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10 Tips for Creating Effective Market Research Surveys

Market Research is an integral part of a Simple StartUp since we use the information gathered about our target market to inform the growth of our businesses. To quickly summarize Market Research, it is the collection of information and data from our current and potential customers, to allow for informed decision making within a business. Entrepreneurs use market research for things such as:

  • Evaluate a business idea’s worth before starting it.
  • Establish the preferences of the customers with regards to the features, price, or appearance of the product/service.
  • Identify areas for potential growth.
  • Determine who the customer avatar is for the target market.
  • Generate future business ideas.

One common method for conducting market research is to use a survey. A survey allows for a large number of people to be measured with everyone answering the same questions. Data can quickly be drawn from the responses and allow for swift decision making within the business. However, it’s not as simple as just putting some questions on a form and blasting it out to the world. Without a clear purpose for your survey, you are not going to get responses or usable data for growing your business. Here are 10 tips for creating effective market research surveys.

Have a Clear Purpose

Before you start making any questions, picking your tools, or selecting who is going to receive the survey, you need to define the purpose of the survey. What information are you looking to get out of it or what actions are you planning to take based on the results? Without a clear reason behind your survey, your questions will often be disconnected and irrelevant. The taker may start to wonder why they are even taking the survey.

It’s also a good idea to convey the purpose of the survey to the taker before they even start. It will help give them an idea regarding what they are answering questions about, and give them time to start forming their opinions before beginning. It may also be the piece that convinces them to take the survey in the first place. If they are interested in the answers (promise to share the results) or they want to shape the way your business goes (they want a new feature, or a service that meets their needs), they can be very motivated to take part.

Give Some Background on the Business

For most of you doing Simple StartUps, you are going to have to introduce your business to your market as well as ask them for their help. If you have an existing business and you are surveying your followers or email list, then this tip might be a little less important.

When you are introducing the survey (or at the beginning of the survey) give a quick background of you, your business, where you operate, and what your business does. This helps responders to have some context for their answers. It’s also very important to include if you are asking friends and family to help you out by sharing your survey within their networks, since it will no longer be originating from you. Your market research attempt may be the first time some people are hearing about your business,

Remove Barriers and Fatigue Traps

Most people taking your survey are going to feel like they are doing you a favor unless you are offering some sort of incentive for completing it (see Bonus Tip below!). In general, people will get fatigued by long surveys. AKA, they get bored. Let’s face it, quizzes, tests, and surveys are not the most exciting thing in the world to do usually.

If the taker does feel some sense of interest in the results or wants to influence the direction of the business, then they may last a bit longer, but for the most part our tolerance for obstacles is going to be pretty low. Ways we can improve the situation for our volunteers include:

  • Less questions (see next tip)
  • Clear and easy to follow layout (see tip below)
  • All information presented in the same place.
  • Using technology that the taker is familiar with (See Choose the Right Tool tip)
  • Shorter responses required initially (See Build Them Up Slowly tip)

The one that isn’t addressed in more detail below is the information presentation. If you want to know a person’s opinion about a product or service, some aspect of your website, their understanding of a word, etc. and you ask them to change tabs or do research to answer the question – there is a high likelihood that they will skip it or make up an answer. It’s an extra step that takes effort and tolerance for extra steps is pretty low when people complete surveys.

Things you can do to combat this:

  • Include pictures and screenshots where relevant.
  • Have participants watch an informative video about your business or the survey topic first, and then answer questions about it. Have the video linked in the survey. Even better – have it embedded in the survey so they just have to click play.
  • If you are asking for preferences between different options, make the answer choices pictures of the options rather than asking them to refer to a set of pictures above the question. You could make clickable images in a pdf or webpage that would also indicate their preferences to you through click tracking.
  • If you are asking for feedback on pricing, include pictures of the product or service features nearby that they can reference.

Quality Over Quantity

As mentioned above, the taker will become fatigued quickly when taking your survey. The max number of questions I recommend having in a survey is 10. Anything over that and you’re risking people giving up which we don’t want since they may have important opinions for us to consider.

Try condensing your questions down into the most important things you need to know from your potential customer, and look for questions that give you multiple data points in one response.

For example: ‘Jack’s Exotic Animal Care’ asked me to take a look at his market research survey before he sent it out.

The first question was: “Do you have one or more pets (Not cats or dogs)?

This was followed by: “If yes please elaborate. If no please put no.

A great first attempt and you can see what information he is trying to gather. It’s important to establish if the responder has an exotic pet or not, since that is the target market. We are not concerned with the responses of anyone who does not have an exotic animal.

The problem is that this is 2 separate questions and both are written responses which take a little more effort than clicking multiple choice options.

Take a look at what his revised version looks like.

Now it is just a single question, the responder has a list to pick from, and there are the specific animals listed that Jack wants to work with.

From the responses, Jack will quickly be able to delete anyone who responded that they don’t have a pet, and he can focus on anyone who selected one of the exotic animals that he does want to work with. The “Other” option gives him some extra data to see what else people own and if he wants to expand into that area in the future.

Order is Important

In the same way that we want to prevent takers from fatiguing and giving up, we also know that they will still tire while taking the survey. Therefore, it is really important to put your most needed response questions near the beginning of the survey. If you are asking 10 questions, figure out your top 5 that give you the most information, and make sure they are near the front of the line. You will get higher quality responses and less skipped questions in the beginning.

