitative and qualitative questions for the best results. Being aware of the type of questions you’re asking will help you analyze your data effectively after your survey is over. Again, the trick is to avoid survey fatigue.

 

Tip #4: Determine how your survey will be delivered.

How and when you choose to send out your survey can have a big impact on who ends up responding, the answers you get and the decisions you make. Telephonic outreach is more costly, but it often brings in the best results, particularly if you are delivering a more qualitative survey. For a purely quantitative survey, you may want to consider electronic delivery or a combination of both.

Electronic

Online surveys are a good way to deliver short, fact-finding research questions as people tend to want to complete them on their own time and not be interrupted. This method is also more affordable. Try sending out surveys on three different occasions (varying time and day), remembering to remove respondents so they aren't contacted more than once. Understanding that response rates can range as low as 5% to as high as 15%. There are typically three factors that affect response rates: survey design, messaging (what value does the respondent receive for completing a survey), and of course, the delivery time and frequency.

Telephonic

Successful telephone calling for surveys requires skilled callers and a keen understanding of the work life of your potential respondents. For example, if you want to talk to a manufacturing manager or engineer, call early in the day or close to end of business when they are likely to be at their desk checking email or listening to voicemail. While this method is more costly, it provides more detailed responses and the opportunity to ask follow-up questions for clarity. We have found response rates ranging from 10-30%. Again, design, length, value, and timing are all critical. We have been involved in many discussions with our clients as to survey length in particular. Let’s just say, there is a fine balance between the desire to gather as much data as possible (which may be overly ambitious) and survey length. Often the solution is developing a tiered survey. For example, questions that must be answered and those that are nice to have answered but are not mandatory.

Both

A combination of electronic and phone surveys is often a great strategy. Use an email survey to gather more quantitative data and determine who is engaged in the process. Then, follow up with those respondents to learn more, and ask the qualitative questions that will help deliver deeper insights. Your ROI will be greater, and the personalized approach will no doubt give you higher quality data.

 

Tip #5: Calculate the number of responses you need.

Figuring out the number of people you need to respond to your survey (known as “sample size” in the survey world) will help assure any analyses that you run on the data is a strong basis for good decisions. This “sample” of people should be big enough to be reflect your target demographic. However, even if your sample isn’t significant, don’t dismiss the data you gather. It’s still valuable because all feedback can help you improve your business.

Taking into consideration the population size of your respondents, your confidence in their willingness to respond, and the margin of error you anticipate, it becomes a simple math problem.

Generally, the rule of thumb is that the larger the sample size, the more statistically significant it is—meaning there’s less of a chance that your results happened by coincidence. But you might be wondering whether or not a statistically significant sample size matters. The truth is, it’s a case-by-case situation. A survey can still give you valuable answers without having a sample size that represents the general population. It is important that you work with someone who understands statistical significance. I found the following article from the Harvard Business Review very insightful. We often work with associates such as Ph.D.’s trained in this area to validate our approach.

 

Tip #6: Create a process to analyze results.

Start with any data you received from the quantitative analysis. For many people, Microsoft Excel is a familiar tool for looking at results, calculating percentages, and making charts to visualize the big picture. Be sure to add demographic, geographic and other data pertinent to your findings. Decide which categories are most important for you and then use the data to help you answer your initial “why.”

For qualitative survey questions, take time to review each answer and try to ignore any obscure findings. Focus on trends, themes, common words and ideas and don’t get bogged down in the details. Act on any results that need attention, especially if they relate to customer service. You will likely find data that will drive you to ask for more details.

To sum it all up, the survey process really opens your eyes to how valuable feedback can be to your business. You can uncover things you never knew, maybe because you were too close to the situation or had a bias. Start with a simple and specific goal and plan. Keep an open mind and consider adding surveys as an ongoing part of your research.

Topics: Marketing Analytics

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