Posts Tagged ‘Surveys’

Sending Surveys to Your Customer List? Building a House Panel May Be Better

November 30, 2010

Many times when companies need information quickly, they conduct brief surveys. A single organization may have hundreds of individual accounts with online survey tools like Zoomerang and SurveyMoney, and each of those employees assigned to such an account may send out surveys of his/her own, depending on the needs of his or her department. The respondents for these surveys is most frequently drawn from the customer list, often pulled from an internal database or from the sales force’s contact management software. This can be a bad idea.

Essentially, what is happening here is that there is no designated owner for marketing research – particularly surveys – in these organizations. As a result, everyone takes it upon himself or herself to collect data via a survey. Since many of these departments have no formal training in questionnaire design, sampling theory, or data analysis, they are bound to get biased, useless results. Moreover, not only does the research process degrade, but customers get confused by incorrectly worded questions and overwhelmed by too many surveys in such a short period of time, causing response rates to go down.

In the November 2010 issue of Quirk’s Marketing Research Review, Jeffrey Henning, the founder and vice president of strategy at Vovici, said that companies must first recognize that customer feedback is an asset and then treat it as such. One way to do that would be to build a house panel – a panel developed internally for the organization’s own use.

To do this, there must be a designated panel owner who is responsible for developing the panel. This should fall within the marketing department, and more precisely, the marketing research group. The panel owner must be charged with understanding the survey needs of each stakeholder; the types of information often sought; the customers who are to be recruited to or excluded from the panel; the information to be captured about each panel member; the maintenance of the panel; and the rules governing how often a panelist is to be surveyed, or which panelists get selected for a particular survey. In addition, all surveys should requisitioned by the interested departments to the marketing research group, who can then ensure best practices using the house panel are being followed and that duplication of effort is minimized if not eliminated.

A house panel can take some time to develop. However, house panels are far preferable to dirty, disparate customer lists, as they preserve customers’ willingness to participate in surveys, ensure that surveys are designed to capture the correct information, and make possible that the insights they generate are actionable.

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Why Surveys Go Well With Predictive Models

October 13, 2010

Thanks to advancements in technology, companies now have the capability to analyze millions – if not billions – of transactional, demographic, and psychographic records in a short time and develop sophisticated models that can assess several scenarios: how likely a customer is likely to purchase again; when he/she will purchase again; how much he/she will spend in the next year; how likely he/she will defect; and many more. Yet, by themselves, predictive models don’t provide a complete picture or profile of the customer. While models can provide information on a prospect or customer’s willingness and ability to purchase based on similar characteristics of current customers, they don’t provide much information about the customer or prospect’s readiness to buy. Hence, a survey can be a highly useful supplement.

Using a survey before a promotion – assuming no effort is made trying to sell to the customer under the guise of the survey – can provide valuable information. With a simple attitudinal and behavioral survey, a marketer can gain a read on the market’s readiness and willingness to buy at that moment. Moreover, the marketer can gauge the purchase readiness of certain customer groups and segments, so that he/she can structure marketing promotions in a manner that makes the best use of marketing dollars. In addition, if certain groups are wary of or unwilling to buy a product, the marketer can look for ways to reach out to these groups for the future.

Another benefit of surveys is to help classify customers and prospects into market segments based on their answers to carefully designed questions. Often, surveys can capture data about prospects and customers that transactional and third-party overlay data sources cannot.

Surprisingly, many companies either do marketing research or predictive modeling, but not both. This is squandering a great marketing opportunity. These two approaches together can provide the missing pieces to the puzzle that will help marketers improve their planning, increase their marketing ROI, and maximize their profits and market share.

Too Many Cooks Can Even Spoil the Marketing Research Broth

August 11, 2010

In yesterday’s blog post, we discussed the importance of sharing research findings with other stakeholders in your organization. Today, we’re going to discuss how that can go too far, by trying to accommodate too many constituencies within the organization in the design of our survey. It is very easy to fall into the “too many cooks” problem of marketing research. Sometimes we have budget constraints and need to gather as much information from a survey to satisfy all the stakeholders involved. Other times, the department commissioning the survey is not the same as the department funding it, so the head of the latter department will see to it that the survey also serves some of his or her objectives.

The problem with involving too many departments in the planning and design of a survey is that it will create considerable infighting and result in a “satisficing” survey, that asks several questions, some tailored to each of the company’s internal constituents. As a result, the surveys are overly long, cumbersome, and lack a coherent focus. Quite often, these surveys result in respondent fatigue, unreliable responses, and biased results.

When your company is faced with several departments needing to share a survey for information, the best thing to do would be to first understand the company’s overall objectives for a survey. Then talk with the different departments about those objectives and understand what their needs are. Get them to prioritize their needs. Then once you understand the importance of each topic or issue to each department, try to match the most important ones back with the general objectives of the survey. Then talk with all departments together and prioritize those information needs that are most in need to match the company’s general objectives. It helps to have senior management providing top-down support for this collaboration. Stress to each department that you may not be able to get all the information they desire right away, but the quality and usefulness of the data you collect is more important than the quantity.

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Research Findings are Like Manure: They Work Better When You Spread Them Around

August 10, 2010

One of the biggest mistakes companies do when conducting marketing research is conducting it in a vacuum. At many companies, the marketing department will often execute a marketing research study for either its own information, or upon request from another department. The findings of the research may also be beneficial to other parts of the company, but rarely do departments share the information. This concentration of information often leads to silos and exacerbates organizational politics. Marketing research expert Larry Kilbourne considers this data myopia – the failure to share survey findings – one of “Seven Survey Sins,” referring to it as the “Mr. Magoo Syndrome.”

