Do-it-yourself surveys, even informal and small ones, can help you determine the priorities of current and potential customers. Survey results can guide your business practices in three key areas: marketing, to assess anything from your website’s usability to desired features in your products; sales, to identify your best leads among prospects; and service and support, to find out customer satisfaction levels that will enable you to better gauge retention and referral expectations.
Formal surveys as well as informal methods of gathering opinions online are easy to do. In addition, they cast a wide net while keeping costs low in most cases.
If you decide to do a formal survey, your first step is to determine how many customers to survey—your sample size. Then you can use one of the free online polling tools (more on this in a minute).
Professional survey people tend to recommend getting huge percentages of your customer base (or whomever you intend to poll) so you can have a high level of accuracy, but let’s be realistic. As a business professional, you should get as many responses as you feel you can and judge for yourself whether you’ve reached enough. Maybe seek every third customer in your database, or some similar method for randomizing a bit.
And then in the marketing materials you develop from survey results, you could say, “More than 80 percent of customers surveyed said they would definitely [purchase the product, use the service, etc.] again.” Also, it’s important to note that for a more ambitious survey—sending it to more people (the cutoff is often 100) or more often than the free basic products allow—can mean you’ll need to upgrade and buy a survey tool potentially costing hundreds of dollars.
Here is a look at some of today’s popular tools for conducting online surveys:
Google Docs: A form-making tool built into the free Google Docs application (docs.google.com) lets customers fill out a survey that dumps the data automatically into a Google spreadsheet. I’ve often used this option. You can solicit answers in many ways, including checkboxes for varied responses (always, sometimes, never, etc.), radio buttons (yes/no or either/or responses), and even short or long text areas for free-form data collection.
SurveyMonkey: This service (SurveyMonkey.com) has a free option for asking 10 questions of 100 people or, for $17 a month, you can ask unlimited questions to unlimited numbers of recipients. There are higher-level options that add advanced logic features, such as A/B (split) testing of two survey versions, question-and-answer piping (asking follow-up questions based on previous answers), and even text analysis for open data areas. This is probably one of the more popular tools used by entrepreneurs and small- to midsize-business users. (Zoomerang merged with SurveyMonkey, in case you were wondering why I haven’t listed it as an online survey tool.)
SurveyGizmo: For fewer than 50 people with unlimited questions, SurveyGizmo (SurveyGizmo.com) is free; it’s $810 per year for anything more. It offers integration with various customer relationship management (CRM) tools such as SalesForce as well as integration with Google spreadsheets.
Wufoo: Like its competitors, Wufoo has free pricing for as many as 10 questions to 100 or fewer people. It’s $199.95 a month for all the bells and whistles (although the highest-level plan limits surveys to “only” 100,000 people a month). It has prebuilt templates for surveys, logic and branching (such as “Mary said no to whether she has a dog, so we won’t ask her the four next questions about dogs”), spam prevention, and other services, and there’s a nice flow to functions when you use it. See details at Wufoo.com.
MoboSurvey: Although some of the previous online survey tools worked fine on my smartphone, others were a bit difficult to navigate. No worries: MoboSurvey (MoboSurvey.com) is ideal for survey audiences more reachable via smartphones and tablet computers. Pricing is free to send a survey to as many as 100 people, and $35 a month at the highest level.
Informal Approaches: Social Media
If your customers are on social media, they’re probably not shy about expressing opinions there. You can use listening tools (not a survey tool per se, but a way to keep abreast of what’s being said) to create analysis of unstructured data. Tools for this method include Salesforce Radian6 (starts at $5,000 per month) and Trackur ($27 a month for the basic package and up to $447 a month for its top-of-the-line product, which is popular with small businesses). They help you find the number of mentions of your business and where they occur on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+), the percentage of the conversation pertaining to your business (out of 100 people talking about cars, 30 were talking about the car you sell), and additional worthwhile information.
One method for conducting informal social media surveys is by simply asking people questions on Twitter, Facebook or a blog. These are obviously low-response and low-reliability surveys—not nearly as scientific as some of the other methods and tools—but for an entrepreneur in a hurry, it’s equivalent to “eyeballing it.” One company, SurveyTool.com, has a Facebook survey tool built specifically for this purpose; SurveyTool’s free “personal” option lets you conduct three surveys a month, but you’re limited to asking 50 people 100 questions, three times within a month.
These guidelines can help you create a survey that delivers valuable results.
Always know the purpose of your survey—the type of information you want to elicit—before you build it. Randomly asking questions rarely yields data worth measuring.
Ask the fewest number of questions possible.
If you’re conducting a mobile survey, use the right kinds of questions for the technology (more yes or no answers; fewer paragraphs for respondents to write).
Be clear in your wording. People will quickly abandon difficult surveys.
Reward participants when appropriate. You might offer a discount coupon or free upgrade to people who complete the survey.
Plan in advance for how you will use the data you collect (oddly, this isn’t always well-considered).
Consider a follow-up survey after some time elapses so you can track trends.
Surveys are a cornerstone of marketing data and a great way to determine which leads deserve immediate, energetic pursuit. Without surveys, it’s hard to know how your customers feel. But they can be intrusive to your customers, prospects and even your internal teams. The takeaways: Design surveys so participants can finish them quickly and don’t survey too often.
SUCCESS contributing editor Chris Brogan is CEO and president of Human Business Works, a business design company. He is also the New York Times best-selling co-author of The Impact Equation and a sought-after professional speaker.