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How to Write an Online Market Research Survey

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Market research is the key to a successful business. If your business isn’t meeting a need, you’ll struggle to get customers through your doors. Market research is your way of discovering what your customers need. Once you know that, you’ve got the foundation of a successful business.

Why Market Research Matters

In a moment we’ll get into how market research helps you drive up revenues and boost profits. First, let’s take a look at what market research is all about.

The American Marketing Association has a thorough definition for Market Research. We can simplify this as the process of pulling together information about the needs and preferences of your customers.

In other words, it’s all about finding out what your customers want. You go out and talk to people, or watch how they behave. From that you work out how you can better help your customers.

Doing market research helps your business in two key ways.

First, it helps you develop better products. By “better”, I mean products that people actually want and are willing to pay for.

Typically, products are developed to solve a problem. Good products make things easier for people. Motor cars solved the problem of it taking forever to get anywhere. The Internet makes it easier to talk to people and to learn new things. Paper clips are a low-cost way of keeping documents neat and organized.

Product creators usually come up with products that solve a problem they encounter in their own lives. Market research lets product creators know whether other people face the same problem, and — just as important — whether the problem matters to them. If a product solves a problem people don’t care about, then they’re not going to open their wallets to buy that product.

Amy Hoy of Unicorn Free has earned herself a healthy stash of money by creating products that meet people’s needs. Understandably, she’s big on doing the work to find out what customers want. Hoy writes:

“You need to create something people actually want, by focusing on customers who pay for value, and understanding them, and serving them.”

Hoy knows that a product will only sell if people want it and are willing to pay for it.

Second, market research helps you talk to your customers in a way that makes them sit up and listen. The business world is full of jargon and technical language that is meaningless to most people.

Doing market research gives you a view of the world from the eyes of your customers. You’ll learn to speak about your products or services in the words they use. That way, you’ll be better at showing how your products can help your customers.

In short, market research means better products and better marketing. That means more sales and a more profitable business.

On the flip side, failing to do your market research means your business is more likely to fail.

With that mind, let’s take a look at how you can conduct effective market research.

Why a Market Research Survey?

There are a ton of different ways to do market research. You can use social media listening to find out what your potential customers are talking about and what matters to them. You can interview customers and prospects to get deep into what they need. You can talk with a focus group of target customers. Even mystery shopping is a form of market research.

All of these are good ways of finding out what your customers need.

So why a survey?

Interviews are the most in-depth form of market research. You get to guide the conversation and prompt your customers into sharing the information you need. The interviewee has the opportunity to provide detailed answers, which can be massively insightful.

The problem with interviews is that they’re costly in money and time. Not only have you got to prepare the questions. You’ve got to find customers who are willing to give up a good chunk of time, which can mean paying them. You’ve got to go out and conduct the interviews, or pay a professional interviewer to do so. Then you must transcribe the interviews and collate everything you learn.

With surveys, you get to guide the conversation through the questions you ask. You can ask questions that allow those you’re surveying to provide detailed, in-depth answers. But you don’t have the time-cost of interviewing people individually and transcribing all the answers. Also, your customers are more likely to show a willingness to participate. That’s because a survey is a smaller time commitment than an interview.

Aside from cost, surveys have a key advantage over interviews. With interviews, you can only find out what a handful of customers think. Even if you dedicate serious resources to interviewing, and conduct 20-30 interviews, you may still struggle to notice patterns in the answers you receive.

With surveys, you have the potential to get replies from many, many more people. With all these replies, you’ll spot patterns in the answers you receive.

That’s not to say surveys are always better than or even as good as interviews. But they give you great feedback for a minimal investment. When you’re trying to keep costs down, that matters.

How to Write a Market Research Survey

So, you’re ready to start writing a survey. You want to get into the minds of your customers. Isn’t it just a matter of writing a few questions and putting the survey out there, hoping somebody notices it?

Getting your customers to take part in your survey and give honest answers is vital to the success of your market research. As such, how you write your survey and how you pitch it to customers matters. Get this wrong, and you’ll miss out on valuable data. You could end up being sent up a business dead-end, if you get a percentage of answers that aren’t representative of your overall customer base.

Let’s have a look at what it takes to write a successful survey.

Step 1: Be Clear on Your Goals

Before you start work on your survey, you need to know what you want to find out. A meandering survey that has no clear aim will put people off answering. You’ll struggle to get answers that help you improve your business.

To write your survey you need to be clear on:

  • Who you want to talk to. Do you want to target all your current customers, or those who’ve spent a certain amount in your store? Do you want to only focus on customers, or on a broader audience who would benefit from using your products?
  • What you want to find out. Remember, if you’re developing or improving a product, you’re looking for blocks or problems your customers face. If your aim is to improve your marketing, you want to know the language your target market uses to describe these problems.

