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Market Research Tips: Survey Thoughts
By Linda Rink, President of RINK Consulting

When people think of market research, surveys are often the first things that come to mind. And for a good reason: the easiest way to get information from someone is to simply ask them -- in person, over the phone, in a mailed questionnaire, or via the internet.

Why might you want to do a survey? Some common reasons are:

  1. Member feedback and satisfaction.
  2. Member profiling (figuring out your best targets, based on your current members).
  3. Getting reactions to something (e.g., a new product idea).
  4. Reaching out and obtaining information about prospective members -- and finding out what they think about you.
  5. Diagnostics and troubleshooting (something's gone wrong, and you need to pinpoint and fix the trouble).
  6. Keeping tabs on what's going on in the marketplace.

Here are some tips on how to conduct surveys successfully.

Before you begin, be clear about why you are doing the research. Whether you choose to do it yourself or hire a professional, remember: you're the one who's paying for it, so you want to make sure you are getting the information you need.

Ask yourself these two key questions:

  1. What specific information do I need?
  2. What am I going to do with the information, once I get it?

Your questionnaire should always be written with these questions in mind. Too often I see questionnaires that ask for unnecessary information. It's easy to throw in everything but the kitchen sink, but remember that the longer the questionnaire, the larger your percentage of incompletes. (For example, do you care if the respondent is male or female, or how long he/she has been in business?)

To maximize your response rate:

  • Keep it simple.
  • Keep it short.
  • Make it easy for the respondent to complete.
  • Make it relevant (make sure the questions pertain to the respondent).
  • Try to make it somewhat interesting, if at all possible. And if not, at least make it painless!
  • And always pretest the survey! Have someone (preferably not yourself) check it for logic, language and length.

Sample Size –

My clients often ask me about sample size: how many questionnaires should we send out? What response rate should we expect? How large a sample (number of completed surveys) do we need for the results to be meaningful?

Companies usually want large samples for statistical significance. Statistical significance is important if you want your results to closely reflect a much larger population. If, like Procter & Gamble, you have millions of dollars riding on a new product rollout, then this is important for you.

If not, then consider:

  • What will you do with the information? (Is it going into a sales forecast, or are you looking for anecdotes?)
  • How critical is the information--what are the financial consequences of not having it be absolutely accurate or projectable?
  • How specific is the population you are surveying? (For example, if your universe is periodontists in Philadelphia, versus all U.S. dentists, a sample size of 10 might be quite acceptable.)
  • Your budget.
  • Your timeframe--how quickly do you need the information?
  • The sample size you need for your survey depends on your answers to the above.

My final thought on surveys is that almost any research is better than none--if you are clear about why you are doing the survey, have realistic expectations, and follow these tips.
You can contact Linda Rink to discuss your market research needs at –

RINK Consulting
1420 Locust Street, Suite 31N
Philadelphia, PA 19102