Process Marketing Questionnaires

Apr 14, 1997

I have long advocated the use of questionnaires as a marketing technique for A/E and environmental firms when they want to establish themselves as experts serving a particular client group. There really is something to the notion that if you ask someone about something, you must be an expert in that “something.” I’m talking about a design firm focused on refrigerated warehouses doing a survey of owners of refrigerated warehouses; or a stadium design firm doing a survey of stadium owners; or an environmental consulting firm doing a survey of landfill owner/operators; or a health care architectural firm doing a survey of hospital owners. There are many reasons to do these surveys. Foremost is the idea that they associate your firm with your targeted client group. Everyone wants to do business with other businesses that they feel are sympathetic to their plight. Having original research data that no one else has gives you something worth publishing in the news media. Another reason to do these surveys is that you can actually learn something about a client group that you may not know otherwise when you get their opinions and attitudes. This information can not only help you sell a job but could also help you do the job better than you would be able to if you didn’t have it. Not only do we use these surveys in our own business, but we have helped a number of our clients do them. Here are some pointers if you are thinking about using surveys in your marketing plans for 1997: Your clients have to care about the information you are asking about. If they don’t, they won’t fill out the questionnaire. This is, far and away, the biggest weakness in the surveys we review for our clients. More often than not, the entire line of questioning is directed toward getting information that the design or environmental firm wants. Usually, this is stuff like what the selection process is for hiring A/E firms, or what they like and don’t like about the environmental consultants they are using, or what their plans are to build something at some point in the future. They should be asking questions about the clients’ attitudes and opinions about stuff going on in their sector. This could be anything from what’s the best way to sell more pizzas for a firm that serves the pizza restaurant sector, to what firms that own office space are doing about maintenance of their light fixtures. You should be able to write the press release about the survey results before you ever even get the results. This means that you have a sound bite question or question(s), that you have a hypothesis you are testing, and that generally you have an idea of what information you are trying to get and think you will get before you get it. For example, if you ask a question of school superintendents such as, “Do you think the asbestos issue is overblown?”, you should fully expect that a certain percentage will give a response of “strongly agree” or “agree.” This, then, will be the lead headline for the upcoming press release you will send out to any news media that you think could quote your study. The bottom line is, without sound bites, you haven’t got squat. The questionnaire has to be easy to fill out. Ask opinions and give multiple choice questions. Avoid open-ended questions that require an essay response, avoid questions that the respondent has to research in their own organization, and avoid vague or stupid questions— such as “What aspect of your facilities is critical to your firm’s mission?” (My response to that is what facilities— our plants, our offices, our warehouses, our retail outlets— and what mission?) Few respondents could really answer this question intelligently. Ask critical stuff first. Ask questions about name, address, etc. at the end of the questionnaire because this is essentially boring information that the survey respondent doesn’t care about. Also, ask easy or fun questions first and harder ones later, because you don’t want the respondent to get discouraged and throw your questionnaire in the trash. Get organizational data (size, type, etc.) even though you may allow the respondent to remain anonymous. Sometimes it’s to your advantage to allow the respondents to these questionnaires to remain anonymous. It may help your response rate because they don’t think you’re fishing for jobs. But you still need to get information on the organization type they are with, or when the organizations are all the same type, characteristics such as size, location, and so forth. This will allow you to group responses for a more intelligent report on the results of your survey and give you more usable and publishable findings at the end. Not doing this makes the results worthless and hard to generalize. A few other pointers on these surveys that I have made before but are worth repeating: Don’t make these questionnaires too long— the longer they are, the lower your response rate will be. Make them graphically user-friendly so they are easy for the respondent to fill out, not for your key punch operator. Have a big enough list that so that a 3-10% response rate will give you publishable results. Consider having a one-question monthly survey and publish the results monthly. These things don’t have to be long to accomplish their goals. Originally published 4/14/1997

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