Repurposing research and sharing it within the organization produces immense benefits. The sharing of the information facilitates better planning, creates buy-in from and fosters consensus among cross-functional groups, creates accountability, avoids duplication, fosters a shared purpose, and enhances the company’s agility in responding to problems and opportunities. Imagine that an insurance company with a captive sales force wanted to conduct a survey of its sales office managers. Specifically, the insurance company’s marketing department wants to know how the company stacks up against the competition in various territories.

Specifically, the marketing department would like to know who each branch sales manager considers to be the three main competitors in his/her agency’s territory, the policy features that are most important to customers and prospects in that territory, an estimate of how many potential policy sales are lost to the competition in those territories, and where they feel their main competition is beating them in terms of product features and benefits. The marketing department conducts the survey and uncovers a wealth of information. Who can benefit from it besides the top executives who commissioned the research?

Each branch agency

The marketing department should start with each branch sales manager. The sales manager might want to know whether his/her problem with a specific competitor is unique to his/her office or common to several others. Moreover, the manager might want to know where his/her office stands with respect to the rest of his region or the entire company. The findings can also help the manager plan for improvement.

Actuarial and Underwriting

The insurance company’s actuaries can also benefit from the findings. If branch sales managers in the company’s Pacific Northwest territory complain of losing too many long-term care insurance policy sales to Insurer X on the basis of price or ease of acceptance, the actuaries can review the underwriting criteria and assess whether the company is being too risk averse in that territory, or whether Insurer X is being too aggressive.

Advertising

If the insurance company faces aggressive competition in certain areas, the Advertising department can benefit from changing its strategy in those areas. It might try advertising in different newspapers, utilize direct mail or email marketing, etc.

Human Resources, Training, and Recruitment

Sharing the findings of research can also shape a dialogue between branch managers and the home office to understand what is needed to increase sales. This can often result in a refinement in training and recruiting needs for various territories. For example, if the company is losing to Insurer X in the Seattle market, it may well be due to the experience of Insurer X’s agent force, which could be experienced insurance sales professionals, professionals with a successful track record in sales careers in any industry, or naturally extroverted people with a knack for selling. If this is the case, the insurance company’s HR department could start recruiting agents with similar characteristics. It may also identify ways to change performance requirements so that the company can get rid of underperforming agents. The company can also devise new training programs to increase agent performance, and create new incentive plans.

The list of groups within the organization with whom the marketing department could share the findings is far from comprehensive. Marketing research should never be conducted in isolation, but should be used for the greater good of the organization. Whenever a company conducts marketing research, it should always have a predetermined plan for what to do with the information, the departments that could benefit from it, and ideas on how to act on the findings, whether good or bad.

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Secondary Research Can Enhance Primary Research

August 4, 2010

Most of the marketing research a small business owner or startup entrepreneur does is secondary: research that has already been conducted by another entity for some other purpose, and later published in mass media sources. Often, businesses rely upon secondary research for marketing information because conducting their own primary research can be very expensive. While one must be careful to understand the purpose for and methodology by which the secondary research was conducted, it can be quite beneficial in many ways, including enhancing primary research. Secondary research provides the following benefits:

Setting the Stage for Future Primary Research

Sometimes you have no clue what you’re trying to find. Let’s say that you want to start a coffee shop in your town, but because of the likes of Starbucks and Caribou Coffee, you’re not sure whether your market is saturated, or if there is a way to differentiate yourself. Secondary research can be an invaluable tool to help you explore. The Yellow Pages, the Web sites of chain stores – Starbucks, Caribou, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s – selling coffee, and the entertainment sections of newspapers can tell you how much competition you’re facing.

Secondary research might even be able to help you identify demographics of your community that you can use to your advantage. You examine the Census Bureau’s demographic data for the ZIP codes within a five-mile radius of your proposed location. You notice from other sources that there are about 10 competing eating and drinking establishments like those we named above. But from the Census data, you uncover a sizeable ethnic Middle Eastern or Eastern Mediterranean population. You might be able to refine your business concept to be a coffee shop that specializes in selling Eastern Mediterranean style coffees, or medium- to highly- acidic variety coffees, as is common in the Middle East. Now, you can do some basic primary research like small-scale surveys and focus groups to members of the community to see how receptive they would be to a coffee shop with that theme.

Reducing the Scope and Cost of Primary Research

Why spend $20,000 on a full-scale primary research project if you can find available data to meet a large amount of your needs? For example, you’re trying to find out what types of Middle Eastern coffees are selling well in the area. Conducting a survey can be very costly. But if you can find out what you need to know from trade publications covering the food and beverage industries, you might be able to save yourself quite a bit of time and money. Assume you read that a few kinds of Middle Eastern coffees are selling well – or are on an increasing trend – in various parts of the country. Now, you might order a few pounds of each, and then invite local residents to do a taste test and give their thoughts. Your secondary research has saved you thousands of dollars and several days of fieldwork.

Putting Primary Research Results in Perspective

You can even use secondary research to help validate what you find in your primary research. If you were to conduct a survey of your coffee shop’s customers and ask them what kinds of pastries you might serve in your shop, you might see a lot of responses suggesting berry-flavored cobblers and scones, pastries containing cinnamon or cardamom, and even some chocolate. By doing your secondary research, you will also find that, in the Eastern Mediterranean, berries, cinnamon, and cardamom are common flavor pairings, since coffees of that region tend to have berry- and wine-like characteristics, with some element of spice and cocoa. Secondary research, in this case, has validated what your primary research is indicating.

Most times, secondary research is all the marketing research you’ll need to do. However, when you need to do primary research, a good, ongoing system of secondary research can help you discover new information so that you can explore and pursue different avenues in your primary research; fill in several blanks in your research so that you need not reinvent the wheel; and complement any primary research so you can substantiate its findings.