Lessons from Sending One Million Surveys

Wednesday Mar 12, 2014 by Patrick Campbell, Co-Founder & CEO of Price Intelligently

Nothing is loved or hated more in the world of marketing than the online survey. This tool’s intentions always start out admirably. After all, who’s going to argue with getting feedback from real customers and prospects. Yet inevitably, the medium devolves into a random, non-specific email with a link to a 45 question survey that may or may not be about the product you individually use. It’s ok though, because there’s a chance to win a free iPad (sarcasm intended). 

Stop sending crappy surveys. Please. 

We know a thing or two about surveys, because they’re central to how we collect the data necessary for our algorithms to do their magic. After sending a million now, let’s go through a couple of points we've learned in our journey to boost response rates and obtain the answers we need. 

 

 

Keep It Short and You Can Send Them Often

One of the biggest reasons surveys have gotten such a bad rap over the past few years is because companies are trying to accomplish too much with one survey. What ends up happening is some part of the organization announces they’re going to send a survey and then every single department latches on to that campaign with “just a couple of questions.” Put it all together and you have a recipe for a 36 - 50 question monstrosity that doesn’t flow together at all. 

Trust us. We’ve seen them. I looked through the past ten surveys I received via email and the median number of questions was 29. You can’t promise to “value my opinion” and “take my time seriously” if you’re asking me 29 questions that don’t intuitively go together. 

To curb this, keep your surveys short and send them often. Keep them to five questions max, which is the point where we noticed a 22% drop off in responses. You’ll actually get lauded for respecting your customer’s time and your response rates will skyrocket. 

 

 

What’s great about this too is that you’ll be able to send surveys more often after you’ve conditioned your prospect and customer base that your campaigns will be short and to the point. Some of our customers are even sending campaigns every two weeks. That seems a bit aggressive, but the response rates are holding. To circumvent this with our own campaigns at PriceIntel, we mark who in our database has received a survey in the past 21 days and avoid that group at all cost. If we send surveys to someone three times and they never respond, then we just take them out all together. They’re clearly not interested in offering feedback.

 

Clearly Give a Timeline in the Subject Line

Now that you have a short survey, don’t be afraid to tell your potential respondent the length of the survey in your email. When your respondents are in the middle of triaging your inbox, surveys are an exceptionally easy choice for the archive button. Most of the time this is because the perception around surveys is that they’re bloated and going to waste your time. 

A great way to get over this hump is to be completely upfront with the amount of time the survey will take - right in the subject line. This sign posts the interaction for the end user and builds up a little bit of guilt, because who doesn’t have 30 seconds to answer a couple of questions.  

The current subject line we use (and suggest to our customers) is: 

          Share in Shaping [Customer Name]’s Future - 30 Seconds

We change up the “30 Seconds” depending on the questions we’re asking, and even change it to “1 question” when we’re keeping it super short. 

 

Ask the Right Questions and Don’t Be Lazy

The reason we’re able to keep things so short and still get the feedback we need is because we’re not lazy with the questions we choose. We already talked about how bad long and bloated surveys can be, but the other side of the spectrum can be just as frustrating. Asking “for any feedback you may have” just makes your respondent work so much harder when they’re doing you the favor. Additionally, asking your respondent for their email address, what account they have, how often they use X feature, or anything that you can find out in your database is a huge no-no. Don’t waste the precious space in your campaign. 

Instead, do the legwork upfront or on the backend. Up front you should have a general idea of what you’re trying to figure out through qualitative client interviews and studying the data you already have access to in your database or research. With this work done you’ll be able to ask that which you have no other resource for then the customer/prospect herself. Additionally, make sure you’re capturing the email address of your respondent, which will then allow you to slice and dice the data on the backend to analyze cohorts, segments, etc. 

From an actual question perspective, if you’re attempting to measure value or priority, which so many of these surveys are doing, then don’t ask me to rank things on a scale of 1 to 10 (or some other scale variation). It’s the worst way to figure this out, because your results will look like this: 

Instead, force your respondent to make tradeoffs to decide what's most and least important:

 

The results actually show you what’s most and least important to that segment, getting to the answer you’re looking for:

 

 

 

Inciting a Collective Spirit Works Much Better Than Incentives

Incentives only work when you’re soliciting stay at home moms, college students, and the like unless the incentive is insanely generous. We’ve found in the B2B space that any incentive we offer (especially money) doesn’t move the needle at all. This makes sense though, because if you’re trying to get answers from a Director of Marketing, “the chance to win a $50 gift card” isn’t a huge incentive, nor is the gift card outright, because their time is worth so much already. 

Instead, we found inciting a collectivist spirit works really well. We saw this a bit in the subject line example above, but individuals are more than happy to answer questions when you tie it back to how it’s going to help them. We have an advantage because we’re soliciting them about pricing, but if you can tighten up the copy to concern how it’s going to affect their day to day experience, your response rates will go up

Here’s an example email one of our customers sent out recently: 

 

Surveys Are an Excellent Medium for Gaining Feedback, but Use Them Wisely

Don’t hate the game, hate the player. Too many folks have tarnished the reputation of surveys by not thinking enough about the customer when it comes to getting the right feedback. A lot of this goes into creating a culture of feedback within your customer and prospect base, which makes not only the survey experience much better, but your product, customer, and marketing development as well. 

 

To learn more about the pricing process, take a look at our Pricing Strategy ebook or sign up for a free Price Optimization Assessment with an expert here on the team. 

If you want to dive into pricing page best practices, check out our latest eBook, The SaaS Pricing Page Blueprint, which offers in-depth data and analysis on building the perfect pricing page.

 

Patrick Campbell is the Co-Founder & CEO of Price Intelligently.  You can find this blog post, as well as additional content, on their company blog located here.  You can also follow Patrick on Twitter (@Patticus) by clicking here.

 

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