Getting clear on these keeps your survey focused. You only ask questions that you need the answers for. A shorter survey makes it easier to find people who are willing to take part. People are much more likely to give you three minutes of their time than twenty minutes.

Struggling to find focus? Move onto the next step, and you’ll get the focus you need in the process of writing and honing your questions.

Step 2: Draft Your Questions

This stage is about getting questions down onto paper. Write down every possible question you can think of that you’d like an answer to. Even when you’ve run out of ideas, it can be helpful to keep pushing. The more questions you get, the better.

Get everything down. Don’t hold back!

Done? Once you’ve got a list of questions, play around with them. Phrase them in different ways. Try to come up with questions that focus on the nub of the issue.

Step 3: Choose the Best Questions

Group up your questions into common themes. In each theme, choose the best question.

Ideally, you want to have five questions in total. Keeping your survey short will mean you get more responses.

If you’ve got more than eight questions, you need to do some pruning. Out of the questions you’ve got, pick up to eight.

Step 4: Craft Your Questions

In this step, you’ll hone your questions to get the best possible answers from your survey respondents.

To complete this step, you need to know a little bit about research methods. When you’re doing research, there are two main types of questions you can ask: closed questions and open questions.

Closed questions have a limited choice of answers. For example, “Do you play soccer?” is a closed question. The choice of answers is “yes”, “no”, or “sometimes”.

Additionally, multiple choice questions are a form of closed question.

Closed questions have two advantages. First, they’re simple to answer. Whoever is completing the survey doesn’t need to think too much. They just check boxes. Second, you can analyse the answers you get statistically, putting them into tables and charts.

Open questions have an unlimited choice of possible answers. An example of an open question is “What do you enjoy doing in your free-time?” This can be answered in any number of ways (provided you don’t include multiple choice check boxes).

Open questions have two advantages. First, you’re not trying to anticipate what the survey-takers will say. By leaving the answer up to them, you’ll discover things you’d never have thought of on your own. Second, open questions allow you to learn the language of your customers, as they’re writing the answers themselves.

Business educator Ramit Sethi frequently uses surveys to find out more about what participants in his courses need. Sethi has found that when he’s first surveying a particular audience, open-ended questions work best. That’s because with closed questions, his assumptions get in the way when creating multiple choice answer lists.

Once he’s collected a set of answers from open questions, he uses these answers to create a multiple choice survey. That way, he has a set of data he can analyse statistically. In Sethi’s own words:

“The most valuable survey responses I get are the qualitative ones. That’s because people will tell you all kinds of crazy stuff you’ve never thought about. On your first few surveys, you will get way more insight out of qualitative, or open-ended, questions”

When you’re getting your questions into shape you must:

  • Choose whether to opt for open or closed questions, or a mixture of both.
  • Make your questions simple to understand. When you’re writing questions, it can be all too easy to assume that others will understand what you mean. If you’re unsure whether your questions make perfect sense, get feedback on your questions from a friend or colleague to see if they understand what you’re asking.
  • Make your questions as short as possible. The shorter your questions, the more responses you’ll get on your survey.

For a cheat sheet on this step, you can download our Market Research Survey Question Checklist.

Step 5: Order Your Questions

Finally, put your questions in order. Ask the questions you most want answered first.

Planning to follow-up with people who take your survey? Then ask for contact details last. If you ask for contact details first, then people who don’t want to share contact details will ignore your survey. Ask for them last, and the people who don’t want to share can leave the answer box blank. They’ve already helped you out by answering all your other questions.

How to Get People to Take Part in Your Survey

Now you’ve got a survey, you need to find people to answer it. Here’s how you do that.

Step 1: Upload Your Survey

To get people to answer your survey, you’ll need to share it online. A great tool for doing this is Survey Monkey, which is free for basic surveys.

Step 2: Promote Your Survey

Now, get your survey out there! Most people love sharing their opinions. Your job is to find the people whose opinions you actually want. You can do this by:

  • Emailing your customers. To improve participation levels, offer a reward for taking part, such as a discount coupon.
  • Sharing the survey on social media. As with emails, this is best for targeting your current customers.
  • Posting it on Craigslist. It’s free, and it’s a good way of getting insight from people who have never bought products from your business.
  • Sharing it on relevant forums. Go to where your customers hang out, and ask for their input.

Now you know how to write an online market research survey, go do it! Once you discover the insight you get from survey responses, you’ll wonder why you never did it before.

Graphic Credit: Survey designed by Brennan Novak from the Noun Project.

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