Build Them Up Slowly

Now to totally contradict myself, you also need to warm your survey taker up. If you start your first question with something like “tell me a little about yourself” they are going to close it down and do something else. An open-ended question like that which needs more than a few words in responses is a high energy question and not one people want to start with. It can make them think the rest of the survey will be the same or worse!

Aim to start your survey with easy to answer questions such as multiple choice, ranking their preference, or single word responses. You want to encourage your taker to feel confident and that this survey will be “simple” to do. Asking demographic questions like age, gender, occupation, zip code, size of family, etc. are easy to answer questions that don’t require a lot of thought. Only ask these questions though if the answer is relevant to your survey and the desired information.

Make Your Survey Visually Appealing

While not the most important part of the survey, having a clear layout, which is easy to follow really reduces the fatigue of the taker and yields more results, and more thoughtful responses.

Questions should not have a long, drawn out build up. They should be separated by line spaces and each have their own response area. Your survey should have your business name and logo included at the top. Use of some basic colors, appropriate images, and/or video is also a plus, as long as it isn’t a distraction or makes your survey seem too busy.

Check Your Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation

In the world of spellcheck, there is NO REASON for spelling errors in a typed piece of work. Take the extra 2-3 minutes to copy the text of your survey into a Word document or other software which allows you to check the spelling and basic grammar of your questions.

Ask a friend, family member, business partner, or online community member to proofread your survey before you send it out to your target market. Do a practice run of the survey using a different email address or incognito mode to check that all questions work as intended and the results appear as desired.

Choose the Right Tool

Surveys can be in the form of:

  • A printed document such as a quiz, questionnaire, or test
  • An online survey software tool such as Google Forms or Survey Monkey
  • A social media tool such as a poll, quiz, or post with responses given in the comments
  • A clickable graphic created through a tool such as Canva
  • Live polling software such as Poll Everywhere, PearDeck, Nearpod, Plickers, Kahoot, or Remind, where respondents can text their answers or complete their responses through their phones.

If you have other tools that you have used in the past, please share them in the comments!

You want to pick a tool that is appropriate for your audience, and the type of questions you want to ask. An Instagram poll for example only allows respondents to choose between two answer options (Yes/No, Red/Blue, Buy/Pass) and you only get to ask one question at a time. It can be a really useful tool for getting a quick response to a single question you have, but often it doesn’t give you a ton of data to work from. A Google Form on the other hand allows for as many questions as you’d like and will organize responses into a Google Sheet for you when you are done. It does however, require that you are able to reach your target market online in some way.

You can get creative with online tools such as putting links to surveys in social media posts, printing URL’s and QR codes to direct people to the survey, or including the links in emails to your email list.

Make sure the tool you are using is age appropriate for the target market. If you are asking someone to learn a new piece of technology in order to answer your questions, 9 times out of 10 laziness is going to win and they just won’t be bothered. I recently had an example of this where I was asked to complete a sample market research survey on Discord. It doesn’t mean that Discord was the wrong tool (in fact it’s probably the right one since the questions were about video games), but rather I was not the target market for the survey. Pick something that your target market is already familiar with using and can easily access.

Make Sure You Get Enough Responses and They’re the Right People

My last tip is to make sure you are asking enough people and they are the right people. How many people you survey depends on how big you think your market is and how accurate you want your results to be. SurveyMonkey recommends surveying about 16% of your target market minimum to get an accurate representation of your market. If you survey too few people, you run the risk of getting incorrect information. For example, if you are planning a dog walking service for your neighborhood, and there are approximately 100 houses with dogs, if you only survey 2-3, their answers may not represent the entire group.

In the same breath, you need to survey people who are actually in your target market and could be potential customers. Surveying 100 people who don’t have dogs or don’t live in your neighborhood is not going to give you useful information about your dog walking business. A common trap entrepreneurs fall into is to create a survey and then just blast it out on their social media page. You may get 1000 responses, but they may not be the right age, occupation, geographic location, salary level, [insert defining characteristic here!] that you need information from.

One way around this is to clearly state in your survey description and purpose who you are looking for to take the survey. Something like

I am interested in the opinions of adult dog owners who live in Made-up Community and work full-time. Please share with anyone you know that fits that description”.

This helps people to screen themselves out of taking the survey so you don’t have to later, and it makes the responses you do get extra relevant to your research.

BONUS: Treat This as A Selling Opportunity

One final tip I want to throw in is that you should treat every interaction with your target market as a selling opportunity. By that, I mean you have a chance to get them interested in your business, product, or service through your questionnaire, and now you need to capitalize on that interest before they disappear.

Some things I recommend doing are:

  • Offering a discount on purchasing to anyone who completes the survey. Ask for their email at the end to receive the discount and add this to your email list.
  • Offer them early access to the product or service once it is ready. Again, capture their email.
  • Ask them if they would be interested in seeing the results of the survey. Email capture again.
  • Offer them a chance to sign up to your newsletter, subscribe to your social media pages, or to visit your website. Give them an option to learn more and potentially buy right there in the survey.
  • Straight up ask them if they are interested in buying from you right now either at the full price or a discounted price. Give them instructions on how to purchase (link, payment information, order form, your email address, phone number). This can be a pre-order sale which means they will get their purchase a little later once you are ready, or an immediate order if you are able to make the suggested changes from your research results quickly.

As you can see, building an email list and social media following is an important byproduct of your market research and a powerful tool to have for your business. Blog post on that to come soon!

If you are thinking of sending out some market research surveys in the near future, try sharing them in the comments on this post first and let the other entrepreneurs out there give you some feedback and things to try. I’d also love to hear about your market research efforts and results at [email protected]

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